Wednesday, 24 September 2014

:: une promenade en famille ::

:: l'amicizia ::

Friends help make life a more beautiful shared experience. There are friendships that develop over years of growing up together or going through school together, through sharing the same workplace, church or through various groups that we join with our children, among many other places. Some friendships naturally fade over time as we move in different directions,  and some pick up instantly when we're face to face again, even if years have passed in between. Then there are the friendships that are built through walking through unique but very similar experiences that involve a roller coaster ride of joy, fear, tears and celebrations. This is a friendship we share with a precious family and it is one that means a lot to me.

Four years ago, when our tiny little girls were just over a month old, I was with Elise one morning in the highest level of intensive care in the Neonatal unit. She had just been transferred back there, being re-intubated and in isolation with a possible infection. During that morning I noticed a couple come into the room to visit their newly born twins. While I didn't want to invade their privacy of such a precious moment of their first interactions with their tiny little boys (weighing just around a kilo each), there was something about what I observed in those minutes that I identified so closely with, that it was quite emotional. It touched me because it seemed that their experience of these first moments was so close to our own only four weeks earlier. It's hard to describe with words those moments of joy mixed with fear when we first glimpse our fragile, perfectly miniature little babies fighting to breathe and to live when they should still have been inside for many more weeks.

I can't remember much of our interactions during the following days and weeks, and whether or not we actually talked, except that often when we passed we would catch each other's eyes and smile. In the neonatal unit there were babies there for all sorts of reasons. Some parents would make eye contact and we would talk, others would avoid any contact - which was more than understandable given the circumstances. We lived in a studio in an apartment building that belonged to the hospital. Renovation work was about to begin and we learned that we would be moving into other hospital apartments just 5 minutes up the road and we would be sharing an apartment with another family. When speaking with the social services staff I asked if it might be possible that we could share with this couple. She immediately laughed and said that they had just asked if they could share with us! And so began our friendship...

For the next several weeks we shared a little apartment together. Eti and Joe travelled back and forth between jobs at home and the hospital and Cindy and I spent our days between care times with our babies and resting, eating and doing various jobs that more than filled our days! They came from the Italian part of Switzerland, so our little home was filled with the sounds of Italian, Spanish, French and English, as each of us had a different mother tongue. We shared meals (they're amazing cooks!), small gifts from time to time and daily updates about how our babies were doing. There were good days and hard days, but it really was a gift to walk through them together, sharing an understanding of what it meant to experience the rollercoaster of Neonatal life. There were tears when our babies were struggling, and celebrations when they were doing well. There was also a lot of laughter (including a late-night incident when my mum had to kill a big spider because neither I nor Cindy would dare go near it!). Amélie and Gabriel came 'home' to live with us around the same time, while Elise and Manuel had a much longer road before they were able to. These moments were what helped make some really good memories in what was a stressful time.

We've caught up with each other several times since we parted ways and went home with our babies almost four years ago. We lived over 4 hours from each other here in Switzerland, but we visited each other in our homes, or when they came back to the hospital for check ups. (You can see some photos from our last visit to their home over two years ago here). This past February they flew all the way to New Zealand and spent a month travelling around the country, staying with us for several days at the beginning and the end. And we have just spent the last four days with them in their beautiful part of the country.

Our children are now four years old and those early days seem like distant memories. But our friendship has continued despite the distance and time. It has been a lot of strength for me over these first few years to have friends who know what it is like to fear for your child's life, to know what it's like to protect them against sicknesses that are ok for most children but very risky for those born prematurely. They know exactly what it has been like to battle to get others to understand those risks and to tread very carefully on behalf of our children in the early years. Thankfully many of those risks are over as the years have passed although, for them especially, there are still fragile lungs to protect. But overall it's incredible to see our children now, running around and full of strength of character, and to think back to where they have come from! It's fun to sit back sometimes and listen to the chatter of Italian, Spanish, French and English, to not understand the children but to speak French among ourselves (the one language we have the most in common). Eti and Joe often laugh at the 'French' that Cindy and I speak or write together, but we understand each other well enough ;o)

So we returned back to Eti's parents' home last night after spending a long weekend with Cindy, Joe and their boys. They treated us with the wonderful generosity and hospitality that they have shown us from the moment our friendship began. I wish we could repay them as generously, but in reading this, Cindy, know that you all mean a lot to us and we look forward to all the future visits we will have together :o)

We visited many beautiful places in their part of Ticino/Tessin, the Italian part of Switzerland. It has quite a different climate to our mountain village here - warm, almost tropical and as beautiful as Switzerland can be! We visited the old city of Locarno, took the gondola up to Cardada, the three castles in Bellinzona and briefly re-visited the stunning clear waters of the Valle Verzasca before our departure, in between being filled to the brim with delicious food and specialities from the area.

Until next time! A la prochaine :o)