A couple of weeks ago, I loaded up my minivan with my 3 youngest kids, and our luggage, and braved a 5 hour drive without my husband to Arizona. I was a little nervous to make the drive alone, without the assistance of another adult. But I wanted to spend some time with my sister-in-law and the kids. They make their way to California often, but most weekends they are here are filled from sunup to sundown with family activities. We wanted a little time to relax, sew and craft….and just to hang out.
Thank goodness for modern technology (particularly the DVD player in my van). I couldn’t have asked for an easier ride. The kids were set up with their favorite movies and for nearly 5 hours I was alone with my thoughts. I can’t remember the last time I’ve had that much time to myself to think. With the kids contentedly watching movies, headphones on for sound, I had no demands for Disney soundtracks or The Chipmunks. I had no teenagers taking over the radio with their blaring music. For once, I was free to listen to what I wanted to and I suppose without so many distractions, my mind was free to think on some things that I had pushed to the back.
After going through a couple of different playlists of some favorite pop and rock hits, I was in the mood for something a little more calm and soothing. Celine Dion was the obvious choice; she has always been one of my favorites. Something about her music just speaks to my soul. I hadn’t listened to her in quite some time. As I began my Celine playlist, my mind turned back to my last trip to Arizona. Oh how life has changed in the last 6 months. At a time when I thought life was looking pretty sad, I was shown that things could, in fact, get worse.
It was a Wednesday evening in early February. My husband and I had been planning a trip to Arizona to visit my twin brother, and his family, for that President’s Weekend. Natalie (my sister-in-law) was pregnant with their baby boy, Wyatt, and was getting close to labor. Natalie and I have a very close relationship; she has become one of my very best friends. She wanted me to be in the delivery room with her and I was thrilled with the opportunity; I wasn't going to miss it! That first weekend in February, she had been having a lot of contractions and was beginning to dilate. By Tuesday evening, I was sure she wasn’t going to be able to hold out until I arrived on Friday. So, with the help of some friends to watch my kids, my dad and I left on Wednesday evening in hopes that we’d make it for the delivery (my husband would meet up with us on Friday with the kids).
The drive out there was very enjoyable. It was really nice to spend the 5 hour drive with my dad, just the two of us. We talked about a lot of different things. He told stories and memories of his childhood. We talked about life, we talked about mom. I look back on that drive with fondness.
Once in Arizona, Natalie’s contractions continued but were inconsistent. We spent the next few days hanging out, shopping, walking…we were anxious for baby Wyatt to make his appearance while we were there. My dad stayed through Saturday afternoon before he made his trek back home. My husband and kids arrived on Friday and we spent Saturday visiting a Ghost Town . While there, my daughter was hugging Aunt Natalie and giggling as Wyatt kicked her from inside. Later that evening, we relaxed with a movie on their living room couch. Natalie commented to me that she hadn’t felt Wyatt move in a while, which was unusual for her active baby. I told her drink some juice. Still no movement. She went as far as drinking soda and still wasn’t feeling any movement. After about 45 minutes, we decided to go in and get checked-just to be safe. Joe and Jeff stayed home with the kids while I went with her to Labor & Delivery.
I didn’t think too much of it. If anything, I was even a little bit excited because I figured he was just preparing for labor and that was why he wasn’t moving around so much. The odd part, however, was that her contractions had stopped. As we drove over, I reassured her that everything was probably fine, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry and get it all checked out.
Right away, as she checked in, they took her behind the counter to a small area that had a doppler device which was used to check baby’s heartbeat. It was a small space, so they told me I could have a seat in the waiting area. I sat in the chair across from a family who was overjoyed with excitement at the arrival of their own family baby that was being delivered that evening. I turned my ears toward the nurse and I heard her moving around the doppler on Natalie’s belly in search of Wyatt’s heartbeat.
My heart sank. I’ve been through 3 pregnancies and am well-versed on the sound of baby’s heartbeat. I was not hearing that sound. I glanced over to the counter, concern starting to overtake me. I saw the nurse stand up and walk out and soon after Natalie followed behind her, tears streaming down her face.
And then I knew.
