This is probably not the “return of Loralee” post a lot of you were hoping for. The title is indicative about what the focus is. It is not funny. It is not pretty. There are a few disturbing mental images. It’s also very long and not the best thing I’ve written. This is one of those posts where I just write and give the middle finger to the editing process.
You don’t have to read it. You don’t have to comment although you are more than welcome to. I certainly don’t expect it. People can only say they are sorry so many times, you know? If you do though, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. People and their kindness is why I have gotten through to the point that I have.
I’m writing this for me, because I need to.
Obviously, today is Thursday, the 25th not Tuesday, the 23rd. I didn’t write a post about it on his anniversary. There are a lot of reasons why, but what it came down to is that I needed to write a post about it today.
Many people think that September 23, 2003 was the worst day of my life. They aren’t far from correct, but if you get down to the nitty gritty, the most horrible day of my life was Thursday, September 25th.
That probably doesn’t make a lot of sense to you, does it? I don’t blame you. I would have made the same assumption. In many ways that day WAS the worst day of my life. It was forever altered, ripped apart by the worst loss there is.
The day Matthew died was an ordinary Tuesday, except it was really, really busy. I ran a lot of errands and my parents came over to help me with fall cleaning. I still have the “To do do” list I planned for that day tucked away in a journal. Bleaching the grout in my shower was on there but “have your life shatter into a billion pieces because your baby will die today” was nowhere on it.
For a long time afterward, I would stand with water streaming over me in my shower and stare at that grout and feel grief that hours I could have spent with my son on the day he died were taken up cleaning that dingy grout in my shower with a Clorox bleach pen and a toothbrush.
It so wasn’t worth it.
The late afternoon came with an exhausted me and a request from my sister to come and make some beef stew because she had a mammogram earlier in the day and then had to take her girls out to get homecoming dresses. I didn’t want to go. I was so tired. My sister is more like my mom and she’d do anything for me and I’d anything for her. I knew she was exhausted and her family had been dealing with a whole lot of trauma and ugly things that I am not free to write about here.
So, I told Jonathan that I was going up the street to help her and he asked if I was taking the boys with me. “Of course not! Just bring them up for dinner. I’m making enough for everyone. I’ll call you.”
Matthew was asleep in his swing. I stopped to look at him and then I walked out the door.
The next time that I saw him he was minutes from being pronounced dead, laying white and lifeless on a gurney in the trauma bay of the ER.
If any of you have been near a baby lately you will know what I mean when I say that babies are not supposed to be STILL. Some part of them is always moving, squeeling, cooing, jerking. It is sooooo WRONG to see one lay as still as my son was.
Jonathan was sobbing, and I was desperately trying to process everything that was happening and that had happened in the previous half hour since the phone rang at my sister’s house, bringing my nieces screaming into the living room that the baby wasn’t breathing and me tearing like mad to get to a car and drive down the street to my house.
There were so many emergency vehicles all over the lawn and side of my house that for a moment I thought my entire family had died. Jonathan was with Matthew in a red fire department ambulance that tore away from the curb just as I arrived so I hopped in a police car with my sister and got as much information as I could about the situation from the policeman who was driving us MUCH TOO SLOWLY to the hospital.
Apparently, Jonathan checked on Matthew and then 20 minutes later checked on him again. He called 911 and began CPR.
That is a long time to be without oxygen and it was very much on my mind as I stared at the monitors in the ER.
It’s odd what your brain can pick up on. I noticed that the nurse standing nearest to me was wearing light blue scrubs and that she had a hot pink butterfly barrett holding her dark hair to the side of her ponytail.
Somewhere mind registered that my shoulder was throbbing because when I arrived by police escort to the hospital the door to the bay was locked and instead of knocking or waiting, some inner motherly instinct to get to my child at all costs took over and I hysterically slammed my body against the door to break it down.
They wouldn’t let me in the room unless I could “be calm and let the doctors work”. It took me a moment to speak because when I got the call that Matthew wasn’t breathing I literally screamed and screamed and screamed until my body gave out and wouldn’t let me anymore. I rasped out that I would do whatever the hell they wanted just let me GET TO MY BOY.
