I’m drawn to photos of infants on ventilators. For me, it’s because Anderson was on a vent for all 26 days of his life, except for one day in the first week when they gave him a shot on the CPAP (those were the hopeful, honeymoon days). As soon as took the vent out, he didn’t look like him, anymore. I know it’s weird to say – I’d been so looking forward to seeing his face – but suddenly Anderson-without-vent, the face I thought I’d cherish, was Anderson-dying, and it was not a beautiful, peaceful death but a gasping, clearly struggling one. I don’t mean it wasn’t peaceful in some ways – we knew his pain would be over soon, and all I remember feeling in that short hour was love and, oddly, joy (hour-ish? I have no idea how long he held on because I don’t remember when we asked for the vent to be taken out. I know he died around 10:45 p.m., but only because I looked at the clock around when the doctor nodded that it was over; there was no official pronouncement like on TV).
I felt joy, and that still perplexes me because in the days following I’d feel only anger and sadness. I force myself to remember that joy, because sometimes I think that that was the most important thing. Odd, joy, but I think it was because I loved him so much and was so consumed by that love in that moment of him dying, of actually having and holding my son and kissing his fingers and toes and face – which I hadn’t gotten to do before – that his dying became tangential to that love.
I’m not the only babyloss mom to experience this disconcerting dichotomy. The ability to still find joy despite the death, as we continue through our daily lives, is the true miracle. The last lines of An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination by Elizabeth McCracken, which I’ll admit I have not read (yet?) reflect her own struggle to reconcile her joyful life with the reality of her stillborn child’s death: “[I]t is a happy life but someone is missing/[I]t is a happy life and someone is missing.”
(Thanks to Expecting the Unexpected for inspiring this blog post!)