It was a year ago this week that we began what would end up being a weeklong stay on the cardiac and then ICU wards at the children's hospital. In my mind's eye the memory is seen from a point of view over my shoulder, blurry as though through a filtered lens, all mottled edges and underwater sounds.
The brunette receptionist.
Being buzzed in.
The nurse I ignored as she greeted me, thinking she couldn't be old enough to know a thing.
Me holding tight, one hand held protectively against the back of Sadie's head, the other under her tiny padded bum.
My utter disbelief that we were there to begin with.
Why did they know who we were? Why were they expecting us?
Of course, the emergency room doctor at our local hospital had called ahead. She had already sent me home to pack a bag and call my husband before arranging for an ambulance to bring us across the city. She understood long before we left that the size of her heart made Sadie a very sick little girl.
There was a bed waiting for us. I distinctly remember feeling panic rise in my chest over not understanding what anyone was saying. I didn't want to take her out of her sling to hand her over to anyone. The strongest bond she and I formed over her six short weeks on earth was when I held her, cheek nuzzled to my neck. She was soothed instantly by it. It made me understand what it meant to be willing to give your life for another’s. I don’t have to explain to any of you the depth of devotion one feels toward their child. The strongest love that exists, full stop.
The walls were painted a vivid yellow; the enormous privacy curtains around each bed pumpkin orange. They were such happy colours to use as the backdrop to a thousand layers and personal brands of fear, doubt, and confusion. By mid afternoon they cast a warm glow on one’s skin when the sun shone through the wall of windows at the end of the ward. As though the fiery determination of all of those terrified parents was burning from their insides out as they learned to administer meds and monitor heart rates.
Shortly after arriving we met the specialists who would diagnose her Cardiomyopathy and tell us how rare and difficult it typically proved for infants. I was knocked out of my daze into the present, struggling to comprehend his intricate explanation of how a healthy heart works versus how our daughter’s did. I slowly understood that I needed to think of her as a ‘Heart Baby’ and what that meant to our future. I began to write stories in my head to her. All of which included how to explain her special circumstances, in which her special heart needed extra special care, because she was different from other people in a very special way.
One morning, for the first time, she looked right at me as I leaned over her hospital bed and smiled the most beautiful smile in history. Machines beeped and children cried and she sealed her spot as the love of my life.
A week later we would watch a team of intensive care doctors try in vain to save her life.
Neither of us has been the same since, in too many ways to mention. But together we're so much stronger than apart.
I told my husband months ago that I wanted very much to escape from our lives on March 31st. I didn’t want to have to face anyone else but the one who understands what is happening in my heart. He understands that if anything, a year is but a minute when it comes to grief.
The difference between today and a year ago is not that the pain of our lost girl has diminished. It has only changed. Morphing from a life size mask to become an inky black fragment of my shadow. Always there and forever a part of me, but not the first thing you’ll see when you meet me. Sadie would have wanted me to take the mask off. I am still her mother. I am still me.
Next Tuesday, on the morning that will mark a year since we lost her, I will wake up early beside the man I love and watch the sunrise. We’ll have breakfast on the roof of our riad in the heart of Marrakech. Then we will travel to the Atlas Mountains with the solitary goal of drinking in the natural beauty of the exotic Moroccan landscape. I want to spend our time walking by his side, exploring the medina together. Breathing in the scents of spice and soaking up the turquoise sky. Losing ourselves in the city described as one that time has forgotten. All that matters is that I will be far away with him, remembering her.
How did you spend the first anniversary of your child's death, or how do you intend to?