Thursday, June 14, 2007
First of Many
I turn on my computer and it is alive with pictures of Joseph that are so real that I can almost smell him. His shoes sit at the foot of my bed along with his other belongings. I had the courage to give his bike to his cousin this weekend...the first of many things I imagine I will be giving away. The horror that fills me when I look Joseph's death straight in the eye the same way I always tried to stare down his illness is so debilitating, I can only do it one small bit at a time. I know he is dead, because I was there when he died. He was failing and I have to keep reminding myself that he was going to die within a day or two, possibly within hours anyway...that by turning off the machine, we avoided having someone sitting on his chest cracking his ribs while they pushed him full of drugs and hormones with chaos all around and alarms going off. That would have terrified him. All of us. I forget that part a lot and often wonder why I gave up so easily. I forget too that he was on that respirator for four weeks before he died. And when I remember that, it seems he was gone a lot longer than he has been and my pain sinks just that tad bit deeper into my soul. The last I "heard" from Joseph was two days before Christmas. I believe now he was saying goodbye. I believe he wanted us to let him go. But I can still suffer waking nightmares of wondering whether he lay there, inert by neuromuscular drugs but alert because he'd become tolerant of all narcotics...the dose of Morphine to help ease him through the transition from life to death supposedly strong enough to stop his heart, yet it beat strong for a full three minutes after the machines went silent and all the world cascaded into that room, not like an explosion or a collapse, but the feathers of reality slowly drifting down upon us, their weight never to be lifted again. I'd never seen death in its natural state, only in coffins and embalmed neatness. I sang to him in a wavering voice a lullaby that came to me from his babyhood. I tried to assist him to the other side. His eyes started to open and his lips to turn blue, as if he were be asphixiated. I tried to have the courage to lay my hand on his chest and feel his heartbeat fade away, to maintain that skin to skin contact, to let him feel me there. Its beating became erratic yet remained frighteningly strong, his heart flopping in his chest like a fish tossed onto dry land. I could not hold that touch. It triggered panic, the desire to cancel that decision, to save him, to bring him back. I grasped the rails of his bed and sank to the floor...I watch it in my mind in slow motion as if from far above me... the low keening of my wail of despair haunting even to my own ears, then abrupt as I cut it off, jerked myself back into the moment, this moment, my last moments with my child... stood up, walked to the other side of his bed and stroked his hair, held the fine taper of his fingers, listened to the silence.... and watched my son die. Time went by. The doctor took a soft step forward. I knew why he'd moved...I did not look at him...gently I turned back the christmas plaid blanket Joseph still lay beneath, exposed the bruised skin of his chest for the stethoscope, looked at the grayness where light used to be across my baby's features and heard the soft whisper, sensed the forlorn nod..."there is no heartbeat"....and felt the strangled, cowardly urge to flee from that room and the image before me that did not, does not, will never compute. This boy, this man-child, this lively, energetic, baffling, confusing, infuriating, delightful, amazing, shimmering young man was dead...this grayish bluish tube-infested bruise covered diaper wearing famine victim looking body was just a few months prior my robust, healthy, optimistic, brilliant son. It felt violent. It felt wrenched from my grasp, a literal physical pain in my womb and my chest that I carry to this day even though that child was 13 years old and would turn 14 in just a few weeks from now. I never in a million years could conceptualize we might lose. I faced it. I stared it down every single day. I thought if I kept my eye on it, It... Death... could not sneak up on me and could make no move that I could not see, anticipate, utilize the experts at my fingertips and defeat with chin lifted triumph. To the very end, I stared Death in the face. And its image will haunt me forever, burned into my memory from staring at it for so very long. Even watching it come, I did not believe it would take him. I believed modern medicine could cure him. Even when I knew we would lose I somehow still expected God would save him. I'd made a deal after all. I told God at the outset of his relapse that I could live without him...that I would be okay if Joseph had to die...but that he had to do it quickly. That I could not stand to watch him suffer, to be helpless to his moans and cries, to his gasps and weeping, to his bleeding and indignities. I'll handle his death with dignity Lord, if you take him with dignity and merciful swiftness. I guess I asked too much. God said no. I saw things no mother should ever see, heard sounds from my child that would make the blood of the most emotionally cold person curdle in fear if not compassion. I did hard time. We all did. And some days now, I just wish all of it were done. Having to live the rest of my life trying to somehow figure out how to be okay sleeping in my own bed every night while Joseph lies in a coffin 30 miles away deep under ground...with these memories swimming through my mind...that which I refused to look away from now refusing to let me forget....its too heavy for a heart already tired. I'm not suicidal. But I'm okay if I die.