There were so many doctors and nurses gathered around him that I couldn’t see Matthew’s face. He was only wearing a diaper and one little sock.No matter how hard I tried to keep coverings on all my son’s toes, he seemed to perpetually have one sock or bootie missing.
I keep that one little sock in the drawer of my nightstand to this day.
There were huge, horrible syringes with big needles jabbed deep into the front of his legs. It looked so painful. Tubes were everywhere and monitors were beeping and alarms kept going off. When the nurse moved away to write on the white board, I saw a large, burly man in scrubs administering CPR very quickly with just two fingers.
I continued to stare at the monitors with readings that resembled a lie detector when it’s recording someone in the middle of a whopper.
Some part of me knew that something was wrong. I don’t know how else to describe it other than I have been an actress almost my whole life and I know when I am seeing a performance. They were doing what they were doing so Jonathan and I would know that they tried everything medically possible to save him.
I am an almost completely emotional person but at that moment I was almost completely analytical. I continued to take in information and analyze and I kept going back to the fact that Jonathan didn’t know how long Matthew had been without oxygen.
I kept thinking over and over just how long that is for a brain to go without oxygen.
It took me years to admit, even to myself, but in those moments a tiny little voice wondered, “If they revive Matthew and he is horribly brain damaged, could I deal with that? Do I want him alive at any cost? Even if he is severely impaired?”
Not a pretty thing to know you thought as they were working on your kid, huh?
It caused a lot of pain and damage and guilt for me over the years.
I asked the doctor to level with me and be very blunt.
“How does it look for him?”
I took a deep breath in and said, “Oh.”
After a few more minutes, the activity seemed to decrease and I knew what everyone in that room was thinking, but didn’t want to say.
So, I did.
I told them they could stop and I moved in next to my son and laid over him and broke into more pieces than I will ever be able to put back together.
I had little breaks in my sobbing where I would pull back and take in exactly what was done to my son in the process of trying to save his life. He was intubated and very obviously…dead.
Do you know one of the most horrible things for me in those moments?
There was a very large part of me that was totally freaked out by it EVEN THOUGH HE WAS MY SON. I think that most humans are just ingrained to fear death and dead bodies.I had never seen a body that wasn’t already prepared for burial and I did not think that my son would be the first.
It was horrible.
I made myself look at his eyes because I didn’t want to be afraid. I didn’t want to be afraid of the body of my sweet little son and yet…I was. The were blank and empty and not at all like they should have been.
I know quite a bit about the death process, but there is nothing that can prepare you to hear the slow, hissing, congested “death rattle” that happens as the oxygen is exiting the body for the last time. Worse than the sound was that even though I KNEW what was happening there was a tiny, tiny flare of hope that somehow it was a miracle and that he could survive. That flicker would die as fast as it came and bring on a fresh wave of grief and despair.
There was so much that went on that was highly emotional and gut-wrenching, but if I ever want this post to end, I will skip ahead three hours to when Matthew and I parted. I was sooooo freaked out by images of a metal gurney and him laying on it with a sheet over his head and I did.not.want. to let him go. I only able to because his body started to change. It was getting cold and there was blood that started to settle in different places and I couldn’t watch it happen. So, I told the nurses that I was ready for the funeral director to take him.
The people in the funeral business know what they are doing.
There was no stretcher.
The very big man with kind eyes in a dark suit told me that he was going to carry him out in his arms. It made me sob with gratitude that he was going to continue to be held and that I wouldn’t have to see him wheeled away covered up.
He held out his arm so that I could transfer Matthew over to him and he did not move one solitary muscle to take him.
He waited stock still until I, as Matthew’s mother, GAVE him up and allowed him to go.
Somehow he knew how very, very important it was for me to not have my son taken from me any more than he already had been, but for me to say it was ok to take him away.
I didn’t think it was possible to break any further, but I did in that moment.
I had to be sedated.
I went home and thanks to a shot and a hefty supply of pills, one of the worst nights of my life came to a close.
So…what could be possibly be worse than that?
The day I went to the mortuary.
Matthew died early Tuesday evening.
Wednesday was spent running around like a crazy person making arrangements, buying duplicates of everything I could get my hands on that Matthew would be buried with, finding a burial outfit, answering a million questions and making more decisions than I thought were possible. We spent a very long time at the mortuary writing Matthew’s obituary and making decisions about the funeral.
