I stand over his high chair as he tentatively takes a finger scoop of red icing, poised with my camera to capture the first taste. I see the look of pleasant surprise, and the twinkle in his eye as he digs further into the small circular cake each time, finally scooping up handfuls and shoving them into his wide open mouth. I smile, looking around the room at the houseful of family and a few friends, pairs of eyes watching the one-year-old’s display of sugared gluttony…including my sisters-in-law, nieces, nephews, and only two of my brothers. And I remember:
It was a typical room in the Labor and Delivery wing, newly refurbished and clean, stark in that trying-to-be-homey kind of way. There were a few balloons and a couple vases of flowers, cheerfully greeting those that entered with a Congratulations on Your Baby Boy!
We had seen a few family members that afternoon, and Tyson’s parents were staying in town. The c-section had gone smoothly. Grandmas, grandpas, aunts, uncles and cousins met the little dude, but there were still some that were yet to visit. Just like any mom that had a brand new newborn (the fourth!), I was happy, and exhausted, and overwhelmed.
I was tweeting and Facebooking and texting, though, too. Those hospital stays can be lonely, and I needed something to take my mind off of the stomach pain, the constant nurse visits, the shoving of the baby onto the nipples, the zero privacy…the all-alone-but-never-really-alone-for-long phenomenon that is having a baby in a first-world hospital.
In the middle of the afternoon, the next day, though, things were slowing down a bit and people were coming in and out with less frequency. A little bit of the new baby excitement was gone and only a few people were left to meet the fourth and final baby. His older siblings were spending time with their grandparents. I had just started walking the halls a little and moving around when I got a Facebook message that was strange and urgent: A friend from our church had sent it, probably not realizing that I was in the vacuum of a hospital and that I was being “protected” by my family in the vulnerable, hormonal state that I was in, telling me that she was so very sorry. It suddenly occurred to me that the text from another friend earlier, asking me how I was, wasn’t a normal “How are you doing?” but more of an “Oh my God, how are you holding up??” I texted her back to see what in the world was going on, and she told me that she thought I knew.
I had no idea that my brother had been in an accident and had died at work a few hours before.
I called my mom, in a panic, and asked her what was going on. Meanwhile, my husband was the only other person in the room and hearing half of a desperate conversation. My mom told me (more calmly than I, even though she had absolutely no reason to be) that my brother was dead. I got a very general idea of how it happened: he had been hit by someone driving a huge piece of equipment in the parking lot; the driver hadn’t seen him. Even now, I can’t bring myself to press for more details than that.
The oldest of my three brothers, 35 years old and the father of three kids (including a baby) had been run over by a piece of equipment. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair for him to not see his kids grow up. It wasn’t fair to his wife to lose her husband so young and in the blink of an eye make her a single mom of three young kids. It wasn’t fair for my parents or my brothers or me, or the new littlest guy in our family that never got to meet him.
I thought when my first husband died four years before that our family had been through enough. I thought that somehow, we would be spared any more senseless tragedy.
With that phone call, the hospital room became a jail cell. I no longer had any desire whatsoever to be in that room, but I wasn’t allowed to leave. With the matching plastic bands on our arms, we were literally locked on that cheerful floor full of new life and happy families welcoming their new bundles of joy. Just twelve hours before, we had been one of those families, oblivious to the worries of the outside world. Now I had this tiny baby, completely dependent on me, and I couldn’t hold myself together long enough to speak a complete sentence without falling apart. I spent so much time on that dreadful bed with only my poor husband and the TV to keep my mind off of what was happening, and neither was successful.
At some point shortly after the call, my husband talked to his parents on the phone and told them what had happened. They were on their way back from the hotel and though I didn’t want to see anyone, I didn’t want to be so desperately alone, either.
My in-laws let the women at the nurses’ station know what was going on, and before long, there was a fruit and deli tray from the cafeteria in our painfully quiet room. The staff that was on duty walked on eggshells when they came into our room, their faces screwed into looks of sympathy and worry when they saw me. I can’t imagine what the next wave of workers thought when they saw me, puffy-faced and broken;I’d guess that word traveled fast.
The day continued like that: me sobbing over my baby as he nursed, looking down on the sweet face that would never have the chance to see his uncle looking down at him in his arms. Tears streaming down my face in the hospital bed every few minutes when my mind wandered the tiniest bit to what was happening outside the windows of the fourth floor, keeping me inside and away from the family crisis that was occurring without me. When the pressure of the task of holding it together became too much, I escaped to the hall bathroom to release it into a pile of tissues and stretch my weary, emotionally and physically drained body before returning to the room and counting down the minutes on that wall clock until it was time to pack up and go home.
I’m grateful that my sweet newborn was unaffected by what was happening. I knew that the stress would be awful for the developing breastfeeding relationship that I was trying to establish, so I worked extra hard to try to keep that particular train on the tracks. My milk came in before we left the hospital, and the act of nurturing my baby became a welcome respite from the pain in my heart. I couldn’t think of anything in those moments except the latch, soreness and satisfaction of filling my baby’s belly.
A few days later, we met with a pastor and his wife from my brother’s church, our whole family together in the house occupied by my SIL and her three kids. We were missing an important presence: the one we were all there to talk about, remember, share memories of. Then the memorial service, where a slideshow of his pictures played, and the same message that I’d heard years earlier when my own husband had died…that bad things happen to good people for no reason other than free will. I didn’t go anywhere without the tiny boy that was just a few days old and needed nothing but his mama. It turns out I needed him more than anything in those long, awful days as well.
Now, my son’s birthday is forever connected with the day my brother died. I can’t think of one without the other, and every family gathering is missing someone important. I always sit and picture what I think he’d be doing if he was with us, and I’m grateful for a lifetime of memories to go on.
The Angelas (of Jumping With My Fingers Crossed and Angela Amman) and I want to see your funny, your yummy, your heartfelt, your favorite phone photos of the week. All you need is a blog post containing at least one photo from any phone camera. Link up below, and don’t forget to visit some of the others!