WHAT HAVE THESE PEOPLE SUFFERED
TO BECOME SO BEAUTIFUL?
By Ann Hauprich
The following is an excerpt from a speech delivered by Ann Hauprich to a
convention of Shriners at The Concord Resort on the evening of May 1, 1992.
A decade or so ago, a friend told me about the discovery of a tattered old tea
towel inside a rustic cabin in Northern Ontario. Because the towel had been
laundered so many times, it was faded -- and its design was hard to make out.
Upon closer examination, my friend was amazed to find that woven into the
pattern was an inscription. It read: "What have these people suffered to
become so beautiful?"
While I was fascinated with the profundity, its meaning was not entirely clear
to me. It reminded me of a story I had read in a magazine a few years earlier
in which film star Sophia Loren had been quoted as saying: "Unless a woman has
cried, she cannot have beautiful eyes."
Because I was so young and had led a relatively sheltered life, I could not
quite grasp what the tea towel scribe or Ms. Loren were attempting to share. I
knew it was something infinitely more profound than the adage about beauty
only being skin deep. Yet the link between suffering and beauty continued to
My understanding of these powerful quotations was not to begin for another two
years when I received a proverbial "baptism by fire" into the world of burn
victims and their caring support network of doctors, nurses, physiotherapists,
counselors . . . and, working most quietly of all behind the scenes: members
of The Shrine of North America.
The burn trauma unit where my two-year-old daughter was hospitalized following
a severe scalding accident in 1984 was filled with faces and bodies scarred
and disfigured beyond belief. Yet the longer I remained in the company of
these burn patients, the more I witnessed their incredible courage,
determination and inner strength -- the more beautiful they became in my eyes.
Most striking of all over these past several years has been the transformation
of my own child from an ordinary little girl to an extraordinary young woman.
To me, she exemplifies what the Rev. Robert Schuller means when he talks about
"turning your scars into stars."
Only a half an hour before my daughter's accident on the night of February 4,
1984, I had been giving her a bedtime bath. A girlfriend of mine named Andra,
happened to be visiting that evening, and she and I were giggling, as young
mothers often do, about the things strangers had said to us about our children
in places like McDonald's and Burger King as well as at playgrounds and
Her two little boys were fair-haired to the point of resembling albinos and
people always wanted to know about their ancestry -- which happened to have
been Scandinavian. Strangers were also impressed that Andra managed to keep
her boys impeccably groomed, despite their often rambunctious behavior.
I, on the other hand, was constantly hearing that Tara, who was tiny for her
two years and sported a head of long, thick, ringlets, looked like "a
miniature Shirley Temple" or a "Shirley Temple doll." Countless strangers had
advised me to enrol her in modeling school while others urged me to have her
audition for television commercials. "That child is gorgeous. She is
absolutely perfect!" they would insist.
While I had always been flattered that people thought Tara was such a natural
beauty, I told Andra that I hoped Tara would grow up to be admired at least as
much for her bright, inquisitive mind and kind personality as she, no doubt,
would be for her stunning looks.
It never dawned on me as I dried Tara's beautiful little face and tiny,
flawless body with a soft, fluffy towel that her physical appearance might
ever be anything less than perfect. I could not know that the next time Tara
would meet a stranger in a public place, the stranger would gasp and cry out:
"Oh my God! What's wrong with your child's face?"
People tell me that I shouldn't feel guilty about what happened to my daughter
a half hour after that wonderful, carefree bedtime bath. They say, it was an
accident. That accidents happen. They say I should be happy that Tara
recovered as well as she did. That her face has healed miraculously -- that
she is lucky the worst of the burn and skin grafting scars can be hidden
beneath clothing most of the time.
And, of course, they are right -- about much of what they say.
Accidents do happen. But, they can also be prevented.
In Tara's case, I only left a kettle of boiling water unattended for a moment
or two while I ducked out of the kitchen to tell guests in the livingroom that
coffee would be ready in a second.
But it was long enough for Tara to sneak from her bedroom down the hall of our
ranch-style house and into the kitchen.
It was long enough for her to push a step-stool across the kitchen floor over
to the counter where a large electric tea kettle was boiling at full capacity.
It was long enough for her to mount the step-stool and to become entangled in
the electric cord, pulling the heavy kettle of boiling water over on top of
her as she fell on her back.
By the time I heard her bloodcurdling screams, it was too late. The near empty
electric kettle was imbedded in Tara's shoulder. Her face and nearly a third
of her 23-pound, 33" tall body had been scalded.
Although I had taken a First Aid class a few years earlier, shock and
disbelief numbed my reflexes. I cried and began to shake uncontrollably as
Andra's husband Peter whisked Tara into the bathroom and held her under a cold
shower while Tara's father telephoned for an ambulance.
