Three people who saved my life. The believer

Enjoy this monthly blog post from Patrick Riecke, director, Chaplaincy and Volunteer Services.

Some of you remember the blizzard of 1978. It still holds records for snowfall. Nearly everything in Fort Wayne closed for days (well, except Parkview Hospital). At the time of the blizzard, my family was made up of my parents, my six siblings and a border collie named Prince (the best dog that has ever lived). We lived on the south side of town, off Brooklyn Avenue, in a home with three tiny bedrooms and less than 1,000 square feet.

When they were in their 20s, my parents had five children. They were busy.

In their 30s, they grafted in one more daughter who came through a non-biological route (meaning they actually chose her, unlike the rest of us).

In 1978, they had just entered their 40s and their 20th anniversary was in the review mirror. I can only assume they thought their baby-having years were also in the review mirror. Then the blizzard came. And while I am sure many babies were conceived while Fort Wayne residents were stuck indoors, my parents received their call from the doctor just before the snow began to fly.

My mom had not been feeling well. So, her doctor ran some tests. One came back positive. No, it wasn’t a bacterial infection. It was a condition that would cure itself in approximately nine months.

For the next week, my parents, who had children ranging from 12 to 21 at the time, were snowed in with those kids. And now, they had a secret to keep. Another baby was on the way. They had decided not to tell the kids for one very difficult reason.

As many of you know, having a pregnancy a bit later in life sometimes does not go as smoothly as it does when you are in your 20s. And the doc had told my mom not to get “too attached” to this new baby. In other words, while they might have been thrilled and a little freaked out, they were also scared. Scared that this pregnancy might not come with a joyous ending.

I’m sure you can imagine what it must have been like to try to keep that secret when they were snowed in to a 900-square-foot house with several teenagers. My mom says, “Your father and I kept looking at each other and laughing. Eventually the kids knew something was up.” So, they sat the kids down and told them. But they also told them what the doctor had said about expectations. And they cautioned them not to be too excited because the outcome was unknown.

While I completely understand what the doctor meant, I think we all know that telling a mother not to get “too attached” is pretty much pointless. My mom started to pray. And she got everyone else praying. Her teens prayed. My dad prayed, and I am sure all of St. Joseph Catholic Church on Brooklyn was praying.

Some of you may have read my blog about Baby Kami. And my wife, Kristen, helps lead a support group called Healing Hearts in part because our first pregnancy ended in miscarriage. My chaplains respond nearly every day to the death of a baby; sometimes the mother was newly pregnant, and sometimes the baby was closer to full term. The truth is, our region ranks poorly when it comes to our Fetal and Infant Mortality Rate. While every mom responds differently to the news that her baby has died, we can all agree that even one miscarriage or stillbirth is too many.

When my mom attended my sister’s wedding that summer, her mother-of-the-bride dress resembled a tent as she tried to hide her 7-month-pregnant belly underneath. Suffice it to say that my mom got pretty attached to this late-in-life baby. In fact, she is still pretty attached. She is my biggest fan and always has been.

I am sure you were already ahead of me, but later that year Patrick Shawn Riecke came bouncing into the world at 9 lbs and 15 ½ oz (after only 20 minutes of labor, I might add). My adult and near-adult siblings spoiled me while I was growing up, but no one more than my mother. (I warned you she would come back in this series when I wrote about her in my last series.)

My mom always believed I would do something special in the world. She would tell me constantly that God had a plan for my life. That I was not really supposed to be born. That they had braced for the worst, but prayed for the best. And I was born, and that was enough of a sign for her that I had a special place in this world.

Growing up, I didn’t really believe her. I was a normal and unspectacular child, just trying to avoid getting beat up at Shawnee Middle School. But this is actually the story of every baby. And nearly every mother.

Every baby is a miracle. It’s amazing any of them make it out safely. And mothers are very often the biggest fans of those babies, even when that baby is almost 40 and Director of Chaplains and Volunteers for Parkview.

My mom came to an event I organized at the Parkview Mirro Center for Research and Innovation last fall. I stood on stage and led 350 area clergy people in a tear-down-the-walls type of gathering. Afterwards, my mom came up to me, nearly an octogenarian now, reached past my suit and tie and badge and patted my face. “You’re really something. You’re really special.”

Yeah, yeah, Mom. You’ve been telling me that since the blizzard of 1978.

(Photo used without the permission of my siblings)

If your baby made it safe, give them a hug today and be their biggest fan.

If your mom has been your biggest fan, tell her thank you. Without that love, none of us would make it.

Parenthetically, when I was a ragged and ratty teenager and my mom was ordering off the senior’s menu at Bob Evan’s, she read some of my poetry. She told me I had a gift for writing and that I ought to keep doing it.

Well, here’s to you, Mom!

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