2013 Annual Competition Winner -"White Gown"
The little girl watched, fascinated by the quick and rhythmic strokes of her mother’s hands across the colorful quilt. This would be the last one she had promised. Susha hoped that meant they could go home! Her mother didn’t get up anymore; she looked thinner and less like her Mama all the time. She sighed heavily, confused, hadn’t they been at the hospital long enough to be better?
A voice in the hall, “What a shame, a mother should live for her children…” Then interrupting harsh, stern, “Shhhh enough!”
Martha’s hands paused momentarily; echoing her daughter’s sigh, “They can’t understand; this is the will of God. The cancer was meant to test my faith, I must fight the good fight, finish the race…”
Susha had been excited to go to the big city, but it was so strange here. No one talked or dressed like they did. “Mama why did you tell Doctor Jones we are Mennonites?” she asked. Martha smiled, “Climb up Susha. This one is for you, do you like it?” Susha stared at the fabric, seeing pieces of her old clothes, her sisters’ too, but mostly her mother’s. The dark brown, she wore that one to church, the shiny black which had been her wedding dress, the flowery ones, the everyday dresses, her favorite dresses. “I don’t know,” she said. It made her sad. Her mother never wore pretty dresses anymore, just a white one that didn’t look like the others; it didn’t even have buttons on it! She hated that one, she was glad Mama hadn’t put any of those pieces in there. She didn’t think Mama liked the white dress either. She said it made her feel cold and naked, but the nurses said she had to wear it.
Martha hugged her tightly, “Susha sometimes God gives us tests that can be hard to understand, but they won’t last forever. This life is not as important as the next. The better we do here, the more we suffer, the more we fight to keep strong, we will have greater rewards in Heaven. Do you understand? We are Mennonites because we believe this, so we live in this world but we are not of it.”
Susha nodded, “Doctor Jones said we have to fight.” He had been very angry. “We can fight this,” he had said, “We have an excellent chance!” Her mother had been quiet for a long time, before she replied, “But at what cost? Life’s measure is not made with a universal ruler.” Doctor Jones had stared at her, his anger blatant, undisguised. His voice had been very loud, “Don’t you want to live? Don’t you want to see your little girl grow up?” Her mother had sounded very stern, “I live for God. And you are wrong; I will see my little girl grow up, only from a different view.”
Martha pulled Susha closer, she spoke lovingly, “Not all of us fight the same way Susha, some day you will understand that. But right now I want you to know you are my special little girl ok?”
Not long after Susha’s father came in, and he put his head in her mother’s lap. He was crying, “Why didn't we try? I can't do this alone!" Her mother spoke softly, “John, they would have me cut off what I've been given, everything that makes me feminine. Should I then live as only half of myself? No I will remain whole, both here and after; I will accept what I have been given. You know this is the way. The doctors know only what they've been taught. We know a different way. They will be good children; they'll remember what I taught them. All life is a test of our faith, be strong now, God will take care of you. And them. We will see each other soon, it won't be so long." He didn't say anything after that, but he didn't cry anymore.
Her father went to talk to the doctor. “She doesn’t have much time,” Doctor Jones said sadly, “I still don’t understand her decision. In her place I would want to choose life.” John smiled proudly, “She did choose life. Jesus said, whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Doctor Jones waited a long time to respond, then as if coming to some conclusion he said, “I realize I am not in her place, the decision is hers to make. I will do what I can to keep her comfortable.”
After that everything changed. Susha saw them put her Mama in a box, and they dressed her all in white. But this time the gown covered her whole body. She knew Mama would like that. She asked her father, “Why does Mama have to wear a white gown again?” He explained patiently, “This gown is different, this is our way; we must bury her in accordance with our traditions.”
The young woman in the rocking chair pulled the colorful quilt tighter as she held her baby close. The colorful squares of fabric flooded her with memories of those days in the hospital so long ago. “You are my special little girl,” she whispered as she remembered her mother’s words, so many words, which had for so long been indiscernible. She had struggled for many years to understand why her mother left her. Her hands moved automatically to that final slip of fabric, the last piece her mother had given her, a large square section, from that button less white gown she had hated so much. She remembered the day that she had found her peace, when she can finally understood, how carefully she had stitched the four by four flimsy piece of fabric into her beloved quilt. She knew she had picked the right place for it. It was the centerpiece of her quilt, the strongest piece.