By LISA EISENHAUER
Andie Daisley never thought of herself as a poet until the family of a patient lost to the pandemic asked her to help spread the word that "COVID is real."
As she ruminated on the request, Daisley says her thoughts took the form of verse and she wrote them down that way.
Andie Daisley has been a child life specialist at Providence Sacred Heart Children's Hospital since 2018. A poem she wrote about a helping a child cope with the grief of losing a parent to COVID-19 has been lauded by her colleagues and community.
The result is a stark and somber reflection about the sadness, rage and grief surrounding COVID-19 that she has witnessed and helped children cope with in her work as a child life specialist at Providence Sacred Heart Children's Hospital in Spokane, Washington. The hospital is part of the Providence St. Joseph Health system.
"It wasn't supposed to be a poem," Daisley says. "It was just, I kept having these thoughts going back to my interaction with this particular family who really inspired the poem, but it became so much bigger than just that family."
At least in Spokane, the poem has given voice to the pain and suffering wrought by an ongoing crisis as well as to the trauma being endured and the compassion being shown by workers like Daisley who have provided care and counsel to its victims for months.
She initially didn't give her work a name, but she's come to refer to it as "10.19.21," a nod to the day she tapped the poem out on her phone. That was shortly after she was summoned from her usual evening post in the hospital's emergency room to the intensive care unit to counsel the young child of a COVID patient whose death was imminent.
Daisley says that wasn't her first time being next to a child at the bedside of a dying parent. It was, however, the first time the family asked her afterward to speak out about the misery the pandemic was inflicting on people like them.
As her thoughts were taking shape, Daisley was mindful that if she was going to share them in some form, she needed to strike a delicate balance. She couldn't give away too many details about the specific interaction that inspired her, yet she wanted to relate the personal devastation of losing a loved one to COVID. She says she thinks using verse allowed her to stay in that middle ground.
"It just felt like I can talk about this story and I can talk about the stories of so many that I have witnessed myself or heard about while still preserving the dignity and privacy of these families," she says.
After Daisley shared her poem with her family and friends on social media, a relative sent it to a friend at The Spokesman–Review. A reporter at the newspaper soon called for an interview. That report, posted Oct. 26, included the text of the poem and it led to coverage from Spokane Public Radio, the city's National Public Radio affiliate.
Daisley also read the poem during a town hall meeting for Providence staffers in the Spokane market. "I felt so much support from my colleagues of all sorts of disciplines and people have been writing to me since," she says.
In addition to honoring the family's request that she speak out about the reality of COVID, the poem has shed light on the role she and her fellow child life specialists play that even her family and friends were in the dark on, Daisley says. "So many people who I know and love didn't even really have an idea or a context for the work that I do," she says.
Now they know that child life specialists hold hands with children and help them navigate the abject sorrow and raw emotion unleashed during the worst moments of their young lives. They counsel adults on age-appropriate ways to share heartbreaking news with kids and guide them through their grief.
In addition to affirmation from colleagues, Daisley has gotten notes from families saying her poem gave voice to their grief. "I was completely overwhelmed by the love and support that I was shown. And it was more healing and cathartic even for me in this work than I could have anticipated."
Writing as self-therapy
Daisley initially referred to her piece as her first poem. But it prompted her to look back on reflections she has saved in her phone and she's realized that they have a poetic tone, too. And now that she's had one of her pieces published and lauded, she expects to write more and use writing intentionally as a form of self-therapy.
Despite the anguish she has witnessed in her job, especially during the pandemic, Daisley says she has never felt more committed to her work.
"It's such an honor to be invited into the (lives) of kids and families, especially when they're in such life-changing, devastating moments," she says. "It's a very sacred and beautiful space to be in with them."
After almost two years and more than 780,000 deaths, Daisley doubts that there is anyone in the United States who remains unmoved by the pandemic. If there are and they read her poem, she hopes it awakens empathy.
"On the one hand, I guess, I am thankful that they haven't had to experience this firsthand to have their own personal story about it. And on the other hand, I just really want people to realize that this has devastated families and communities and that it still is."
By ANDIE DAISLEY
How do you prepare a child to see
their parent for the last time?
This tube does this,
that tube does that.
He'll look different than before.
You can walk up close.
You can stay far away.
You can change your mind.
I'm here with you. Say the word.
You can always change your mind.
"Will he hear me?" — He might.
"Will he answer me?" — He won't.
I watch through a window as you wail.
I know this wail. It's THE wail.
It's the wail of understanding that what has been, will never be again. That once was, is no longer.
I wish I could take it away.
I wish I could turn back your clock.
My clock. Our clock. The world clock.
I wish I could heal you with my thoughts,
but instead I'll just keep thinking them.
I'm so sorry, young one.
I'm so sorry you're here.
You shouldn't be here.
We shouldn't be here.
Why are we here?
"I'll miss you, dad.
Don't forget us.
I love you."
We practically ran back to the waiting room.
You did run, when we got there.
Out the door. Outside. Into the night.
I don't blame you.
Anything to be out of that space.
That space made of broken hearts and dying breaths. Of chimes and tangled cords, all saying the same thing — this is it.
Run, weary soul. Run.
Run into the fresh air.
Let the chill hit your face.
The sadness will follow,
but don't let that stop you.
You won't outrun the waves,
but you can keep pace. Run.
"How else can I support you tonight?"
I ask your family.
"Just tell everyone that Covid is real,"
Count to three.
Dry your eyes.
Walk it off.
Another ticking clock awaits.
Copyright © 2021 by the Catholic Health Association
of the United States
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