They laid out the basics about what was going to happen with Matthew and what I would have to do to prepare his body for burial. I asked where has was at the moment.
“They just got back from Salt Lake with him.”
“Why was he in Salt Lake?”
“That is where the medical examiner’s office is. He had to be autopsied.”
I felt like I had been punched. It took me a moment to be able to breathe but still…knowing he was in the same building was both comforting and unbearable.
“Oh. Of course. I forget. Can I see him?”
“I say this honestly…you do not want to see him right now. He’ll be ready for you to view tomorrow.”
As hard as it was, I knew he was right.
So, Thursday we went to the mortuary to dress him for the funeral on Friday.
This whole grief thing has been pretty tricky to figure out. I will probably deal with it my whole life, but at least I have finally realized some things about myself that have helped somewhat. I haven’t been doing well. There has been a lot going on this month and very little of it has been good. Adding Matthew’s anniversary to it has made me come undone a little.
I have had such kindness from so many. Loving words from people that I adore. That is what gets me through. Still…I have noticed this year quite a few remarks that have almost made me feel ashamed of myself for being grief-stricken during this anniversary. Like when my sister told a mutual acquaintance that I was struggling and they replied, “HOW long has it been?” Another person that read some of my writings about Matthew was surprised it had been almost five years because the way that I wrote made them think that it had happened very recently. I have news for people; sometimes it seems like it’s been a lifetime since he died and other moments it feels like only seconds have passed.
Helpful , well-meaning people have wanted me to look for “the good” on the day. The positive things about having Matthew in my life at all. Here is the thing. For starters, I am an extremely pessimistic person. Life has made me this way. I’m beyond a ‘glass is half-empty’ type of person. It’s more like, “There is no effing glass. The glass is all a freaking LIE.” So, looking at the positive is always a struggle for me, although I do usually try.
For another, I do this on other days. I think about the good times with Matthew a lot. On his birthday, we don’t even go to the cemetery. We take our kids out and to do something fun as a family and it is the same with most holidays. We talk about the things we love and remember about him and the joy he brought us. I’m just NOT able to do that on his anniversary. And believe me, I have tried.
After five years of puzzling it out, I have finally come to some reasons why this is. For one, Matthew died right as the season changes in full force. The changes in the visual aspects of the year are evident and the most difficult thing to deal with is the smell of the air. It changes from the warm, earthy smell of summer to the cold, smoky crisp of autumn and it always brings a flood of memories that slam into me with the first whiff of it.
But above everything, I think that it has to do with the sheer trauma of the situation.
Death IS trauma.
Even in best case scenarios, which I had.
And this time of year I am hit again and again and again by horrible, horrible, HORRIBLE mental images and memories. I have a clotting disorder. I have made peace with it but I know that at any moment, I could throw a clot and either be severely injured or killed by it. Grief is a bit similar. Sometimes you will be going about a very normal day and BAM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
It rears up and overwhelms you in the blink of an eye.
I also know that there are situations where I am more prone to clotting. Long periods of sitting or laying and during pregnancies. So, I am full or more dread during those times, preparing and bracing the best I can. I walk around, inject myself daily in the abdomen with heparin and wear compression socks. It is very like this time of year during the buildup to his anniversary. I brace myself for what is to come. I know that the chances of reliving the hell of it all is much more likely. I have done as much as I can to prepare and heal but it’s just like battening down the hatches and pray that I make it through the hurricane without too much damage.
I am VERY aware that for someone who has lost a child I had about the best possible circumstances you could have. Parents of dead children are all in this horrible club that nobody wants to be a part of and as far as that club is concerned I am a platinum member because my son had perhaps the easiest, gentlest death that is possible for a human to have. I didn’t have to watch him suffer, he wasn’t maimed or tortured. He did not suffer. He literally went to sleep and didn’t wake up.
However, that doesn’t mean that it was easy.
No, it wasn’t.
For a day-and-a-half I had been torturing myself with thoughts of my poor baby laying on a steel stretcher and laying in a refrigerated compartment.
I can’t tell you what that feels like. To know your baby is laying on something harsh, hard and cold.
It seemed like I waited forever before I could get in to see Matthew and each second that ticked by made me more and more agitated until I was about ready to go nuclear over everyone and tell them to get the fuck out of the way because I was frantic, frantic, FRANTIC to GET TO MY BABY.
