Keeping the Faith
On August 8, 2007 a 34-word article appeared in the Beaufort Gazette: "Patient Lorraine Precious Murdaugh, infant daughter of Maurice and Shanequi Murdaugh, died Friday, August 3, 2007. Graveside services at 2:00 p.m. today in Lawton Cemetery."
Now, more than four years later, I am preparing to interview Shanequi Murdaugh. I only know she has conceived five babies, but has only one living child. Pink's December issue is focused on personal miracles of hope, love, and faith. I wonder how this story will unfold.
Shanequi introduces her husband, Maurice. I hadn't expected him, but it is clear that they are close and this is their story. They sit together, often looking at each other for confirmation. I ask when they got married. Maurice is quick to respond, "November 18, 2006." They are young-31 and 32-and have known each other since high school when Shanequi was 15-years-old and a grade ahead. I tease Maurice about marrying an older woman. Shanequi retorts, "Not that much older!" They are at ease with each other and could be any happily young married couple out on a beautiful fall day.
Except, since their marriage, they have lived through experiences that make the words terrible and tragic seem inadequate.
On a drizzly afternoon-August 3rd, 2006-Shanequi came home around 3:00 p.m. to pick up her four-year-old daughter, Aleriah. They were going to meet Maurice. Shanequi was eight months pregnant. She had miscarried once before and once after Aleriah was born. This time she had conceived twins, but lost one baby five months into the pregnancy. As she pulled her car out of her driveway, a drunk driver smashed into her head on. "I was awake through the whole thing. The windshield glass was flying everywhere. Aleriah cried, 'My nose is bleeding!' I said, Baby that's not your nose. It's your head."
Shanequi was conscious during the wait for the ambulance. She had to be cut from the car. She was conscious during the ambulance ride to Memorial Hospital in Savannah. She was conscious when she went into premature labor without anesthesia because it could complicate her surgeries scheduled immediately after. She was conscious when she delivered her baby girl-Patient Lorraine Precious Murdaugh-stillborn. "I wasn't able to attend the funeral, but what got me through this was they let me hold [her] in the hospital. I have pictures holding her. That's what got me through." Shanequi describes these events in a quiet calm voice. Maurice watches her, nodding.
The most severe damage was to Shanequi's left side. She shows me a zipper scar that starts below her elbow and snakes half-way up her arm. The pins in her elbow are now gone. The permanent rods up to her hip and down her left leg remain. The bones in her leg were shattered. A prosthesis helps to lengthen her damaged leg. It is unlikely that she can have more children.
During her four-month recovery, Shanequi and Aleriah (who is fine) moved in with her parents and sister, and Maurice moved in with his parents, so he could continue to work. The hospital and rehab bills were nearly $200,000. The drunk driver was violating parole, driving on a suspended license, and had no insurance. Their insurance company settled out of court, but there are still unresolved financial obligations. The driver was never charged in the death of their baby.
I ask what gets them through. Maurice says, "We support each other, and our families and church support us." Shanequi says, "I heard that sometimes if one twin doesn't survive, the other one has a hard time in life. Now I know they are together in heaven and that helps." They both tell me they have forgiven the driver. Maurice says, "Nobody plans to do this." I look at this brave young couple and shake my head with wonder and admiration.
Maurice looks at me and says a bit reluctantly, "There's one more thing." This past August, Shanequi noticed Maurice wasn't talking or moving right. Doctors discovered a blood clot on his brain, which had to be surgically removed. He shows me a big scar behind his ear. "First I had to take care of her and then she had to take care of me."
After all this, I ask what they want out of life. They tell me Shanequi's grandparents were married for 65 years. They want to be married for at least 70. Now, that is a triumph of love, hope, and faith that I find truly miraculous. and humbling.
Remembering: Shanequi's tattoo is a cross with a ribbon and her baby girl's name. Patient (she was patient during the accident) Lorraine (it was raining) Precious (she is a child of God) Murdaugh. Maurice's tattoo adds, "Rest in Peace."
Good times: They like to fish and bowl.
The way to Maurice's heart: Shanequi pats Maurice's stomach and smiles, "I like to cook, too."