A Weekly Column

By Joseph Walker



Three sisters, six brothers, and a loving mother surrounded Laura last Friday evening. That's hardly surprising; the family had been planning for weeks to rally around her participation in the state Junior Miss pageant. They planned on watching her compete. OK, let's be honest: they planned on watching her win.

But they hadn't planned on watching her die.

That's because the illness -- a bacterial form of meningitis -- came upon her so quickly and devastated her so completely. On Wednesday she went shopping with her sister Chrissie. They had a great time together making last-minute pageant preparations, and then they stayed up late talking and laughing, with a little crying thrown in for good measure. The only blot on an otherwise glorious day was a headache that Laura couldn't seem to shake. But she shrugged it off, attributing it to a flu bug she had been battling, or pre-pageant jitters.

By midnight, however, she could shrug off the headache no longer. The pain increased to the point that it was beyond anything she had ever experienced, and she asked to be taken to the closest hospital emergency room. The nature of her illness was quickly diagnosed, and treatments began immediately. But it was already too late. Within a few hours she was in a coma. By 2 a.m. Friday she was no longer able to breathe for herself. By 9 o'clock Friday morning, there was no evidence of brain activity. By noon Friday a doctor was soberly telling Laura's family that she wasn't going to survive, and that they needed to begin thinking about when to remove the life support system, and whether or not Laura would want to be an organ donor.

It all seemed so surreal. Except for all the tubes and wires that were attached to her in the hospital intensive care unit, she didn't look sick. She looked like . . . well, like a girl who was ready to participate in a beauty pageant: tanned, trim, great hair, manicured nails and teeth that were whiter and straighter than teeth have a right to be. Just two days earlier she had been laughing with her sister, playing with her nieces, making jokes and loving life.

And now, just like that, her life was over. The doctors said the bacteria normally isn't fatal, but that for some unknown reason it will occasionally run roughshod over someone. Why Laura fell into that category, nobody knows for sure. It's almost as if God, the Eternal Parent, called and said, "Young lady, it's time for you to come home. NOW!"


And Laura, ever the obedient child, responded.

Her family -- six brothers, three sisters and a loving mother -- surrounded her hospital bed as the life-support equipment was turned off and Laura began a journey far more intimidating than a few steps on a pageant runway. "Someday," said her tearful big sister Julie, "someday I'll understand."

Someday she will. Someday we'll all understand a lot of things that are incomprehensible to us from the limited perspective of here and now. Why must children suffer? Why is evil allowed to occasionally triumph over all that is right and noble? Why must bad things sometimes happen to good people? Why did Laura -- young, beautiful, talented Laura, with a good heart, a kind soul and a mind that suggested all the potential in the world -- have to die? Why? Why? Why?

For now, instead of satisfying answers, we cling to faith. Faith in God. Faith in His love for all His children. And faith in His plan for our ultimate happiness and peace.

Especially when His plan goes contrary to our plans.


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--- (c) Joseph Walker


L Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through and