Before I was allowed in the funeral director told me, “He’s right through here and I want you to know that he has been laying on that table since he got here.”
I was confused until I saw Matthew. He WAS on a gurney, but it wasn’t the cold steel contraption of my nightmares. Have you ever heard of a pillow-top gurney? Well, this was one. The table was covered with a soft, puffy almost bean-bag-esque top that was soft and comfy and it made me break down and sob with relief.
It may not have mattered at ALL to Matthew, but it mattered to ME.
After my brain registered what he was laying, on I saw my boy.
My little bug.
That minute was a mixture of some of the most intense feelings of my life.
There was relief. I had never been away from Matthew for very long in his little life and so going that long without having him near me was unbearable. I was seeing him again and the sheer relief of being physically near him overwhelming.
Here is the thing. Why I say that Thursday was the worst day of my life.
Because Wednesday was full of sedatives and a million decisions and running around and Tuesday was surreal. The sheer, physical SHOCK that I went into acted as a buffer in a way. Even though I watched him die. It didn’t seem real. Even though his body was starting to change when the funeral director took him away, he was still Matthew. My little bug. Not too different than the sweet baby I tickled, nursed, cooed at, hugged, kissed, bathed and rocked to sleep eleventyhundred times.
Staring down at him on that gurney, he looked the same in many ways but so, so different.
In that horrible moment my body felt like every nerve ending in my body was doused in gasoline and set on fie and my mind screamed and howled and broke apart as IT SANK IN.
Sank in that he was dead and never, ever coming back.
It isn’t like I didn’t know that before, I did. But it didn’t seem real. None of it seemed real. It seemed like any moment someone was going to say, “Wake the hell up, Loralee! You’re having a nightmare!”
Nothing will hammer reality in closer to home than seeing the effects of your baby’s skull being sawed in half, stuffed, and pieced back together by a staple gun.
He had been split in half and had his entire chest and torso opened up. The Y incision took up most of his body.
How’s that for something to think about in the dead of the night? The image and knowledge that your baby had literally been sawed in half, ripped open, stuffed and then stapled back together.
I always have a problem when I think of babies and little children that have surgeries. Their skin is so delicate and fragile and the thought of cutting into it makes me shudder and cringe horribly.
I went to pick him up to dress him and he…crinkled. You know, from the stuffing that filled the cavities of his body. His skin was harder and looked “set”. Almost like a doll. He didn’t smell right. He still smelled somewhat like him but there were also medical smells tinged with formaldehyde mixed in.
To see my son in this state has left scars on my mind, soul and heart that I will never heal from.
I rarely sleep and never sleep well because I have the most godawful nightmares you can imagine. Flashbacks. Anxiety attacks. I suffered from PTS and had so much fallout from it that I am still suffering five years later.
I have just have more ability to stay quiet about it.
In fact, I really thought I would be able to write more about this. I certainly set it up to write about mostly about “The most horrible day of my life”. I wanted to try and heal from some of that trauma and things that I saw but sitting here, I can’t do it. I spent more time writing about the day he died than the day I went to the mortuary.
I guess maybe that is illustrative of how bad it was, huh?
Just know that there is more. So much more that I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to write or speak of but I also know I will never, ever be able to forget it. Maybe I should have just posted this photo instead of making you read all of this. Like many of my photos of Matthew because we didn’t have a digital camera, It’s not the best photo. The quality is poor. My sister is the way. The lighting and exposure is bad, but it sums up that moment for me.
I just have to hope that one day it continues to get easier to bear. And it has to a point. Just not this time of year. Not this week in particular.
So, you’ll have to forgive me for not being all sorts of giggles and kicks. I’ll pull it together soon, I won’t leave this up for long and I do have a few light-hearted things to write about in mind. I needed to write this. To get it out. I’m sorry it was so long. It could have been much, much longer.
Please for all that is holy do not tell me to focus on the joy right now or look for the silver lining or make lemonade out of lemons, ok? I KNOW, ok? Really, I DO. And most other times of the year I DO. I have WONDERFUL moments and memories of Matthew. Just not right now.
Let me have my grief for a bit.
Thank you for listening and being there.
I appreciate more than I can say.