Saturday, January 3, 2015
The Night That Broke Me
“Every morning, I wake up and forget just for a second that it happened. But once my eyes open, it buries me like a landslide of sharp, sad rocks. Once my eyes open, I'm heavy, like there's too much gravity on my heart.” - Sarah Ockler
I’m not like a lot of people. Friday is not a day I yearn for. In fact, it’s my least favorite day of the week. It was ruined 12 years ago when my son died at the age of three months.
I relive that day a lot. It comes back to me in flashes at odd times during the day. I often dream of it. There has not been a single day since Sam died that I have not thought of him, wondered what he would look like, what his voice would sound like, what his hugs would feel like.
I’ve chosen to share that day for today’s post.
Friday, January 3, 2003 was cool and sunny, and I decided to see if one of Sam’s new outfits fit him yet. Made of blue terrycloth, with light blue stripes and light green stripes it looked warm and soft and comfortable. Though a little big, it looked great on him with his deep, deep blue eyes.
I decided to take both kids to the park that afternoon. Violet, at 15 months, enjoyed romping around, climbing the steps and sliding and swinging. Sam, at three months, was content to rock in his car seat. When he began to squirm, not fussing, just wiggling a little, I took him out of his car seat and held him. That made him happy. He smiled and cooed and looked around with his big, bright eyes.
Sam and Violet were very close.
He was fine. There was nothing wrong with him. He was a happy, healthy, smiling three-month-old boy.
At home, after Violet had dinner, I gave Sam a bottle. He took 5 ounces of formula but, as usual, I could not get him to burp. He was always a hard burper. At 6:30 I gave Violet her bath. While Violet was in her bath, I kept an ear on Sam. He made his little baby noises and babbled to the blankets on my bed. It was hard juggling the two babies alone, especially at bedtime, but we had established our own little routine. I wanted to get Vi to bed, then I would get Sam and we would have our evening time together.
He usually cried while Violet was going to sleep. I typically kept him in the den with us, on his Boppy pillow, and Violet would take her bottle and go to sleep in the midst of his crying. But that night I left him on my bed.
He cried. Hearing him squall like that just tore at my heart. I knew he thought I had abandoned him. I remember silently thinking that if he would only be quiet, if he would only wait just a little longer, Violet would be asleep and then it would be just him and me for the evening. Then, almost as if he read my mind, everything got very quiet. Violet fell asleep and I put her in her crib. Sam had fallen asleep, too.
I should have woken him up then. I usually would have. His awake time was from roughly 6:30 – 9:00 or 9:30. That is why I usually let him fuss while I fed Violet, to keep him awake. He rarely fell asleep during that time. I decided to let him sleep a little longer.
I noticed a couple of times when Sam’s arm twitched, and his head bobbed up once, like he was dreaming. He was still there, still alive. My baby was still alive right then. All I had to do was pick him up and he would be fine right now. I never let him sleep at that time. I should not have let him then.
I went to wake him up at 7:28 pm. I rubbed his back so I would not startle him, but there was no response. He could be a very sound sleeper when he finally slept. I picked him up and will never forget the way his head just fell, completely limp, backward. I looked at his face, really looked at it, and I saw how blue it was. The little corners of his eyes and his lips were purplish-blue. The creases at the sides of his nose were blue. And his hands…his tiny, long-fingered, perfect hands, were so very, very white.
From that moment, everything became surreal.
Sam’s whole body was completely limp, like he had no bones. I dived across the bed, called 911, and began CPR. When I breathed into Sam’s mouth, I heard those 5 ounces of formula bubbling. Each time after Sam’s chest rose with my breath, some formula gushed out of his mouth as his chest once again collapsed. But Sam was not breathing. He had no pulse. I remember screaming. I remember crying. I remember pleading with God not to take my baby boy. Something inside me knew it was already too late, but he was still warm, and I prayed that there was a chance.
I kept doing CPR. I kept doing it until the fire truck stopped at the house and I let in the EMTs. They went to work immediately. I wanted to go with Sam in the ambulance and an EMT reminded me to grab a pair of shoes. I did not stop to put them on. I just grabbed a pair of sneakers.
I remember thinking how long, how horribly long the ambulance ride was. They were still working on Sam. They had not given up. I saw one of them look at me through the little window between the front seat and the back of the ambulance. He had such pity, such sadness on his face. Finally we arrived at the hospital. Mom and Dad were already there, but it did not occur to me to think that was strange, did not occur to me that I had not called them, had not called anyone, in fact, except my neighbor Carol to come stay with Violet. They looked so scared. Mom asked me if he was breathing and I told her no. He was not. I broke away and followed the stretcher inside.
