It was Saturday. A cold, blustery February morning. I was laying in bed, slowly waking and nursing Rory and I remembered that Brock had said we were going to his parents house that day. I didn’t want to get up. I thought about telling Brock to take the big kids, and that Rory and I would stay home. I thought about saying I was sick. I just didn’t want to go.
The kids were excited. They loved their grandparents and loved going up to the lake. I got everyone dressed in warm clothes, and used articles of clothing that were Christmas gifts from Brock’s mom. Things between us had still felt kind of strained, and I wanted to try to do the right things, to make them happy.
We were driving up to help as Jane and Ted wanted to go through the attic above their garage. They wanted us to find stuff that was ours and get rid of it. Take it, throw it, donate it – whatever. We had moved out over three years earlier, and tons of our things were still up there. I was of the mindset to just throw everything away; we hadn’t needed or used any of it in three years, we truly could survive without it. Brock wanted to sort and go through everything. Jane just wanted help.
Our car pulled in their driveway around ten. The kids climbed out from the car and went inside. We talked for a while, but had come with a purpose and went straight to it. Everyone went out to the garage and we let the kids come up into the attic where they each picked out a few vintage toys to play with while we worked – and then we worked. We immediately started opening boxes and choosing things to throw or donate. Jane, Ted, Brock and I were up in the attic above where the kids were playing in the floor of the garage. In just a few hours we had made a huge dent in the mess. There were several boxes in the back of my car to bring home, several more in the back of Jane’s to go to donation, and tons in the trash pile. We were all cold and hungry, so we decided to go into the house to eat.
I sat and nursed Rory in the breakfast area while everyone else prepared food. Rory was fading fast, and I asked Brock if he would try to put him down for a nap – Rory only went down easily for Brock. I fed the kids, then sat down to eat my own food, and Brock was back upstairs before I had taken my first bite. Rory was so tired, he went down without hassle.
I guess we all sort of felt like we had worked hard enough for long enough that we let lunch run long. We sat around talking while the kids played in the living room, and shortly after Uncle Brady arrived. He ate lunch while we caught up and chatted. It was nearly two when Jane and Brock headed back outside to continue cleaning, bringing Brady with them. I stayed in the house with the kids, and waited for Rory to wake up. After a few minutes of playing on my phone, I went downstairs to check on him. His eyes opened the minute I walked into the room, but he was still laying in the same position that he had been sleeping in. I was so happy to see him. We cuddled in the bed for a bit, and then he was ready to go. I asked if he wanted something to eat, and he nodded.
Rory and I climbed up the stairs and I got him a bun with some of the barbecued pork we’d had for lunch and put it on a plate. He loved the bun, but did NOT love the barbecued pork – he took a bite and then immediately put it back down on the plate. I laughed at him and let him just eat the bun. We went outside where the other kids had migrated, and were playing on the driveway. There was a giant, flat area and a steep hill that rode down into it. Ronan and Ruby were playing with dolls on the flat part of the driveway, and Ryder had taken a ‘big-wheel’ out of the garage and was freewheeling down the hill towards the entrance of the house. Max, Jane and Ted’s big German short-haired Pointer (a dog) was running around with the kids.
I remember standing in a patch of sunlight, trying to keep warm. I remember feeling incredibly guilty that Brock and Jane were up in the attic working, and I was just down in the drive way doing nothing. I felt terribly guilty, and like I was being judged as lazy, avoiding work. I watched as Brady carried a few loads of trash up to the trash pile at the top of the hill. I watched as Ted loaded several boxes into Jane’s truck. I watched and took videos as Ryder came speeding down the hill, face filled with joy. Rory had found a little green John Deere Tractor ride-on toy that he was pushing around like a lawn mower. I watched as he toddled around, proud of his find. Ruby and Ronan were still playing with old action figures and barbies together, and Ryder had found some toy aliens whose heads could pop off, and joined them. I decided then, since everyone was sufficiently occupied, to go up into the attic to check on Brock and Jane.
