Baby’s breath

Sleeping child

Angel1. peasapCC BY

The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears, or the sea. – Isak Dinesen

Being a light sleeper, he hears the rasping sound in the middle of the night. He gets up, tracing the sound to the baby’s crib. 

She’s not breathing right.

He touches her face; she isn’t feverish. She stirs under his hand, still sleeping, drawing ragged, rattling breaths.

He is young. This is his first child. They are out of town, visiting his sister in the country.

He goes back to bed.

But he carries his baby with him and lies awake all night beside her, to make sure she keeps breathing. He perspires with anxiety – she’s so little. 

Just three months old. 

“It’s asthma,” the doctors tell him later. 

A few years afterward, she has a bad bout of it. He takes her to the doctors, gets medication. She cries and cries, which doesn’t help the breathing.

“I – want – Grandma,” she wheezes, tears dripping off of her chin.

He calls his mother. “She wants to be with you but I hate to bring her when she’s sick.”

He sounds worn out.

“Bring her,” says his mother.

She lets all the housework go. Wrapping her arms around her granddaughter, she sits down in the rocking chair. Back and forth, back and forth she rocks, singing, “Little ones to Him belong, they are weak but He is strong.”

Yes – Je – sus – loves – me – ” the little girl tries to sing, rattling, wheezing, coughing on the words. She can’t get enough air. 

“Don’t try to sing, honey. Just listen to me singing,” says her Grandma.

On and on Grandma sings. The little girl settles, dried tear stains streaking her flushed face. Lulled by the beating of her grandmother’s heart in time with the song and the rocking of the chair, her eyes close at last. Rocking back and forth, back and forth, Grandma sings, tears flowing freely down her cheeks. Be well. Be well. Be well.

The sweat and the tears couldn’t cure asthma.

They represent another kind of healing power.

Self-sacrificial love.

“I was afraid to sleep,” my father told me of the long-ago night he lay awake, sweating, to make sure I kept breathing when my first asthma attack struck at three months.  He would get up countless nights throughout the years when he heard me coughing, to bring me medication or to turn on the vaporizer.

It’s why my grandmother dropped everything to comfort me, always had open arms, always had a song despite the tears. “My heart was breaking the whole time,” she said, recalling the day I begged to stay with her and didn’t have breath enough to sing, the memory resurrecting the tears even after decades had passed.

The memories are theirs, not mine, as I have no firsthand recollection of these events; told to me separately by my father and grandmother, many times over, they are part of my narrative identity.

Sweat, tears. The pouring out of their lives for mine, the pouring of their love into me from the very beginning. I am infused with their strength, their perseverance.

And beyond the power of the sweat and the tears is the power of story.

I remain to tell it.

slice-of-life_individualEarly Morning Slicer

20 thoughts on “Baby’s breath

  1. Fran, I enjoyed this piece not only for the content and the message, but also for your writer’s voice. I haven’t read your blog enough to know if this is typical of your style or one of your many writer’s voices. It intrigued me; it’s one I’d like to emulate. ~Amy

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Fran, I’m spilling some salt tears of my own as I read this. It’s beautiful! Starting it in the middle of the night had me hooked, and your grandmother’s arms sweeping aside work to provide comfort.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t know how my dad did it. He worked long hours, yet was always up with my first cough. Tell the stories to your son – there’s infinite value in knowing that you’re alive because others did not sleep and watched over you. Thank you 🙂


  3. Absolutely beautiful. I loved your quote at the beginning. But your story – now YOUR memory of a different, learned sort – is so deeply touching. What a sweet treasure you have in your family. Thank you for this inspiration today.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This story had me on the edge of my seat. As others have said, the voice and perspective are amazing. What an incredible blessing to have those who love you give so selflessly. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I thank you for reading and am quite amazed myself to think it had you on the edge of your seat! I have often thought about these stories retold over and over; the older I become, the more precious they are to me. It was time to capture them. This post is my thank-you, my tribute, to my dad and Grandma for all they gave throughout their lives. Thank you again 🙂


  5. I love how this story encmpasses three generations, and 3 separate perspectives, so closely united. Air (breathe) and water (tears, sweat) and the vaporizer brings them both together. So beautifully crafted and written. I also appreciate the beautiful quote.

    Liked by 1 person

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