My husband’s sister, Mary Ann, died in 1956 from encephalitis after having had the measles. Her family took her to the local hospital where she was refused admission because of the contagious nature of the disease. They took her home and watched her die on the couch in their living room. I have listened to the debate and, to be honest, have been concerned about the overwhelming number of immunizations our children and grandchildren receive. I always had my children vaccinated, my grandchildren have been vaccinated although the vaccinations have not always been on the recommended schedule. I cannot imagine being a grandparent during this time—one who remembers measles, polio, mumps and the devastation on families—only to see a resurgence of measles and know that my grandchildren are not vaccinated. I would also feel awful if I knew my grandchild had infected other children.
This choice is challenging for families to be sure…but the shadow box I keep with Mary Ann’s book of signatures and cards from her funeral, her little pink booties, the delicate pearl necklace with eight tiny pearls signifying each of the years of her short life, the tiny ring, and pictures of a beautiful blue-eyed, blond, curly haired beloved daughter are a constant reminder of the stewardship we have over our children. She didn’t have the chance to be vaccinated or the choice. The responsibility for her care was her parents who tried to save her but couldn’t. We will keep her memory alive in that shadow box of memories, but oh how I wish we could have more memories than what fit in that tiny space.
We recently retired to the community where my husband grew up and Mary Ann’s death took place. I recently had an opportunity to meet one of her best friends who shared memories of Mary Ann as that 8 year-old child. I have friends who have lost children for a myriad of reasons, but never because of something over which the parent had the power to protect their child. I am sure that parents who do not vaccinate do so out of love and concern and, yes, fear. A lack of trust permeates our society related to this issue. I remember hearing the phrase about public health that says “the greatest good for the greatest number.” But what if your child is the one to have a reaction? Yes, the fear is real. I have no answers. I only have the memories in the small shadow box.
Joan Moon, EdD, CNM, RN is a certified-nurse midwife who teaches graduate nursing for Walden University. She has a website entitled WomensHealthDynamics.com, and is the author of the educational module, A Woman’s World: Discovering the Dynamic Menstrual Cycle. She is the mother of three grown children and grandmother of 7. Her love for her addicted grandson who has been opiate free for 17 months because of the Vivitrol injection has propelled her into the role of activist. She is currently introducing the medication to people in her community.