Upon entering the attic, I found a box that hadn’t been gone through yet, and asked Brock if he knew who it belonged to. He said it was ours, but I didn’t recognize any of the things in it. At that exact moment, Ronan brought Rory up into the attic and said that Rory was trying to go up the stairs on his own. The stairs were open to the garage with no wall or railing, so the kids weren’t allowed to be on them without a grown up. I kept Rory upstairs with me for about fifteen minutes. He kept wandering back towards the stairs, so I finally carried him back down into the garage and put him in front of his tractor, then went back up into the attic. Ronan, Ruby and Ryder were all still playing in the driveway, and Ted and Brady had never come back upstairs. Rory began slamming the tractor into a dog crate that was at the bottom of the stairs, and giggling wildly over the sound it made.
I went back up and returned to the box I had been looking through. I found some baby pictures and a few CD’s that I wanted to keep. I was separating things into two different boxes – keep and throw. I stopped for a moment when I realized that I hadn’t heard any crashing noises from the kids for a while. “I should go check on the kids,” I said. “They’re fine,” Brock told me. “I hear them outside this window.” He pointed over his shoulder, and continued working. I looked through another handful of discs, and started to feel heavy. “I don’t hear the kids,” I said again, “I need to go check.”
“My dad is down there,” Brock told me, “and Brady.”
“I know,” I responded, “But I’m going to make sure.”
I went down into the garage, expecting to see the kids playing quietly, but no one was there. The front door to the house was wide open, which was odd because it was VERY cold that day. They must be inside. They left it open as they went inside. I ran into the house, hoping to hear the kids, and felt a little thrill of fear. Silence. I jogged into the kitchen, and Ted was standing next to the counter on his phone. “You seen the kids?” I asked him. He shook his head no. I immediately left, and ran to the top of the stairs to the basement. “RONAN?” I yelled, “BRADY??” I listened for just a moment and didn’t hear any response. My fear was rising.
I ran back outside and shouted up to the garage, “THEY AREN’T IN THE HOUSE!”
I heard Jane and Brock come down the stairs behind me and head up the road away from the house and lake as I started down the path to the water. There is a long, deep, steep ravine to the immediate left of the house, and I didn’t stop to look down there. I don’t know why. I just kept going, down towards the water. I found Rory’s tractor, abandoned off the path halfway to the backyard.
It’s maybe 20 quick paces from the end of the pathway down to the water. I ran it on stiff legs, and felt every step jolt up into my brain. I was cold and terrified.
Surely not. Surely not.
I felt almost separate from the event. It was so quiet, peaceful. It was beautiful. The water was smooth like glass, and reflected the sky, perfectly. I walked quickly down to the boat ramp and looked out across the water and it was perfectly smooth, except for a small break off to the right of me, maybe 5 yards away. It could be a stick. Let it be a stick. But I couldn’t see clearly in the mirrored sky, so I stepped up onto the boardwalk to get a better look.
Two steps up onto the boardwalk and I saw him. I saw his face, turned towards me, still.
I screamed. Medium, high, low. Scream. Scream. Scream. Guttural. Deep. I screamed over and over and over. A separate part of my brain asked me why I was screaming like that – wouldn’t ‘help’ be better? Call 911? Instead, I screamed.
That crystal clear part of my brain was working slowly at the same time as my screams, and very aware of everything. The water is not deep. You will not need to swim. Do not strip, just jump in. Throw your phone, you will need it later. Go.
I jumped down into the water that was ice-cold up to my thighs. Three or four steps forward and I pulled him up out of the water. He was limp and cold, his head rolled back in my arms. I screamed again. And again. As I walked, waterlogged, towards the boat ramp, I started tipping him and squeezing him to get the water out. I needed to get the water out to do CPR. I tilted his head downwards, and squeezed his lungs. Water and vomit came pouring out. I screamed and screamed.
Faintly, to the left of me, I heard Brock yell, “CALL 911. CALL 911.” I glanced up where he was yelling and saw him on the back deck on the second level, running out of the house. As I stepped up onto the boardwalk again, I knew I didn’t want Rory laying on the cement boat ramp to do CPR, I felt Brock beside me. I didn’t know how he made it to me so quickly. I didn’t find out until later that he had jumped the railing. I was tipping Rory’s body, and felt Brock pulling his cold, wet clothes off. I laid Rory down on the boardwalk, and began CPR. Head tilt, chin lift. Open the airway. Breathe. Breathe. I hear it gurgle in his chest. It’s going in. Compressions. Do compressions now. I started compressing his chest. I counted, because that’s what you do. I compressed and counted and then gave breaths again. His head was rolling around, and when I did compressions, vomit came out. I kept clearing the vomit and then having to reset his head to do more breaths. I remember feeling awful about his head on the wood… he was going to get splinters.
