The entrance to Children’s Hospital in Boston is a rainbow of delight, brightly colored and welcoming. The lobby and its surrounding corridors are cheery places of music and toys and decorations and kid-friendly nooks and crannies. Up the elevators and in the floors above, in surgical units and treatment rooms, many miracles are performed and many lives are saved. But not every visit to Children’s has a happy ending.
Twenty-five years ago this week, my wife and I sat in a darkened room in the hospital’s intensive care unit, holding our son in our arms. We watched as a medical resident we had never met, who had been called onto the floor for just this reason, silently disconnected the respirator tubing that had been keeping Josh alive. The doctors who had been part of our family’s life for nearly two years had said their goodbyes earlier that night, then disappeared. They were nowhere to be found when Josh drew his last breath.
Josh died within seconds. Overwhelming complications from non-Hodgkins lymphoma, and then the chemotherapy, radiation, and bone marrow transplant that had kept him alive to that point, had worn out his lungs. It was a life-changing moment for our family that we will never forget, and the hole in our hearts will always be there.
My son can no longer speak for himself, nor can the countless other children who, through no fault of the hospital, died within its walls. So I now speak for them.
The hospital administrators who want to demolish the breathtakingly beautiful Prouty Garden ignore the fact that, for many, it is the heart and soul of the place. It is a green oasis in the midst of so much pain and sadness and fear, and it must be kept alive to preserve and honor the memory of those who never make it out those front doors, those for whom the miracle did not happen. To destroy that hallowed ground is unthinkable to those who have been lucky enough to experience it. That garden was the last place my 9-year-old son felt true happiness, the last place that Josh was able to play catch — he in his wheelchair, me bouncing a tennis ball to him. It was the last place he saw the autumn trees change color, the grass, the sky, the clouds.
A Brookline woman, Olive Higgins Prouty, funded the garden in 1956 in memory of two of her children; one died shortly after childbirth and another at age 3. Parents who have lost their children in later generations never had the chance to know Prouty, but we all share that common bond.
We have so many bad memories of Children’s — the ICU, the oncology floor, the transplant floor, the basement morgue — that we will always need places to remember the good memories, such as they are. Every few years I return to Children’s and meditate in the garden. I walk through the playrooms; I say a prayer in the chapel; I see a familiar face or two in the corridor, fewer now than before.
If I could sit in a room with Children’s administrators, here is what I would tell them: You do a great job of keeping kids alive, but when they die, they are largely forgotten. A plaque at the entrance to the Prouty reads: “The garden will continue to exist at Children’s Hospital as long as there are patients, families, and staff to enjoy it.” Why don’t you remember those words as you enter the building every day to finalize your expansion plans. Don’t forget Josh, and his memories. They cannot be erased with a bulldozer, and I’ll gladly be the first one to stand in its way.