A Life Full of Meaning

I don’t believe in guardian angels, but my father did, and he would have loved to be one. A job of watchful care and gentle intercession — that was what he had offered his family, patients and parishioners: his eternal willingness to pay attention, guide when necessary, and bear witness to the small moments and grand dramas of a person’s life. The idea that he, or his presence, or simply the facts of his life had connected me and my daughter to the help we needed was so comforting that I couldn’t bring myself to look for the note when we got home. I was sure the letter would be from another camp, and I didn’t want to be disappointed.

And there was plenty else to think about once we left the hospital.

Diabetes felt like an unwanted creature tethered to my beloved child that required its own round-the-clock care. Ten times a day, we pierced my daughter’s fingers to measure her blood sugar. Before meals and bed, she filled syringes with insulin and gave herself shots. Following doctor’s orders, I set alarms for midnight and 3 a.m. to check her blood sugar: too low and she could die from a seizure or coma, but highs could eventually cause kidney failure or blindness. One night I had to shake her from a deep sleep and beg her to eat candy.

Sleep-deprived, I climbed a learning curve as steep as the first week of college. There was math at every meal. I carried a food scale and measuring cups and filled our grocery cart with diet lemonade and copies of Diabetic Living.

Just before Labor Day, I finally pulled the director’s letter from my memory box. I stared at the camp stationery and its blue and green logo. Camp Nejeda, “Where Children with Type 1 Diabetes Can Be Themselves.” When I’d first read the note, I’d had no idea why kids with diabetes might need such a place. Now I understood why the camp had 15 nurses.

That weekend at Nejeda’s family camp, I sat with the letter writer, Bill Vierbuchen, and we talked about obituaries.

It had been five weeks since my daughter’s diagnosis. At Nejeda, she played with other kids wearing high-tech continuous glucose monitors and jumped out of the pool without complaint when a whistle blew for breaks to check sugar levels and eat a snack. At home, she’d have to do that anyway; at Nejeda, she wasn’t alone.

Each family had a room in the health center dorm. Overnight, I heard blood sugar alarms going off up and down the hallway. Other parents said they still cried, and that I might not ever sleep much, but we’d be OK, and it would get easier.

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