Watching half of Tara's face and much of her body turning bright red and
blistering as she screamed and shook in fright and agony on that cold, snowy
Canadian winter's night is a nightmarish scene I have never been able to erase
from my memory.
I wept in the ambulance all the way to the Hamilton General Hospital in
Southern Ontario. I had burned my hand while trying to free Tara from the
electric kettle and kept holding it against the frosty cold window in an
attempt to relieve the pain. But even then, I kept saying to myself: "What you
are feeling is only a pin prick compared to what that little baby is going
Over and over, I relived the accident. If only I hadn't left the room. If only
I hadn't turned on the dishwasher, I would have heard her pushing the stool
across the kitchen floor. If only I hadn't invited guests that night, I would
have been reading to Tara or singing lullabies when the accident happened. If
only I had bought a kettle with a whistle, I might have had a warning. If only
I hadn't kept a step-stool by the phone.
If only. If only. If only. But I had left the room. I had turned on the
dishwasher. I hadn't stayed with Tara as I usually did until she fell asleep.
I had not anticipated her return to the kitchen. I had let my guard down. I
had been negligent. My child was suffering -- and it was my fault. I hated
myself. If only I could turn the clock back and undo what had happened. If
only. If only. If only.
Alas, there was nothing I could do. I could not even hold my baby and tell her
everything would be all right. Her condition was so serious, I was not allowed
to be with her in the ambulance. I was seated -- shaking, weeping and of no
use to anyone -- in the front seat while she lay shivering beside an attendant
in the back crying out for me. "Mommy loves you. Mommy loves you," I tried to
tell her through the glass that separated us. But I don't think she could hear
I had hoped I could stay with Tara and hold her hand after we finally got to
the hospital 45 minutes later. But no, she was whisked away by the burn trauma
team. I could hear her calling for me from a nearby room where her emergency
medical needs were being met and it broke my heart to be kept outside the
room. I wanted so much to hold her hand.
All these years later, I still wish they had let me be in the room. There is
nothing worse for a mother than hearing her child call her name -- and not
being allowed to answer. I can't tell you how many other mothers of burn
victims I've met since have echoed this sentiment.
One thing I remember most vividly as I waited to be reunited with Tara that
Saturday night was being told that a social worker would be in to see me on
Monday. "Oh, my God! They must think we're child abusers!" I had exclaimed.
As it turned out, the intervention by social worker Claudia McDermott turned
out to be a Godsend during Tara's first hospital stay -- which lasted over a
Ironically, it was Claudia who tried the hardest to cheer me up and help me
overcome my intense feelings of guilt so that I might play a more positive
role in Tara's physical and emotional recovery. A play therapist named Ruth
Ann Horwood also did much to help me as she did to help Tara through those
difficult days. I will never forget the kindness and compassion of these two
very beautiful women who did as much as any human can to make sense out of
suffering. I believe their very human touch in a very clinical environment
played a crucial role in Tara's recovery. The healing power of touch -- and
prayer -- must never be underestimated.
Likewise, I must say that the doctors and nurses I remember with the greatest
affection were the ones who treated Tara and myself as human beings rather
than as "burn victim" and "negligent mother who allowed child to become a
patient in this burn ward." Among the kindest souls I encountered was a
resident plastic surgeon who had clearly been told to give Tara's father and
myself the "worst case scenario" involving our daughter on the night of her
We were told there was a possibility that the left side of her face (which was
then bright red) might remain discolored for the rest of her life. There was
no way of knowing how much the redness might fade or whether the texture of
the burned facial skin would heal smooth or bumpy.
The other burns to roughly a third of her body appeared to be a combination of
first and second degree in severity. It would take a few days to determine the
full extent of the tissue damage. Some spots were eventually pronounced "full
thickness" burns -- the type requiring skin grafting.
Although the nurses made it clear they did not like parents staying near
children at night, I begged to be allowed to pass the night in a chair next to
Tara's bed. She barely slept all night, and I was glad I could at least hold
her little fingers and offer words of comfort, humming familiar, soothing
lullabies until she dozed off again. Her body was a mass of bandages, and it
was not until morning that the full reality of what had happened hit home.
here in the light, I
saw a face so red and swollen, I again experienced a numbing sense of shock.
My little Shirley Temple look-alike was gone. In her place was a tiny
stranger, with one puffy, swollen eye, a swollen ear and facial contours
swollen and distorted due to inflammation. The entire left side was beet red.
"Oh, Tara," I cried.
