September 4

Inspired by Artist a Day

Happy birthday to Marshall Alan

*****

I had brought her hydrangeas. They rested on her bedside table, their bulbous heads pulling at the stems from the plastic vase the hospital had lent us. Next to them lay the phone, which she had taken from its cradle. I leaned down to kiss her forehead, but only caught her temple as she turned away from me.

“I brought you your robe,” I said, placing the bag at the foot of her bed. She lay expressionless, staring out the window at the early fall rain that had begun to fall. The familiar hum of the automatic blood pressure cuff broke the silence, and I glanced at the numbers, noting they had gone down dramatically from the previous day. She had scared me then, but she was back into manageable territory now.

“Have the nurses been by to say when they’ll be bringing him in?” Her eyes welled with tears, spilling over onto her cheeks and pillow. She hadn’t spoken since labor and delivery yesterday, despite my prodding and questioning, and it didn’t look like she’d be opening up anytime soon.

I sat down in the green nawgahyde chair reserved for visitors and turned the television to a rerun of Law & Order to wait. Never before had I felt so helpless or so unprepared on how to comfort my wife. Though, to be fair, how does one prepare for the loss of a child?

The doctors had said it was a stillbirth because he was fully formed like a newborn infant. He practically was a newborn infant—only a few weeks shy. A fluke, a horrible coincidence, whatever you choose to call it, our son was taken from us before he breathed his first breath, and now we were waiting for him to be brought to us for a final goodbye.

The rap on the door took my attention from Detective Briscoe, and I called for the visitor to come in. A nurse opened the door and entered with a blanketed bundle in her arms. I looked at my wife, motionless on the bed, and silently took him from her arms.

“Take all the time you need,” she said, turning to leave. “And by the way, I think it’s really important that you are doing this.” I thanked her and gave her a half-hearted smile.

I returned to my chair and stared at my son’s face. My pointer finger brushed his cheek, his skin as soft as the flesh on my other three children had been. I felt so selfish grieving so deeply for my son when I had three beautiful blessings at home, but I suppose one’s heart divides with each successive child without regard to health or life or death.

He had black hair, a break in tradition from the bald babies we’d had before. It was fine and soft as down. I unwrapped the blankets and curled his fingers around mine. He looked perfect. There was no reason he should not have been sleeping soundly tucked in the crook of my arm. There was no reason that my visions of soccer practice and Boy Scouts and car shows should’ve been thrown away with the doctor’s simple words of “I’m sorry.” I fought back tears as I thought of all the things my son would never become.

“Do you want to hold him?” I offered. She gave no response. “Hon, do you want to say goodbye?” She looked blankly and turned her back to me. I didn’t press.

I smoothed his hair down, told him that I loved him, and held him to my heart one last time before pushing the call button. When the nurse entered, I passed him off as I choked back a sob. The door had barely clicked shut when I broke down.

I heard her quietly weeping as I tried to compose myself. We mourned together, though separated in space. I crossed the room back to her bed and put my hand on her shoulder, wondering how she’d adjust back into her role as mother. Our oldest three depended on her, so her time to grieve would soon be pushed to school hours and after bedtime. Her gasps slowed and she settled back into restful slumber.

“I’m going to go relieve Mom. I’ll bring the kids by later.” I brushed her hair from her cheek. “Get some sleep.”

She reached her hand up to mine and squeezed my fingers. It would take time, but we’d be okay.

I kissed her temple and turned to leave, lifting the heads of the hydrangeas on my way.

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