12 08 2011

First let me apologize for the length of this post. Yes, it is long but it’s a great story I wanted to share with you. It’s a true story about a friend of mine, Jackie Garner, a professional clown. The following story is but one of many she has shared with me and I hope to get them in print one day. I hope you enjoy it and would love for you to share any comments you might have. Thank you.

As Jackie packed to leave for a clown conference in Virginia, she tried to anticipate what she would need. Costume, make-up, clown shoes; everything was there as she ran through her mental list to be sure she didn’t leave home without something vital to her role as Lollibells.

Satisfied she and Lare-bear (the nickname she affectionately uses for her husband, Larry) were ready to hit the road; she was just about to close her suitcase when the telephone rang. It was one of the local Dallas-area hospitals, but one Lollibells had never been to. The caller asked if she was speaking with Jackie Garner. Assured she was, she then asked if she was Lollibells the clown. Upon getting confirmation, the caller went on to say there was a young boy in ICU and the family had heard of Lollibells and wanted her to come. The caller said she should come as quickly as possible.

When ICU asks if you can come as soon as possible, it often means a patient’s time is very short. Immediately, Jackie began to clown up. Usually requiring a good two hours to transform from Jackie Garner to Lollibells, this time, because of the urgency expressed by the caller, Jackie was fully made up and dressed in thirty minutes. Not only was she fully transformed in record time but somehow she had never done a better job applying her make-up.

There is a passion that goes along with the job when you take on the role of a professional clown, especially when your clown ministry is for seriously ill children. It doesn’t make any difference that you have never met any of the children. There is a bond that quickly forms between the clown and the children and an urgency that tells you to give your best performance each time you enter the pediatric floor.

Jackie knew there was a child at the hospital that needed Lollibells. She did not yet know who the child was or the circumstances, but she knew she was anxious to get to the hospital to do whatever she could. Not only had she had two miscarriages of her own, but she had pictured herself in the place of a dying child’s mother many times and was able to feel compassion that would make one think it was her own child who was suffering or dying. She could empathize with the mothers she met on the pediatric floors.

Now, in full costume, Lollibells ran outside and jumped into her clown car, a VW microbus. This was no ordinary punch buggy. This van had a special paint job; one befitting a clown. There were eyelashes painted above the headlights and the Lollibells slogan, “LET THE LAUGHTER LOOSE WITH LITTLE LOLLI-FOR THOSE SPECIAL MOMENTS AND MEMORIES” was emblazoned down each side of the van. And the rest of the van was painted up to resemble a circus wagon. Driving around the Dallas suburban area of Hurst-Euless-Bedford (HEB) in her clown car drew stares from everyone, but particularly the children.

Typical of most pediatric intensive care units, the rooms were constructed with glass walls enabling nurses and staff to see into each room to effectively monitor everything that went on.

As Lolli stepped from the elevator, she was met by a doctor who asked her to accompany him. Along the way, the doctor explained the situation and told her the child was a 4-year-old boy named Vincent who wasn’t expected to live through the night. Although she had worked many times with terminally ill children, she never found it to be easy. It’s not something you even want to get used to. But it is definitely a gift to be able to step into a hospital room and bring a smile or a laugh to someone you know is living their last days, or even hours.

Making her way down the hall, Lollibells could see children watching her from each room. She was accustomed to being stared at as she drew interest from each child.

“Lolli, This is Vincent”

She thought to herself, stopping at the door to Vincent’s room, “Lord, You have to take over from here because I don’t know what to do”. As she stepped into Vincent’s room Lolli noticed the absence of the typical sanitized hospital room smell. It didn’t smell at all like a hospital room. Instead, it had a smell all its own; the smell of rubber from new toys mixed with flowers from well-wishers and for some odd reason, cherry candy. The light was dim and the mood somber, the quiet broken only by the soft crying of a small child and the whispers of his loving parents flanked on either side of the bed. “It’s okay, baby” whispered Vincent’s mother. “Mama and daddy are here with you.”

Approaching the bed, the doctor said, “Lolli, this is Vincent”.

What do you say to a four-year old child whom you know has only hours to live? Lollibells wasn’t worried. She had been in difficult situations many times before and knew that God was with her and would lead her through any situation. She had learned early in her clown career to leave self at the door and lean on God.

[Using her indoor Lolli voice, sounding more like a five-year old girl than a grown woman] “Hi, Vincent, I’m Lollibells but you can just call me Lolli-all my friends do. You’re very handsome. Are you a prince?” Vincent had grown quiet since she came in and now was unresponsive. A nurse brought a white rocking chair into the room. The doctor asked, “Lolli, would you like to rock Vincent?” Lolli had been informed that Vincent had severe injuries with internal bleeding. The doctors had done all they could do. Vincent was now in need of a kind of care the best doctors could not provide. “Yeh, would you like me to hold you, Vincent”, Lolli asked. Vincent grew still but he did not respond. The nurse then, very gently, laid Vincent on a pad in Lolli’s arms across her lap. His little body was so fragile and so limp as he lay on Lolli’s lap.