“They can’t find his heartbeat,” Natalie said.
We followed the nurse to a bed, where they immediately did an ultrasound. The nurse looked concerned but didn’t say a lot. She met my eyes with sadness and confirmed what I already knew. She called the doctor to come down and I left the room to make the hardest phone call of my life. I had to call my brother.
The next 24 hours were the hardest of my life (I’m sure it was nothing compared to the pain Natalie and Joe felt). I won’t go into detail, as it was a very personal experience for all of us. But I stayed by Natalie’s side, along with my brother and her sister (who, thankfully, was already flying in that night in hopes to be there for the anticipated delivery as well) and she prepared to deliver her baby boy, still. It was devastating and heartbreaking, to say the very least. There are no words to describe the emotions and pain we all went through during that time. At one point (before delivery), I had to leave the room. While outside the door, I fell down to my knees and began sobbing uncontrollably. It was hard to catch my breath and I felt like my heart was surely going to rip out of my chest from the utter pain and grief I felt. I didn’t know how I could possibly stay in there through the delivery. Horrible images flooded my mind. I remained laying on the floor, crying and trying hard to breathe as the nurses tried to give me comfort. Suddenly, I felt a hand rubbing my back. I heard a familiar voice ask me,
“Are you okay?”
I looked up and peered into my brother’s eyes. In that moment, I knew I needed to hold it together. For my brother, for my sister-in-law and for my family. I eventually calmed myself down and returned to the room. I was able to hold my sweet baby nephew in my arms; to look into his beautiful, perfect face. I kissed his head and cried about the cruelty of the situation.
In the week that followed, Joe and Natalie came out to California, where we arranged for Wyatt to be buried with our grandparents. With my dad and my dear Aunt Peggy by my side, I dressed Wyatt in preparation for his burial in the clothes that Natalie had selected.
I thought losing my grandma was hard. And it was. I also helped to dress my grandma and do her make-up (per her request before she passed) for her burial. Up until this point, that was the hardest thing I ever had to do. I suppose that experience helped to give me the strength for what I needed to do for Wyatt (and Natalie & Joe). But one of the hardest parts of this whole experience was not having my mom by my side. In fact, it was hard for all of us. Mom has always been there to help us get through these difficult times in life. Even with grandma, though her dementia had already begun, mom was able to at least understand what was going on and she was by my side as we prepared grandma. This time, mom hardly understood what was going on. She wasn’t there to hold our hand or to hug us or give words of comfort. She wasn’t there to cry on or lean on. It was another painful reminder of another painful loss.
As these memories were playing through my mind on that drive, tears began rolling my cheeks. I dabbed at the tears with a napkin, trying to hold the flood back when Celine Dion’s “Good-bye’s The Saddest Word” came up on my playlist. That’s when I completely lost it. Thankfully I had oversized sunglasses covering half my face, so the cars passing by couldn’t see the dam that had broken loose on my face.
The song is about a mother who has shown love to her daughter, raising her from a baby into the woman she is today. It goes on to talk about how it will be the hardest thing in the world to have to someday say good-bye to her mother. It ends with a promise to her mother that she will be there for her, as that day grows close that her mother can no longer care for herself.
I thought about my mom. I reflected on the love and the comfort she has given me over the years. Sometimes I feel lost without it, though I am slowly learning how to get by. Listening to these words was another reminder to me that I need to be there for my mom. Sometimes I think she would never even know the difference; sometimes she even resents me for “being there”. But the mom I once knew would be grateful for us taking care of her.
“And when you need me
I'll be there for you always
I'll be there your whole life through
I'll be there this I promise you, Mamma"
Mamma, I'll be
I'll be your beacon through the darkest nights
I'll be the wings that guide your broken flight
I'll be your shelter through the raging storm
And I will love you 'till forever comes.”
I should’ve stopped listening to Celine after the Good-bye song. But what can I say, I’m a glutton. A few songs later, I had finally gotten myself composed and then this song came on. I was in tears all over again. I hadn’t heard it in years, but the words seemed so appropriate for what I was thinking and feeling. I dedicate this song to my beautiful angel, Wyatt.