At some point, I heard Brock yelling, “GO BACK IN THE HOUSE. GO BACK INSIDE!” And I heard Ruby screaming. I could not stop. I couldn’t. Compressions and breaths. Compressions and breaths. My entire world was taken up with compressions and breaths.
Suddenly, there was a body beside me. “Let me help,” he said quietly to me. I didn’t know who it was – someone who knew CPR and wanted to help. He was doing compressions to my breaths, white hands emerging from a dark sweater. I never saw his face. I heard Jane on the phone next to me, and the 911 operator trying to tell Jane how to tell me to do CPR. Everyone was telling me what to do. Turn his head. Breathe harder. Clear his mouth. Finally, between breaths, I shouted, “I KNOW WHAT I’M DOING. STOP TALKING TO ME.”
Move his blood. Breathe his lungs. Move his blood. Breathe his lungs.
There was no rational thought. Just breaths and counting and moving his blood and pushing his oxygen. No thought. I heard the sirens, and then the paramedics were there. My partner fell away and someone else took over for compressions. I continued to give breaths, holding his head steady with his airway open. Finally, someone tapped my shoulder. They had a bag-mask, and wanted to intubate him. I fell away… and wailed.
I stopped doing CPR and suddenly my baby was there, in front of me, with no heartbeat, eyes open, not breathing and not crying, and I was screaming. Wailing. Keening. The sound of it came from the depths of me, and I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t make it quiet. I kept telling myself, “This isn’t helping, Mandy. It’s not helping them,” and I couldn’t make it stop. Brock was holding on to me for dear life, calling, “My boy. My baby. Save my boy, please. My baby.”
I started shivering uncontrollably as adrenaline started to wear away and I realized I was soaking wet up to my navel. They had placed a breathing tube and were able to continue CPR while they prepared him to go to the hospital. Someone asked if I wanted to ride in the ambulance, and I said yes. At this point, the police had arrived and I heard them asking everyone what had happened. There was crime scene tape.
Jane brought me, shaking, into the house. I stripped my clothes off inside the doorway, pants and shoes, and we went upstairs to find dry clothes. She gave me a pair of underwear and sweatpants, socks and a pair of shoes. I didn’t speak. I didn’t know what to say. We walked out to the ambulance, and I realized they hadn’t made it up from the lake yet. It was a long, treacherous walk with a stretcher, and it was taking them time. They had to continue CPR as they walked. The driver pulled me into the cab of the ambulance and turned on the heat, full blast. He said something kind, and I don’t remember what it was. He held my hand.
Brock came to the window of the cab and kissed me. I felt numb. I wasn’t crying or screaming. I kept telling myself, “That doesn’t help. Just be here. Feel your feet on the ground. Just be here.” They loaded Rory and the paramedics into the car, and Brock said he would meet me at the hospital.
It took the driver of the ambulance three tries to turn the big rig around in the narrow drive, and then lights and sirens were on, and we were headed to the hospital, exactly 12 minutes away.
Never before in my life had I seen how utterly horrific it is to witness how many drivers do NOT move out of the way when an ambulance, sirens blaring, bears down upon them – how many of them do not know to let the emergency vehicle past. And how absolutely infuriating those moments could be… how long that drive felt.
We arrived into the ER bay, and Rory was whisked away. A team was waiting for him, and I was moved off into a side room, offered warm blankets and water. I started shaking again. An officer came and sat next to me and said she wanted to take my statement. I didn’t know what to do. I told her, “My husband said not to talk to anyone unless there was a lawyer present. He said that is for my safety.”
The cop looked at me sideways, and said nastily, “Well, that just makes you look guilty.”
