Thursday, February 26, 2009

On the Two Year Anniversary

To say it had been the worst day of my life seems cliché, but it fits. For three years we had battled one aspect or another of the complications from my wife’s mixed connective tissue disease and she ultimately lost the battle. Two years ago today.

Five years ago today, we were much happier. After a week and a half of unknowns, including two hospitals and multiple rooms, we arrived home for our first night together as a family outside of any hospital walls. The three of us slept in our bedroom-proud new parents in the bed, baby in the bassinet within arms’ reach.

Three years later, and two years ago today, that bedroom saw a different picture-two sad people sitting together on the bed, while that daddy told his baby that her mommy was not going to return to that room again. Ever.

It was a conversation no parent ever wants to have. I had prayed that I would not have to explain this to my two-year-old two weeks prior, when my wife had been admitted to the hospital for two nights so that they could poke and prod and ultimately change nothing. And everything. But those were the prayers of a scared man, and at the time, there was no reason to think this was going to happen.

My daughter turned three the next week.

One week later, I found myself sitting on the bed I had shared with my wife only two nights before trying to put the unfathomable into words a three-year-old could understand. There were some tears, but I think she was as shocked as I was and was primarily responding to my grief at that moment. But she understood.

She still understands.

It’s been two years since that conversation. Over that time, my daughter and I have developed a very open dialogue about her mommy. I make certain to share stories with her and she does not hold back when her grief rocks her foundation the most.

That’s been happening a lot more often lately. I think it’s a combination of factors. She’s getting older and is remembering more than she once did. She just turned five and will start kindergarten in the fall, and she is beginning to realize that Mommy will not be here to share in the significant events/changes in her life. She does not recognize February 26th on the calendar, but I think she somehow knows when it’s near.

So when she’s had enough and her feelings spill over into tears, I do my best to console her. Sometimes she wants me to share a happy story with her-usually about our wedding or the day she was born. Sometimes she wants to look at her memory books. Sometimes she will share her own memories of her mommy. Sometimes she just wants me to hold her while we cry.

The conversations have changed some over the last two years. But the tears still somehow manage to work their way into them.

On What Happened

It was a Monday. February 26, 2007. I don’t recall what the weather was like exactly, as the day began within the confines of the hospital walls. We arrived at our local ER shortly before 1:00 am. After being ignored all night, we finally got a room, which was followed by further hours of being ignored. Blatantly ignored. My wife’s medical condition was quite involved, and it seemed none of the staff had the time to take that into consideration when making decisions, so we sat. All night.

When the shift changed a new doctor arrived and things began to actually happen. It turns out on top of everything else, we were looking at a case of septic shock. Not the easiest thing to overcome, especially in a state of weakened health, but possible. While we were waiting for her to be transferred to a room, the unthinkable happened:

The crash cart was pushed into the room and I was pushed out.

But that was not to be the end. After about 45 agonizing minutes in a small room with flowered wallpaper, a nurse arrived to say that she was stabilized and had been moved to ICU. Not great news, but she was still here. And we’d weathered ICU once before, right after our daughter was born. Not the best of times, but she was still here then too.

The day dragged on. I drained my cell battery calling family back home with updates. Her parents arrived and sat with me in my daisy-infested prison cell. Some positive news came. She was responding to the new treatment and things were starting to look up.

Things always start to improve before a tempest strikes. Within two hours, she was gone.

It’s strange. I don’t know the actual time that it happened. I know it was somewhere close to 5:00 officially, but what constitutes that moment? Was she gone when they started trying to revive her? Was she gone when I had to make the decision to tell them to stop? When exactly did she go? There’s a number on the multiple copies of her death certificate, but what haunts me is not that split-second on the clock. It’s the calendar. It’s every month when I have to spend the day writing the 26th on documents at work. And it’s every single Monday.

Most people hate Mondays. But I have a reason to.