Braylen Elijah entered the world in a hurry and without breath. He was coaxed back to life with love and medical miracles. His mother, while healing and exhausted from her own physical trauma, immediately took on her new role with courage. Most parents spend their first few days after new life has been born introducing their precious gift to the world and enjoying “firsts” — the first moments of a baby’s breath and cry; the first feedings, changing of diapers and, days later, bringing baby home. Instead, Braylen’s parents had the courageous and critical role as the medical advocates, life historians, public relations coordinators and personal cheerleaders to this helpless newborn.
They lived in and out of hospitals and a Ronald McDonald home for eight weeks. They sacrificed whatever was necessary to chaperone, protect and validate his valuable life. They took advantage of every opportunity to touch him, to hold him, to take one of the thousands of pictures of him. They washed their hands raw to prevent infection in the hospital room. They stood watch over the machines and quickly learned what the oxygen saturation, blood pressure, heart beat and breathing patterns indicated. They became best friends with the hospital staff, spending more time with them then they were able to be with their own family, friends, co-workers. They watched as other babies in the NICU recovered and families and medical staff celebrated as those babies were discharged from the hospital. They ate hospital food. They slept little. They were exhausted. They became more selfless than they thought they could ever be – life giving unto life.
We are born and then we die and we have little to do with either one of those events, but how we live in between, however brief it is, is what makes all the difference. Braylen’s life was quiet. He never made a noise, never opened his eyes, never moved around and he was able to have a greater impact in his eight weeks than many of us could imagine. This little baby was able to change policy in the NICU, allowing fathers to participate in “kangaroo care” – the magical technique of holding a preterm infant skin-to-skin. In Braylen’s eight weeks, he provided boundless joy from the simplest things. Every one of us found a different part of him absolutely irresistible: his fighting fists, his crazy toe, the soft caramel skin, thick dark hair, his sweet hand that he let anyone hold, his cute nose. People from all over the country, all over the world, watched and prayed and sent notes and love letters and held mass and sent gifts and provided messages of hope and love. They kept his name on their lips and held his name in their hearts. They had acceptance and admiration of this little bear cub and his parents. They continue to hold him in their hearts, forever validating his life.