I started sobbing and told her exactly everything that had happened. My son was in the next room, physically dead with hope falling away, and she forced me to give my statement. Brock and his parents showed up while I was talking, and Brock was immediately angry. “This is not the time for this!” he shouted. The other officer took him out into the hallway to calm him down. I finished my statement and we sat in silence, waiting for news about Rory.
An ER doctor came in and introduced himself to us. He looked kind, but visibly shaken. He said that he was in charge of Rory’s care, and they were going to do everything they could. He turned to walk back out and stopped. Over his shoulder, he said to us, “I have kids too. I’m going to do everything.”
We waited minutes that felt like an eternity. I don’t know how many passed. Five? Fifteen? Fifty? When, finally, the doctor burst back into the room and triumphantly shouted, “WE HAVE A HEARTBEAT!”
I screamed with relief. I was so prepared for him to be gone. I knew he was gone, and I had been telling myself to be ready for the news that he was gone. For the apology. The heartbeat… I screamed. He immediately calmed, and with tears in his eyes told us that it doesn’t look good. We didn’t know how long he had been down for, and he’d had over 40 minutes of CPR. His heartbeat was slow, and they had called the life-flight team… but his heart rate had to maintain on its own above 60 for them to fly him. They couldn’t do CPR on the helicopter ride.
Then they allowed us to see him. He was on a high stretcher, surrounded by the accoutrements of medicine. An IV line in his shin, a tube down his throat. Someone was breathing the bag for him, and I felt like I should be doing that. I wanted them to let me breathe for him. I watched his heart on the monitor as I touched him, held his hands and stroked his face. He was so cold. His body was so cold. He didn’t feel alive, but his heart was beating. I kissed his forehead and whispered to him. I told him to keep his heart beating so he could heal. I said I was sorry. So sorry.
The life-flight crew arrived as Rory’s heart beat rose to 80 and then 100 on its own. The flight-paramedic checked his tubes and IVs, and said he would be safe to fly. They asked if I wanted to ride with them and I said yes. I had never been in a helicopter before, but there was no other choice. I took his amber necklace off, then, before we strapped him down to fly. I knew he couldn’t be wearing it, so I slid it into my pocket. And then we went.
The pilot gave me all of the instructions that I would need for the duration of the flight. I got into the cab of the helicopter while they loaded Rory in the back. I could hear everything that everyone was saying through the headset. It was so surreal. I was terrified, but also incredibly calm. It was like there were two completely separate parts of my brain. And while we flew, I just focused on the horizon and let everything else fall away. “If he’s going to be okay, he’s going to be okay. If he’s not, he’s not.” I let the words, heart beat, lungs move, oxygen flow, brain heal flow through my mind over and over and over. It was a mantra. The intention I was sending out into the universe. Eyes on the horizon, and complete peace.
I don’t know how long the flight took. It felt like forever and yet only an instant. We landed at the hospital and were escorted through a maze. It seemed like we walked through hundreds of hallways and corridors and elevators. I was becoming angry, my peace falling away; it felt like a joke. Where the fuck are we? Where are all the helpers? WHY is the PICU so fucking far from the helicopter pad??
We finally rolled into the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, and Rory’s care was taken over by the most incredible team of doctors, nurses, and techs. They worked like mad to get him stable, lines placed, machines hooked up, body warming. It was like a brilliant swarm of bees, or an intricate dance around his little body. Every single soul in the room pouring all of their attention into that tiny human, all of them willing him to live. I sat in the back corner and watched as they buzzed and flitted around the room, trying to save the life of my son.
No one knows we are here, I thought suddenly. No one. Who do I tell?
I took a picture of all of the feet surrounding his bed, and posted online, “Please send prayers for Rory. Please lift him up. We need your help right now. Please pray for Rory. Send him your love and light and intention.”
The doctor came over, then, and explained to me what was being done, how things looked. What his prognosis was – not good. She told me her goal was to get him through the next few hours, and warm his body. We wouldn’t know what would happen until we got him back up to 98 degrees. We couldn’t know anything until then.
Brock arrived, and I told him everything the doctor had said to me. Then I said I needed to call my mom. I walked out into the hallway and dialed. She answered, and I started crying immediately. “Mom. Rory fell in the lake. He’s unresponsive. He has a heartbeat, but it doesn’t look good. We don’t know if he’s going to make it. Mom…” I didn’t know what else to say. I knew I was breaking up – the signal was poor. I told her I would call her later if there was an update.
