I go back. Not often, but I go back to that time and place in my mind and my heart where I lost my sweet Alex and I’m honestly stunned. It still hurts.
On Sunday it will be two years.
I go back when I think of how our house feels a little empty. Like the joy and laughter of Benjamin and Molly aren’t quite enough. My ears and finely tuned, acutely listening for the happy shrieks that should be coming from Alex. His second birthday has come and gone. Another anniversary looms… Two years since he died.
I go back two years in bits and pieces, remembering the sleepy exhaustion of juggling life when Alex was just a few days old. I think about the most vivid images of Alex in my mind, sleeping peacefully or smiling shyly. I consider the scene of his death. I recall the weight of his body, the gray of his skin and the heavy feeling in my heart. My sweet boy was gone and no CPR or medical measures would save him.
As if that’s not enough, I think about the minutes and hours after he died. The call to Ben, explaining what happened. The ride to the hospital, praying silently for a miracle. The arrival at the hospital, the wait for permission to see him. Begging the doctors to let me touch him. The shock of the chaos of the emergency room- so many people, so much commotion, the singular focus of trying to get my sweet boy to do one simple task- b-r-e-a-t-h-e.
The arrival of our pediatrician. The simplified medical explanations. The recollection of any pertinent details of how I found him, or left him. The grasping at straws to find any information that would unlock the key to this puzzle, that would explain why this tragedy happened. Trying to recall the exact time he woke up that morning. 7:25? Struggling to remember the exact last time that he nursed and fell asleep. 8:20? Realizing that none of these details mattered, but clinging to them because they seemed like all I had left.
Waiting for a miracle. Praying for good news. Bargaining with God for a reprieve from the hell and promising to live a life free from sin, anger, greed, anything bad. Denial. Hearing that we were transferring Alex to children’s hospital. While I entertained a fantasy that he would regain consciousness. A fantasy that we would be warned that he would not be the same child and that we would be warned that he would for sure face developmental delays and permanent brain damage. And vindication when he happily blossomed into a perfect, beautiful young boy and eventually man. Shock.
Driving to the hospital. Not behind the ambulance because it had already left. Discussing who would drive over to the hospital. Me taking the keys, Ben making the calls. My folks. His mom. Rebecca. Scott. Work. Not sure what happened. He’s not breathing on his own. Acknowledging the unspoken in my mind. He’s not going to make it. I’m driving to the hospital to say goodbye to my boy. Pain.
We get there. We park. We wander in. They know who we are and why we are there. It’s written on our faces and painted in their kindness. The tragedy of an infant not breathing. We watch from the outside. Then a doctor is talking. Explaining what’s happened. Explaining what’s next. I look at the clock. It has been hours now. Numb.
A chaplain is at our side. Alex will be baptized using a styrofoam cup. By a woman we don’t know. In a hospital we shouldn’t be at. I don’t even have the composure to scream. Or collapse. I mutely regard everything around me. Processing the bare minimum. More denial.
We are going to take him off the vent. We are going to stop artificially pumping his little body with air. We are officially accepting that he is dead. We are taking our last kisses and cuddles and hugs. A photographer arrives. She is respectful and professional and efficient. She takes pictures of my sweet boy. She captures the essence of how much I love him in sweet tones of sepia and black and white. Someone else takes casts of his hands and his feet. I am momentarily comforted by the weight of his body in my arms. Even though he is gone, feeling him heavy on my chest feels normal and I can breathe a little easier.
Time is passing and I need to let him go. Benjamin is at daycare and we need to go get him. I need to give more information to the police. Ben and Rebecca go for Benjamin. I go home to the crime scene. Thankfully there is no yellow tape. There is no media and there are no bystanders. I walk into the house and answer questions. I explain where Alex was laid, and how I found him. I draw a diagram on a yellow legal pad and I reenact the scene with a doll for a prop. It is painful and cruel, but I am not mad.
Everyone is trying to figure out what happened, while being kind, patient and respectful. I can’t imagine seeing Benjamin yet.
The police leave and I have a brief few moments alone in the house. The messy chaos of our lives is still there in a way that doesn’t exhibit the emptiness yet. There is breast milk spoiling on the counter top, burp cloths littered throughout the house and diapers overflowing the garbage. Things look normal. None crushing sadness.
Benjamin comes home. He’s only 2.5. He runs into my arms and I hug him like usual. Maybe a little longer, tighter. We separate. I hold my breath, but I needn’t worry. He does not ask about Alex. He prattles on about his good fortune. Papa and aunt Becky came to pick him up today. Today was special day for him.
People come to the house. There is food and tears and numbness. I go through the motions. I talk, and cry and hug. The pain is palpable.
I do not sleep. We take a bath at 4am. We are quiet and somber. We talk. We pray. We do not sleep. Funeral home, church, gravesite. Hymns, casket, flowers. Time, date, music. Pictures, details, food. Favors from everyone. Talking to people. Accepting sympathy. Waiting to hear from the people who haven’t called. The silence hurts.
Another day is almost done. I sleep hard that night. More people and flowers and cards and an achingly sweet cookie bouquet. One more day. I hold him one last time. I see him dressed in an outfit he’s never worn and my body aches like my heart has been ripped out of my chest. His body is stiff and cold. His face looks the same.
I hold him and walk him and talk to him like everything is normal. His body loosens up and his skin warms. I cling to him for hours, finally releasing him when my arms are quaking with soreness.
We say goodbye. There are people and pictures and music and food. I am eternally grateful for the people who are there. People I didn’t expect and people I did… All sitting together, there to celebrate the short life of my sweet boy.
June 9, 2011. I can go back in an instant and it’s all still there. The memories of the sadness. The quiet resolve to honor my child. The unforgettable relief that Benjamin was at Chuck E Cheese during the funeral.
It still hurts. There is a space in my heart and my mind, forever dedicated to Alex and to his legacy. I turn the sweet memories over in my mind and I’m grateful they’re still there, while a little perplexed that they’re so vivid. Not faded like old pictures, dusty from neglect. They are bright and pristine, covered in shrink wrap and in mint condition.
Beautiful, but cold.
Flash forward to today. There is prayer and there is life. We are humbly grateful and timid for our Benjamin and Molly still on earth. I breathe a little easier knowing that Alex will stay in my life even though he’s out of my arms.
I go back, not often. Because it still hurts.