It can sometimes be very difficult for a clown to keep emotion out of the act. A clown is called to entertain; to bring joy and laughter. But at times like this it can be very difficult to feel joyful. When Vincent was placed in Lolli’s arms, the mother in Jackie Garner felt the pain of a mother for a broken and dying child. She wanted to hug him so badly she hurt.

As he lay in her arms, Lollibells noticed how Vincent’s black hair made his little round face stand out like a full moon in a midnight sky.

Lollibells always wore a red jeweled heart on the tip of her nose. She would apply it with super glue so if a child should get his/her hands on it, it would not pull off easily. When the sun would strike the jeweled heart, it would cast rays of light in every direction, never-failing to get the attention of the children.

As sunlight peeked through the nearly shut blinds at the window, Vincent noticed the jeweled heart and the rays of light which seemed to fill the dimly lit room, bouncing off of every wall and the ceiling. The garnet prism cast light everywhere, its light overcoming the darkness of the room. Too weak to move his head, his mother knelt at his feet so he could see her face, touching his feet and assuring him that mama was there. At the same time, daddy was stroking his little head in reassurance. They were aware that these were the last moments for their precious child as they enveloped him with their love.


A Laugh is the Seed of Laughter

“Oh, do you know what this is?” asked Lolli, pointing to the heart on her nose. “This is my laugh button. Would you like to push it?” With that, Lolli took Vincent’s finger and touched it to the heart glued to her nose. “Tee, hee, hee, hee, hee, hee, hee!” Lolli giggled with glee when Vincent touched her “laugh button”. When Vincent heard Lolli laugh, and at the same time felt her tummy move with her laughter, he smiled-really big. Delighted with his smile, mama and daddy commented to Vincent how funny Lolli was as they continued to remind him they were near. “Mama loves you, baby”, whispered the mother. “Daddy’s here too, son and I love you”, echoed the father. Vincent’s eyes focused on his loving parents before moving back to Lolli’s jewel adorned nose. He looked up at her hat, but again, his gaze came back to her nose.

“Do you want to push my laugh button again?” asked Lolli. Again, Vincent touched the nose and again, Vincent smiled as Lolli let out her little girl giggle. This continued for about a half an hour. Each time Lolli would giggle, Vincent would smile and Lolli would say, “Little Lolli loves you, Vincent”. So many smiles, but still no word from Vincent.

Vincent lay on Lolli’s lap totally immersed in so much love from mama, daddy, the doctor, the nurse, and Lolli as they smiled and touched him and laughed together.

One more time Lolli giggled and told Vincent she loved him when suddenly, to everyone’s surprise and joy, Vincent uttered, “I wuv you Wawwi. I wuv you mommy. I wuv you daddy.”

If emotion was electricity, there would have been enough in that small room to light up New York City. Everyone was crying with tears streaming down their cheeks. And although it took all she had, Lolli was able to hold it back. She desperately wanted to let it go but clowns are supposed to be happy. It isn’t good for children to see a crying clown.

Vincent was Gone

Then Vincent looked back at Lolli and she asked him if he wanted to push her laugh button again. He did, this time on his own, and, Lolli, as before, let out her patented little girl giggle. Vincent broke into another big smile. His eyes grew large as he looked up at Lolli. Looking down at Vincent, Lolli saw the light in Vincent’s big, bright eyes. Then she watched as the light slowly went out. Vincent slowly closed his eyes and slipped peacefully away, his little body now growing totally limp in her arms.

The mother in Jackie, underneath the make-up, wanted to scream as she cried in her mind, “breathe, please breath“. This child, whom she had come to love in such a short period of time, had just died in her arms. It didn’t matter that it was not her child. As a mother she felt the pain and wanted desperately to respond in real and human fashion.

Looking up, Lolli noticed a child watching her through the glass walls. If this child were to realize that Vincent had died in the arms of a clown, it could be harmful to the child, psychologically. When Jackie dresses as Lollibells, she IS Lollibells. She is no longer Jackie Garner and the children know her only as Lolli, no one else. She reminded herself that she had to maintain her persona. She had to stay in character for the other children and act as if nothing was wrong; but, at the same time, she had to get away. She had to find a place where she could allow herself to be human.

The doctor took Vincent’s lifeless body from Lolli as she got up and walked out of the room. Leaving Vincent’s sobbing parents behind, she made her way down the hall, still being Lolli, waving and greeting children who watched her as she passed by in her rush toward the elevator. Emotionally, she was about to explode because this was the last thing she expected. She came to the hospital with the hopes of lifting the spirits of a badly injured child, but she never expected that child would die in her arms. When Vincent was first placed in her arms he was unresponsive, but soon came alive as Lolli spoke to him and shared a laugh. Now, he was gone. She had never had a child die in her arms. This was something new and she found it very hard.

“Lord, I Don’t Understand!”