Brock and I went back and stood next to our baby. He was covered in blankets and heating apparatus. He had a tube going into his mouth, and tape across his face, but he still looked like our perfect little boy. He looked like he was sleeping so peacefully. We whispered promises to him, reasons to stay. Mama would sleep with him again, and he could nurse all night long. Dada promised that he would take the baby-gate down, and Rory could go into the kitchen whenever he wanted. He could play with all of the big kid toys. Just stay, Rory. Please choose to stay. I put my hand on his head and chest, and was again surprised by how cold he was. I asked for a hat and there were none. They didn’t have hats of 19 month old size in the PICU. They wrapped a warm pillow case around his head, and I was angry. He looked stupid. Undignified. I wanted a hat so badly.
Jane and Ted arrived, and sat with us. Everyone was there, crying and hugging and praying. Thomas and Brady were there too. Our kids were at Jane’s neighbors house – Nancy was feeding them dinner and watching them. I sat at the end of the bench and felt a crushing emptiness, an unexpected loneliness that shook me to my core. Brock had his family, and I was alone. My baby was dying and I was alone. The ache filled my chest and I cried again. I wanted my mom. At that very moment, a nurse walked in and asked me if I knew someone named Meliea? I was confused. I mean, I did know someone named Meliea, but I had no idea why she was asking me that? It felt very odd, like she was trying to figure out if she knew me from somewhere. I said yes, I know a Meliea, and suddenly behind her I saw two familiar faces walking towards me. Julie and Meliea. They where there, at the hospital! My heart lit on fire, and I was elated. I couldn’t… I didn’t… I had no idea how they were there, how they knew, or why they had come. But they were THERE.
They wrapped me in hugs, and asked what happened. I cried, and they cried. They touched and held Rory’s hands and face. And then they said there was a room full of people waiting to hear news. I didn’t fully comprehend that either, but I followed them out into the waiting room, and was utterly SHOCKED when I walked in.
Everyone. I mean, everyone that I knew and loved was there. Julie and Meliea had come in, but Tracy was there, and Beth. Rachel and Becca. Melissa. Amber and Laura and Michael. Shonta and Jaime. Brock’s best friend from high school was there, in the hospital, waiting for us. Waiting to hear. Waiting for Rory to be okay. I cried and cried and cried, and was surrounded in the biggest hug by so many arms. Everyone gathered around as I explained quickly what had happened, and how Rory looked. I was asked if we wanted my mom to fly out, and I said of course. Tickets were arranged and I called her to tell her to be at the airport with her passport in the morning. And then I hugged everyone again but wanted to get back to Rory’s side.
The pastor for the church that Brock’s family attended showed up and offered to bring us food, dinner. We thanked him, and sat. We sat and waited. We sent people home. We told them we would update, and we sent everyone home, and we waited. Every hour, they did blood tests. They were checking his pH levels, and organ functions. They were checking to see if his body was working better or worse. All night, he got better and better. His blood levels kept improving. His body was warming. His heart was beating on its own, and it looked like his organ functions were getting better. The attending physician came in and did a neurological exam on him to test for brain function, and it wasn’t good. He had no reflexes, no pupil dilation, no blink reflex. She told us that it didn’t look hopeful, but we had hope anyways. His body wasn’t warm yet, function could return. We had hope. She noticed that his feet were jerking, and thought it was possible that he was having seizures, so she ordered an EEG. They came in to apply the leads. It didn’t take them long to figure out that the jerks were not seizures and so they removed the EEG apparatus. The next time I went to him, he smelled like the most awful, toxic glue. I cried over that. He didn’t smell like my boy.
Every spare moment, I returned to my mantra: heart beat, lungs move, oxygen flow, brain heal. Over and over again. It was after 2am when we were given a room and told to sleep. There was nothing we could do. They would come and get us if anything changed. We checked into a parent sleeping room and I undressed. My sweater and shirt were still wet from the lake. Someone had gone to my house and brought me a change of clothes. I put on pajamas, got into bed and closed my eyes and then just laid there, wide awake for ages. I couldn’t make my brain stop spinning. After about two hours of fitful, unrestful sleep, I finally rolled out of bed and went back to be with Rory. I got a coffee, and heard really wonderful news about Rory’s labs. Everything was back to nearly the normal range. We had decided when asked, the night before, that we were going to continue with hope and believing as long as things continued to go well. Every turn for the better meant that perhaps he was going to stay. But we knew that his body would not heal if he was going to go. The labs – they renewed my hope.