In the ER a whole team of people stood waiting for us; they were all assembled in a kind of half circle around the table. I remember being so grateful to them for already being there and ready for my Sam. I wanted to stay. I tried to stay, but they would not let me. They said they had to ‘do some things’ and they needed me to step out. I kept saying, over and over, “I’ll just stand here, I won’t do anything. I want to stay. I want to stay. I want to stay.”
They forced me out of the room even as I was screaming “no!” They brought Mom, Dad, and me into a little private room. It was tiny. No windows. Just a couch, a chair, and a phone. It was the death room: the room they made people sit in until they could come tell them that the person they were working on had died. I hated that room. Dad held me while I sobbed. Mom looked like she was dying inside. Then Dad left the room and Mom moved beside me. After what seemed like an hour, though it was really only about 10 minutes, a nurse came in to tell me that they would bring in a chair for me and I could go back in the room where they were working on Sam if I promised not to interfere or get in their way. I promised. I said over and over, “I’ll be good, I’ll be good, I’ll be good, I’ll be good.” I sat there as I watched them try to bring my baby back to life. Over and over I prayed that God would send Sam back, that he would not take my baby from me. They tried. They worked so hard to keep him here with me. But they could not. At 9:00 p.m. they stopped. It all stopped. The shots, the orders, the pumping on his tiny little chest. The EMT who drove the ambulance to the hospital began to cry. The doctor told me that they were going to stop, that my baby was dead and they could not bring him back to me. It could not be true. Just a few of hours ago Sam had been smiling at me, full of life, full of promise. I asked if I could hold him.
The nurse wrapped Sam in a clean blanket and put him in my arms. I never wanted to let him go again. I kept him to myself. My parents and one of my sisters were already with me, and just after they handed him to me, another of my sisters arrived. Her face crumpled when she realized that Sam was gone. My sisters sat on either side of me, while Mom stood behind me. I kept my Sam in my arms. I kept saying “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, Sam.” I just wanted to wake him up. But he would not wake. He was so still. I reached to stroke his soft, still, beautiful white hands.
My mind refused to take it in. It was just too big. It was too final, too sudden, too abrupt.
I kept touching Sam, running my fingers over his smooth, round cheeks, touching his nose, his forehead, rubbing his head. His hair had just begun to come in. It was like a soft, fuzzy, military burr. I just kept touching him, kissing his hands, his face, the top of his head. I knew I would never get to touch him again, not like this. So I just held him. I held onto him for two and a half hours. I tried to memorize the exact way he felt in my arms, how the slight weight of him nestled perfectly into the crook of my arm, how his head almost always turned toward the left. Then they told me that it was time for them to take my Sam away.
A woman took Sam out of my arms to lay him on the table. His body was so small. He looked so vulnerable, so exposed. She placed him on another clean blanket and began to fold it over him. I reached down and uncovered his face. He never liked to have his face covered. I whispered my goodbyes to him. I told him I loved him. I told him to go and find his family. He has a lot of family up there. The woman began to talk to Dad about timing as far as getting Sam to Dallas for the autopsy and back here to the funeral home. She kept referring to my Sam, my beautiful, perfect baby boy, as “it”: “It will be taken to Dallas, but it should be back to the funeral home by Sunday morning.”
I did not even realize I was speaking out loud. “He.” She looked at me. I just repeated, “He.”
Mom understood. She repeated it to the woman as well. “He, not it.” I could not let this woman, this woman who talked about my baby as if he were a thing, take my son. I pushed her hands away, wrapped him up myself, and held him.
I carried him. I was the first one to carry him, for nine months, and I wanted to be the last. I carried my baby as far as they would let me.
When we got to the door they had to take him away from me. I had to hand over my son, my Sam, to this woman, this stranger. Suddenly he was really going away. They were taking him away from me and I would never get to hold him again. The nurse took him from me. He was gone. Really gone. I had to walk out of there and leave my baby behind. I had my shoes on now. I had left them on the floor of the ambulance and the EMT brought them in. Someone had put them on my feet and tied them. But I did not care about shoes.
It took me a long time to fall asleep that night. I held Sam’s little blue and green terrycloth outfit against my cheek and slept with his blanket clutched to my chest. I finally, reluctantly, washed the outfit several days later and my sister placed it, with several other items, in a shadow box.
My eldest sister made this for me. It was lost in the fire
But sometimes I still sleep with Sam’s blanket.
Sam died on a Friday.
I will never look forward to Fridays again.
Sam and Violet on Christmas Eve 2002 Christmas Eve 2002