My son died seven years ago today after fighting hard for eight days of life to stay alive. To most of us, eight days is something we cannot wait to pass — like when we are waiting for a vacation or a holiday. For us, those eight days were his entire lifetime.
Sparky was very fragile and premature after being born at only 23 weeks. I do wonder sometimes what his quality of life would be like had he lived. Would he have cerebral palsy? Blindness? Major brain or heart problems? We would love him just the same, of course, but his chances of living a perfectly healthy life reduced dramatically when he was born on March 4 instead of his due date which was June 30.
Your last day was a pretty sad day. Your dad and I stayed the night at the NICU in a little room that was used for families to stay overnight in case of emergencies. Your health was already going downhill the night before and they cautioned us not to leave. You had developed some serious infections and your body had started to shut down. Everything is a major blur, but I know for sure that I asked your doctor if that day was “the day’ and he gave me a quiet nod. They switched you into “comfort care” and somehow relatives came from the other side of the state. It was a Monday. I knew I hated Mondays for some reason.
Time stands still when something like this happens and it speeds up at the same time. They put a little quilted partition around your area so that we could grieve and say our goodbyes without feeling like the other families were staring at us… or maybe it was so they couldn’t see the horror in our eyes…? After a little time, they had all of us go to a little room where cookies and coffee and pop were waiting and a photographer had shown up to take pictures of our goodbyes. Everyone kept looking at me. I think they pitied me but I think they were also taking cues from me to make sure they were not being too emotional for my sake.
I remember these little details because they are part of my life with you. They are all I have left.
I don’t know how much more detail is important here. We had a funeral back in Detroit and then we had a memorial here at home in Grand Haven in the family center of the local Catholic church. Yes yes, I know mommy is not Catholic anymore, but she did have you baptized by a Sister who Nunya knows. And, to be honest, I find the church comforting. I may not believe in the religion anymore, but I do believe in paying attention to how things and people and places make me feel.
Something I don’t think I have share before is that when we came home a swan had died out on the bayou behind the house. It was intact but frozen to the ice. There didn’t seem to be any outward signs of trauma, but it was hard to tell since it was a little far down the hill. Anyway, for a few days there were all sorts of swans and ducks and geese who came to visit this swan. I don’t know if they were protecting it from predators or if they were joining in grief, but it was a really poignant, beautiful site.
Anyway, you had a beautiful funeral and so many lovely friends and family came to both of your services. I don’t remember what was said to me, but I remember how it made me feel. I felt loved. These people barely knew you, but they knew us and they knew how desperately we wanted you to live and grow strong and become a big boy. Like the swans, all we needed was for some kind-hearted souls to come and hold us up for a little while. And I remember that they did. And I think I was beginning to realize how important that is in the grief process.
Some of the strongest women in my life are other baby loss mamas. They hold me up, they support me, they come to my side if there is ever a time when I am in need. Just like the fiercely protective swans. Today I looked up the wikipedia about swans and it says that the word comes from the Indo-European root of “to sound or to sing.” I know so many amazing women who are sounding and singing for their lost babies all around the world doing some wonderful things. I do what I can do. I guess I am a permanent fixture around some people’s virtual nests. Just holding them up. Just smiling or hugging if they need it.
Thank you for helping me be a swan and for helping me to look at life through such different eyes.
People will forget what you said
People will forget what you did
But people will never forget how you made them feel.
~ Maya Angelou