At the time it was hard for Jackie to admit that Lollibells was a gift from God. He had groomed her for this role and used her to help many people. To give anything less than her best as Lollibells, would not only violate the clown code of ethics, but more importantly, it would short-change God. To give anything less than her best portrayal of Lolli would not be representative of the trust God had placed in her to do this job. But at that moment, she struggled to maintain her composure and understand why this would happen.

As she approached the elevator, following what seemed like an endless walk, she looked back to see Vincent’s dad coming after her. “Lolli, wait”, called out the dad.

“What did I do wrong”, she thought to herself. “What could he possibly want with me now?”

In obvious distress the father asked, “What do I owe you?”

Getting close so she could speak in her Jackie voice instead of Lolli, Jackie told him that he didn’t owe her a thing. “No, daddy”, she said, “what do I owe you? Thank you so much for allowing me to be a part of Vincent’s life and share this time with you and your family. I’ll take a hug. Thank you for Vincent”, she went on.  “He touched my life in those thirty minutes. Thank you so much”. And with that, he hugged her tightly.

“I’ll never forget this”, Lolli told him. “But now I have to go. Other kids are watching and they might not understand.  I love you. Now you need to put on your best smile and go back to mama. She needs you.” Tearfully, the dad thanked Lolli and turned to walk away.

So, as she turned back toward the elevator, Lolli heard, “Lolli, would you please come here?” It was Vincent’s mother calling. So, Lolli turned and walked back to where the mother was waiting. It was the longest walk she had ever made.

“Hi mom”, Lolli said in greeting.

With that, the weeping mother fell into her arms. “Lolli, how can we thank you?”

“You already have, mom. You already have”.

“Lolli, did you see? He had no pain. He never got to go to Six Flags. He never got to go to a circus or to Disney World. But, did you see? He had it all. And there was no pain.” Lolli could feel the mother’s warm tears as they dripped onto the back of her neck. She felt the weight of the mother as she lay in her arms. But while her tears were tears of sorrow over the loss of her child, they were also tears of joy because of the way he passed away and the joy he was able to experience in those last moments.

Vincent’s parents had accepted the fact they were about to lose their child. What they could not accept was the fact he had missed out on so much as he was being cheated out of his childhood. His life was cut short by a careless driver, depriving him of so many things that other kids were able to enjoy.

This mother loved her child so much that as he took his last breath, her greatest concern was that he was happy and had no pain. She was infinitely grateful to a stranger dressed in a silly clown costume because this stranger was able to bring joy to her child in his dying moments and for a short time, allow him to forget his pain.

These parents will forget the pain that Vincent endured and remember, instead, his final moments filled with smiles and laughter. They will remember the peace, and calm, and love that filled Vincent’s room and the sweet way in which God called him home. And they will always remember Vincent’s last words-“I wuv you Wawwie. I wuv you mommy. I wuv you daddy”. What a precious memory.

The mother gave Lolli one more huge hug and returned to the room with her husband.

Following what seemed like an eternity, the elevator doors opened and inside stood moms and dads and tons of kids. It looked like free pizza day at Chuck E. Cheese’s. She maintained her composure all the way down to the lobby in her quest to get to her clown car.

God’s Perfect Plan

But still, working her way back into traffic, she was not where she could allow herself to express her feelings. You don’t slip inconspicuously through traffic in a circus wagon with eyelashes. Lolli drove from the hospital parking lot and down the street until she finally came to an isolated dirt road where she could park and be alone and let it out. She sat there sobbing for a good 30 to 45 minutes, all the while wondering why. Why would this happen? Why would it happen to her? Eventually she would come to realize that she had not been called to minister to Vincent, but instead, to Vincent’s parents. She would come to realize, too, how special such moments were because there would be others in her career. These were times which allowed her to serve as God’s healing ambassador. But on that day everything she had ever done or learned as a clown poured into that one single half-hour she spent with Vincent and his parents. God had invested a lot of time and training to prepare her for this and other special times to follow. And Lolli had risen to the occasion.

You can measure distance. You can measure time and weight. You can place a value on possessions. But you cannot measure joy. There is no such thing as a joy meter or a happiness scale. It’s just something that comes to us in varying degrees and at different times. And when it comes at a time when we are at our lowest, that’s when its value is greatest. Nothing can replace it. There is nothing short of salvation itself that is of greater value than for a parent to see joy in the eyes of their child at his dying moments. It brings an enduring memory to the parents which cannot be replaced. That’s the ultimate magic of a clown-to bring happiness to the dying.

Jackie was asked once how she was able to do what she does. She says she doesn’t do it; in fact, she is quick to say she isn’t capable of doing it. She will tell you that God does it. God uses her and the gifts He has given her to accomplish difficult tasks. The glory is His and His alone. To God be the glory!




2 responses

15 08 2011
Stan slaughter

Thank you. This was a great story. It should make all of us think and appreciate all God has Given us.

16 08 2011
Bill Taylor

Thanks, Stan. You’re exactly right and I hope the story does just that. Jackie Garner is a uniquley gifted individual who knows she, like us all, is NOT in control. Thanks for the comment.

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