04 October 2011

October 3 & 4

Everything goes back to this day.

I spent a portion of the morning yesterday curled up on the couch remembering, crying. Sobbing, in truth -- mascara rubbed and streaked all over my face and the back of my hand, and I didn't care. October 3, 2010 was the day we went to the hospital and heard the dreaded words, "There is nothing more we can do." It is the day the nurses told us he was neurologically unresponsive, and that he hadn't woken or moved all day. It is the day we spoke at length with the most optimistic surgeon on our team and he confirmed what we had feared: it would take nothing short of a miracle to see Ewan come back from this.

Just the evening before, his blue eyes looked into mine and he was moving his lips as if he were talking to me. I could not get over how sweet he was.

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Remembering that day and marking it a year later, and I was back in that hospital room. The nurses that day knew what we were facing as well as we did. As our eyes filled with tears and the sound of sniffles drowned out the sound of the machines the room, one of them showed us how we could get our hands underneath him and hold him a bit, arms awkwardly outstretched, making Ewan's hang limp at his sides. Chest tubes and ECMO prevented us from pulling him to our chests. It felt unnatural, holding him out like an offering, but it was the best we could do.

I was back there again, and it was as if my heart had stopped and fallen out of my body.

Though plenty aware of what was taking place that day, I also had the grace then of being in shock. A year later, the shock is gone and there is nothing to shield me from feeling the thrust of the sword that pierced my heart. The anesthesia has long since worn off.

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I've got plenty to be happy about these days, and this is a truth I hardly take for granted. We've got a healthy baby on the way. We're in the process of creating the life we dreamed of together when we were engaged. And I can't help but recall that I've written about this last night multiple times now without falling to pieces.

But something about marking these particular dates a year later took me back. Other anniversaries haven't affected me nearly like this one has. I think it's because on that day -- all the fears and grief that began at that 20-week ultrasound in May, and all the hope attendant at his birth, and all the victories and losses along the way -- all of these collided and coalesced into this, these last few sacred moments that, all at once, lasted an eternity and not nearly long enough. Everything I have felt since then goes back to that day.

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October 3 was the day we gathered around his bed for the last time. And it was just after midnight -- just a minute or two into October 4 -- that his broken heart beat its last.

A surgeon stood outside our room, waiting to close Ewan's chest once all was said and done. He said he wished there was more they could have done. We hugged the night nurses and with faces reddened and tear-stained as ours, they wept with us. We went up to the little ICU parent room with its vinyl-covered twin bed that had been home for the previous ten days and gathered our things. I looked at the breastpump wistfully as we exited the room. The next morning, I would wake up and find my breasts feeling heavy and overfull, and to the scent of milk-soaked bedsheets. Somewhere between two and three in the morning, after the chest had been closed and the packet for grieving parents had been placed in our hands, we walked out the front doors of the hospital, turning in our parent identification badges for the last time.

And we left the hospital without him.

Everything goes back to this day.

{All photos by Mary Combs}