But Tara did not answer. In fact, three days passed before she would
communicate with either her father or me. Was she angry or in shock? I'll
What triggered her first flow of words was a wooden puzzle from the hospital's
playroom which contained a piece cut in the shape of a tea kettle. "That tea
pot fell on my head . . . it was hot . . . that man put me in the shower . . .
it was cold. " That run on sentence was repeated about 25 times in succession.
Telling us about it over and over seemed to make Tara feel better and play
therapist Ruth Ann assured us it was a good sign.
It was also healthy, Ruth Ann said, when Tara applied bandages to her dolls
and stuffed animals -- placing the bandages on the exact spots where she
herself had been injured. She was always very careful of the dolls -- though a
doll that resembled a nurse took some rough handling!
Tara's dolls always had bandages on their right legs, right arms, and their
left arms with special care given when looking after the shoulder/chest and
underarm. That's because Tara's right arm was initially bandaged from toe to
upper thigh and Tara -- our little "roadrunner" refused to even try to walk at
first. Physiotherapy was prescribed and her painful limp was restored to a
healthy walk only after much forced stretching of the burned leg . . . and
Similarly, Tara refused to lift or stretch her left arm until after a skin
grafting operation about three weeks into her hospital stay. Only after
recovering from that surgery (which meant removing skin from her buttocks) was
Tara able to use that arm without screaming in pain.
They say misery loves company, and Tara's placement in a room with a little
boy named Jason turned out to be a blessing -- because his presence served as
a constant reminder of how much worse off our family could have been.
Six-year-old Jason had suffered severe facial and hand burns when his house
was gutted by fire. That was enough of a load for any little soldier and his
parents to carry. And my heart went out to them. When I subsequently learned
that Jason's three-year-old brother, Jeremy, had died in that same tragic
house fire -- I realized that the cross my family had been given to carry was
not so heavy after all.
Over and over during Tara's lengthy hospitalization and during subsequent
outpatient visits to clinics at Hamilton General Hospital, Toronto's Hospital
For Sick Children, and more recently at the Shriners Burns Institutes in
Boston, I would be reminded of the adage: "I cried because I had no shoes
until I met a man who had no feet." One need only read the wonderful passage
entitled "Footprints" to know that when only one set of footprints appears in
the sand it is because the Lord is carrying us.
Every time a new obstacle came up in the course of Tara's recovery, the Lord
sent a "Highway To Heaven" or "Wonderful Life" kind of angel to help.
for example, the JOBST compression suits we were told Tara would have to wear
24 hours a day, seven days a week for about two years after her accident.
Cost of the physiologically engineered, custom-made garments designed to
control the hypotrophic scarring common to burn victims, was estimated at
$2,500. Our government-health insurance plan would cover only a portion of the
therapeutic suits. Since I had left the full-time work force to care for Tara,
there was no way we could pay for the suits -- short of selling our home and
using the proceeds.
Worrying about how to finance these very necessary compression suits was the
last thing we needed as we fretted over Tara's physical and emotional
recovery. Enter Bill Boyd of the Rameses Shrine Temple in Downsview, Ontario
with news that the organization would pick up the portion of the suits not
covered by insurance. The intervention of the Ramese Shrine Temple during 1984
and 1985 was the answer to a prayer!
Squeezing Tara into those compression suits and facial masks every day,
removing them only for bathing, and then squeezing them back on again -- was a
daily trial. Adding to the stress of simply getting her into the tight suits
was the reaction of strangers who saw her wearing them.
My initial response was to try to hide the suits under long-sleeved shirts and
long pants -- even in 90 F weather. I cleaned the local department store out
of its Holly Hobby style bonnets -- Tara had white ones, pink ones, blue ones,
checks and floral prints. While this didn't totally eliminate stares and
tactless remarks from strangers, it did make the masks and Jobst suits less
Although I will always wish my daughter had been spared both the physical pain
of the burns and the emotional pain linked to her scars, I must say that her
ordeal has truly made her an extraordinarily beautiful person. Tara exudes a
radiance, compassion, warmth and depth of personality that is extremely rare
in 10-year-old girls.
When I look at her, I think of Sophia Loren's observation that "unless a woman
has cried, she cannot have beautiful eyes" . . . and I wonder about the
experiences that led that designer to add the words "What have these people
suffered to become so beautiful" to his or her tea towel.
In closing, I'd like to share a verse I clipped from a magazine not long after
Tara was burned. It is now yellowed and crumpled from being carried in my
purse, but every time I read it, its message speaks to me anew of the
contribution of The Shriners to burned children and their families.
It goes like this: "There are places in the heart that do not yet exist.
Suffering must enter before these places come to be. This creativity of
suffering applies not only to the one who suffers, but also to those who seek
to lessen the suffering."
In working tirelessly to reduce the suffering of others, you, the members of
The Shrine of North America, have shown the world what it is to be truly