I was asked to leave the room as a tech came in to do an x-ray, and then another did a brain CT scan to… I don’t know. Get whatever information that they could. My memories are so blurry now. I knew we would have to wait until around 7 am to hear from the doctors about the reports from the films. I asked the nurses for some soap and warm water so I could wash the glue out of Rory’s hair. Almost immediately, two sweet nurses came in with a tub of warm, soapy water and a comb. They cooed and talked over Rory; told him how beautiful he was; talked about his lashes and his curls. They loved him as they washed the stinky glue out of his hair. I was so grateful, and full to bursting with love for every person we came into contact with.
At shift change, we got a new crew of nurses and a new doctor, who came in around 7:30. He looked at the CT and X-ray reports, and then he spoke to me. Rory had some very dismal signs. He had developed something called Diabetes Insipidus, which means that the body no longer regulates blood sugar, and that his kidneys were just dumping liters and liters of fluid. Rory’s x-ray also looked awful. His lungs were bruised and swollen, and they appeared to be filled with fluid – not IN the lungs, but tissue swelling. Edema. Then he looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, “I’m so sorry, Mandy. I can’t fix his lungs. They just don’t have any more to give.”
He showed me that the ventilator was on the highest possible settings, with the highest flow of oxygen, and Rory’s oxygen sats were dropping. His lungs just couldn’t move the oxygen into his blood. He told me that maybe there was another, higher-tech ventilator we could try… but it might only give us a few hours. He told me that we could keep fighting and lose him to the machines… or we could unplug the machines and hold him as he went.
Brock came into the room shortly after, and I relayed everything the doctor had said. He was quiet for a few moments, and then we both cried. We knew he was leaving. We knew it was the right thing: to let him go.
We spread the word and updated the people nearest to us. We asked to have our children brought to the hospital – it felt right to let them decide whether or not they were going to say good-bye.
And then we waited. Again. For people to show up and say their farewells. It seemed like forever. I got up in the bed with Rory, and held him and cried. His body was warm, but sleeping. Lifeless. I held him and watched helplessly as his oxygen saturation levels crept lower and lower. I got angry and frustrated waiting for family to show up, waiting for my children and Jane and Ted to get there. I felt like we were losing him. Waiting to lose him, and losing him. I got angry when people came into the room to cry over me when I hadn’t asked for them. I didn’t want them to be there. I was mad when I was asked if they could take his footprints and handprints. NO, I don’t want to be doing this. I don’t want his footprints. I want him. I want him to be fine. I want him to come home. Don’t ask me this. Don’t ask this of me.
Julie came in and told me that Amber had asked her sister bring her camera. She told me that I wouldn’t be able to answer the question, and that I would never have to look at any pictures if I didn’t want to see them, but that she thought I should let Amber take a few. I nodded. I didn’t want to need them, but I knew I was going to need them.
Still we waited. Finally, the kids arrived, and Brock went to tell them that their brother was dying. He didn’t know how he was going to do it, and he bravely walked towards his children to tell them he hardest thing he could imagine. The hospital had a department called the ‘child life program’ that exists solely to help children cope with life in the hospital. For us, they functioned as an aid to help our children understand what was happening to Rory, why we were in the hospital, and to make things a little less scary. The woman from the department came with our kids as they were brought in to say good-bye.
Ronan couldn’t stay. He walked in the room and cried out in sadness and fear. He had to leave. He couldn’t be in the room… it was too much.
Ruby walked over sadly, and put her hand on his belly. I cried when she told me, “It’s okay mama. It’s not your fault. It’s not anyones fault.” She placed a drawing that she had made of our family, with Rory above us as a star. She kissed him and said good-bye. And then she left.
