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If someone were to ask you, “What was the worst day of your life?” would you be able to answer?
I’m not sure I could.
Oh, there are several that stand out in my memory as really terrible, horrible, awful, no good, very bad days, like:
- When I was 16, and I finally figured out what exactly it was that had always made me think that something was just not quite right with my family.
- When I was 21, and the boy I planned to marry told me “I just don’t think this is right any more.”
- When I was 25, and a new bride of only six weeks, and I had to find a way to tell my suddenly-and-unfairly unemployed husband that “it would all be fine,” when in fact, I didn’t really believe that it would.
And you’d think that making final cut on this list would be the following:
- When I was 28, and I had to place my dead son in a hospital isolette, and watch a nurse wheel him out of my sight forever.
But, it’s not even on the “worst day” list. Not really.
I yet to sleep that day. Not a true sleep; only an in-and-out, post-surgical, anesthesia-induced haze. After several unsuccessful attempts to remove my placenta after Duncan’s delivery, the doctor decided that I would need a D&C. We were able to put it off for a few hours so that I could spend time with Duncan and Jim and our families, but by midnight Tuesday, I was wheeled into an operating room.
It’s funny what you remember from certain experiences in your life.
When I climbed up on the table before Seth’s c-section, I clearly remember thinking that Jingle Bell Rock was NOT the song I’d have chosen to be playing in the surgical suite.
With Duncan, I remember taking perverse pleasure in the surprised comment from the nurse who helped lift me from the gurney to the table: “Wow, she’s light!” (I mean, really, who, even under the worst of circumstances, doesn’t want to hear a compliment about her weight?!)
By 3:00 AM Wednesday, I was out of surgery, out of recovery, and back in my room. Jim was asleep in the recliner next to my bed; Duncan was wrapped tightly in cotton blankets, nestled in the plastic isolette at his side.
I pushed the call button for my nurse to come help me clean up; I knew that sleep would not come, and I couldn’t bear the thought of losing a single moment with my son. I knew the moments we had were precious and few.
After putting on clean clothes (my trusty black yoga pants that have seen me through the best and worst of five pregnancies and my pink and white Old Navy tank), applying fresh makeup, and pulling a brush through my sweaty, matted hair, I gathered Duncan in my arms, and stood at the window, and waited.
And as my arms began to cramp from the weight of him, and as my breasts began to ache with the urge to nurse him, and as my eyes began to burn with the sleep which I forfeit for him, the sun rose.
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now I’m found;
T’was blind, but now I see…
It’s not my favorite hymn, but it’s what came to my lips that morning. It is the song I sang over my son, as realization dawned on me that the sunrise must look so much more spectacular to him than to me – for he was watching from the heavens.
We had filled out all the necessary paperwork before Duncan’s birth, so all that was left to do on Wednesday morning was to actually say goodbye.
After Jim woke, I passed Duncan to him. I crawled back up onto my hospital bed, and looked at my sweet husband, holding our sweet boy.
At that moment, I would have done anything to erase the longing and sorrow on Jim’s face. All the questions our hearts held, all the dreams for our family we’d been asked to reshape, all the fears we would face in the coming months were etched onto the face I loved so well, and there was nothing I could do to make it better. That, dear reader, was agony beyond anything I’d felt.
I took Duncan back in my arms once more. My tears fell onto his red face; I wiped snot from my nose and blood from his. As I pressed his small body against my chest, I begged the Lord to imprint on my memory the weight of him. I knew I’d have pictures to remind me of his face, but I never wanted to forget what it felt like to cradle him in my arms.
I passed Duncan back to Jim, and told him I was ready to go. You can only drag out an impossible goodbye for so long before you physically collapse under the weight of your grief.
I thought my heart had already been taxed to capacity that morning: the last time I looked at Duncan’s face; the last time I held his body to mine. But nothing compared to the grief that ripped at me as I watched Jim walk toward the waiting isolette.
He slowly lifted Duncan to his upper chest, and buried his head in the folds of the blanket to say goodbye. Ever so slowly he lowered his son…and then stopped. We both knew that this was the last time anyone would hold our sweet boy, and the thought of lying him to final rest was unfathomable.
Jim lifted Duncan back to his chest once again, and I saw his body quake with the effort of what he had to do.
I couldn’t see through my tears at this point, but I remember whispering, “No, don’t do it. Don’t let go. Don’t let him go.”
But my dear, sweet, heartbroken man was stronger than I, and with a final kiss and whispered blessing, he placed our Duncan to rest.
Jim took my hand, helped me from the bed, and together – as always, together – we walked out of the room.
There is more. Of course there is more. The pain of my recovery. The anger I felt that I would not only lose my baby, but also endure – yet again – excruciating hemorrhoids. The funeral home. The urn. The months it took for my milk supply to dry up. The re-entry into Tennessee life.
But those details aren’t really part of his story; they’re part of mine. My story, of who I became and how I grew and what I learned as a result of the too-short life of this precious child.
Duncan’s story began on January 6, 2009, when I peed on a Dollar Store test and watched a pink line appear. It continued when I brought home a 9/5/09-frosted cookie cake to tell Jim that we had bigger things to worry about than unpacking moving boxes; when I watched a flickering heartbeat appear on a monitor, and knew that my life was forever changed by the little person growing inside me; when my jaw dropped at his “money shot,” so sure was I that “he” was a “she;” when I strutted my stuff poolside in May, proud of the little bump I was sporting. His story started, and wrote itself, and drew to a beautiful, stunning conclusion when he entered the world at the time his Maker had appointed.
A year has come and gone. A year of tears and laughter and setbacks and milestones. Duncan has been a part of our lives in a way that is wholly and uniquely his. And it is perfect. It is unscripted. Unforced. Unpretentious.
He is our second son. An unexpected surprise that become one of our lives most unspeakable joys.
He is now a big brother. I was fearful that Erin’s arrival would close the chapter on Duncan’s memory; that she would indeed feel, to me, like a replacement. But instead, I’ve found that experiencing the newness and wonder of her has only made me ache for all that I wasn’t able to experience with him.
Son. Little and big brother alike. Our brave and strong fighter. Our priceless gift.
Happy Birthday, sweet Duncan Thomas.
May you dance with the angels today, as you did on this day last year.
May you watch today’s sun rise,
content in the knowledge that you are loved,