Eight years ago, a baby boy was born. Michael weighed over eight pounds and he was stunning. On this rainy, October morning, eight years later, I awoke and immediately thought of him. More specifically, I thought of the phone call from hubby’s mom, letting us know that he’d arrived. Hubby and I lay in bed and 13-week-old Abby slept in her bassinet.
The sound of the phone signaled loudly in the morning quiet. Hubby answered, listened and responded,
That’s so exciting!
(He looked over at me and nodded. We’d been expecting this call, knowing that his brother’s wife was close to delivering.) And then he said,
Oh. Oh No. What happened?
His face, creased with sleep, fell. Brows furrowed. He listened. I watched intently and cold chills coursed my body. He hung up. Within minutes, we were packing for the drive to Chicago.
We drove the six hours to Chicago, to the hospital. We drove the six hours to our family. As we drove, we learned more and more and the chasm in our hearts grew. There had been a long night of painful labor, darkened hosptial halls glowing in florescent strips. The caregivers at the hospital were distracted and followed reckless hospital policies. My sister-in-law’s uterus catastrophically ruptured; the placenta detached from her uterus wall. The baby had been without oxygen for a length of time that I did not want to fully contemplate. We arrived at the hospital in the evening, in the dark. We pulled up to the hospital valet, got Abby’s bucket car seat out of the car and ran to the elevators. I remember pushing the Up button.
My sweet nephew lay in the NICU, connected to so many tubes and machines they seemed to take over his body. He lay there, resting. He was beautiful. His chest rose and fell with peaceful breaths. Over and over again. His long eyelashes swept his full cheeks. I held his hand; it was so incredibly soft. We were all there: parents, brothers, sisters, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, grandparents, cousins. We learned that with uterine rupture, high incidences of maternal or fetal morbidity occur. My sister-in-law survived.
While Hubby and I spent our days and evenings with his/our family, Abby stayed with my mom. At the end of our days, we’d return to my mom’s house. I’d walk to where Abby slept and look into her pack-n-play. I’d watch her sleep. At 13-weeks-old, she and her NICU-bound cousin were just about the same size. They both rested in almost the exact same position. Hot tears fell down my face and my chest heaved, a cavernous space of ricocheting grief.
I reached down through the dark night; my hands found one of Abby’s rattles. The next day, I brought the rattle with us to the hospital. I placed this rattle into my nephew’s NICU bassinet. I wanted him to have something of Abby’s. Even though I knew, at this point, he would never hold the rattle.
My brother-in-law and sister-in-law understood everyone’s desire to do something with their sadness, so they gave each of us assignments. Even in their impossible grief, they thought of others. My husband’s sister and my assignment was to create a memory board for our nephew. Along with our sister-in-law’s sisters, we created a collage of letters and notes from our sweet nephew’s short life. We tacked up letters from his parents. We put up a picture that his older sister drew for him. We put up the rattle that I had given to him in the NICU.
The night before the services, I looked at the memory board. The rattle was not there. I asked my husband’s sister if she’d seen it. She hadn’t.
Four days after he arrived, Michael died. A few days later, my brother-in-law and sister-in-law buried their infant son. The October day dawned bright, cool and crisp. The large church held many, many people. I walked into the church and looked for my husband’s sister; she saved a seat in the pew for me. We sat for a moment; I think our fingers laced. After a moment, she leaned over. She began to whisper that she’d asked her brother, the father of the baby, if he knew where the rattle was. He told her that they’d decided to bury it with Michael.
From some place of indescribable resolve and strength, my brother-in-law and sister-in-law spoke to the gathering of people who came to do what they could. Later, this quote was read,
You – you alone will have the stars as no one else has them…In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night…You – only you – will have stars that can laugh.
– Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince
Over the last eight years, I’ve thought of Michael often. I think about what his life should’ve been and how much I miss doing all the things that Aunts get to do with their nephews. Hug. Giggle. Hold hands. Roast marshmallows.
Over the last eight years, I think often of my brother-in-law and sister-in-law. I hold them in such high esteem and tuck them into a special place in my heart; they’ve endured what parents are not supposed to endure. Every year, I write something for my nephew. I keep it in my notebook; it helps me to continue to feel connected to him.
Today, on what would be Michael’s eighth birthday, I am sad. The charcoal sky spits rain. I sit to write about my nephew. As I write, I cry. Big, racking sobs course through my body. A glance at my laptop clock showed that suddenly, it was time to pick up Henry from school.
I got into the car, still sobbing. I played Yo Yo Ma’s haunting rendition of Dona Nobis Pacem. His gorgeous cello notes wrapped around my gut and soul and allowed me to grieve. Grant us peace. I hit repeat and the tears continued their descent. Grant us peace.
As I drive, I decide to let my iPod play whatever comes next. A song plays which I’m quite sure I’ve heard before, but I’m also quite sure I’ve never listened to before. The deep, guttural chords of Dave Matthews’ Baby Blue resonate in the air. As I continue to mourn the tragic loss of my nephew, I hear:
You will rest your head, your strength once saving.
And when you wake you will fly away, holding tight to the legs of all your angels. Goodbye my love, into your blue, blue eyes, your blue, blue world, you’re my baby blue.
I think that I should pull over as I am having a hard time seeing the road through my tears.
I cannot see the stars tonight for the heavy tapestry of ashen clouds mask their presence. But I know, with pure certainty, that the stars are laughing on this evening, as they do each night. For all of us who remember him. Always.
In honor of Michael, October 19 – October 22, 2003