Ryder wanted to be on the bed next to me. He was confused and didn’t understand. He just wanted his mama, and Rory didn’t look like Rory – he was so swollen. Ryder wanted to touch Rory; his cheeks, his lips, his eyelids. He pretended to cry, and I told him he didn’t have to be sad. He just had to say good-bye to Rory, because Rory wasn’t coming home. Ryder said good-bye, and seemed to be completely fulfilled with that. He was taken out of the room.
Jane and Ted arrived shortly after, and I realized that the sun was beginning to go down. I saw that familiar late afternoon glow, and time just seemed to slow down. The nurses came in and asked if they could “un-wire” him. I nodded, and they slowly and lovingly removed all of his lines, IV’s, tubes and cords. Lastly, they pulled out the breathing tube and he was free again. Just my baby again. His sweet little body pressed into mine as it had been so many times before, and I could just hold him again. I laid my cheek against his forehead and memorized the way his hair curled off of his skin. The way his eyelashes left his eyes and touched under his brows. The way his hand felt when it touched my face. I pressed his tiny hand into my cheek over and over. I whispered to him, “I’m sorry… I love you… Please forgive me… Thank you. Rory, I’m so sorry… I love you…”
Each single moment stretched into hours, and suddenly the room seemed universally huge. Filled with more than just my family, Brock’s family. It was filled with light and love. Everything was crystal clear, crystalline and in slow motion. I saw every dust mote and heard every sound. I whispered to him that it was okay for him to go as I felt him fighting to breathe. “You can go, Rory. Please don’t stay for me. I will be okay.”
I looked up, around the room at everyone else, their eyes filled with horror and grief and tears. No one looking at me, and everyone hurting. Suddenly, unbelievingly I shouted, “Is this really real?! IS THIS REALLY REAL? IS THIS HAPPENING??”
It felt like the most real and awful nightmare that I could imagine, and I couldn’t convince myself it was real. My baby. My Rory. My sweet sunshine boy. My little brown baby. His breaths were stopping. They were coming farther and farther apart. They were shorter, and weaker. And then… they were no more. I felt his heart stop beating beneath my hand and I wailed again.
He was gone.
I held him tighter in that moment. I squeezed him harder and held him closer and breathed him in harder. I didn’t want to let him go. I wasn’t ready yet. His body was warm and he was my sweet, tiny boy. I’m sorry. I love you. Please forgive me. I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry. My Rory. I’m so sorry.
The doctor came in to listen with a stethoscope, and told me Rory was gone. He pronounced time of death, but I knew he was wrong. I knew when he left. I felt it.
I held him for another few minutes, and then I had to go. I had to go, and leave the room, and leave the hospital and go. I didn’t want to feel him get cold. I couldn’t feel him get stiff. I had to leave.
They took me to another room, and brought the kids to see me. It wasn’t right and I asked them to take the kids somewhere else. Anywhere else. Stay with a friend. Keep them safe. I couldn’t do it right then. Someone came to ask me if I wanted to see him again and I said no. I didn’t. I wanted to go home. My baby was gone, and that body wasn’t him, and I didn’t need to see it. I just needed to go home.
Meliea pulled her car around. I was escorted out of the hospital, supported on both sides as though I was deathly ill, weak and dying. We walked out of the giant glass doors, and I realized that my world had stopped. My baby was gone… but the sun was still shining and people were still smiling and I was enraged.
WHY ARE YOU SMILING? HOW CAN THE SUN BE SHINING? DON’T YOU KNOW AN ANGEL HAS JUST DIED? CANT YOU SEE THAT MY LIFE HAS BEEN SHATTERED? WHY HASN’T THE WORLD STOPPED WITH US?
I climbed into the car, and Meliea took us home. My house had been cleaned by well-loved friends. People who knew that CPS would be involved, and that Rory was dying, and that wanted us to come home to a clean space. Brock walked in and immediately took down the baby gate. It had been his promise.
We sat down on the couch, and looked around our clean, empty house. It had fallen dark. There were no children. There were no signs of life. There was no noise, and no baby mess, and no diapers and no high chairs. We were home, and it felt as though he had never existed. I laid my head on Brock’s shoulder as he wrapped his arms around me, and together cried anew.
We had to begin life again, after our baby died. And it hurt.