Monday, February 18, 2013

Holding Her Close, Saying Goodbye

Precious in the sight of the LORD
is the death of His saints.
Psalm 116:15


            Around 7:30 that morning, I awoke, still feeling eerily euphoric, and relieved to be able to sit up and move around, although still restricted from getting out of bed without assistance. That would come later in the day when I’d slide out of bed and enjoy a wobbly, three-step shuffle to a wheelchair, followed by a warm shower. The reality of loss hadn’t fully penetrated; my spirit lay protectively cushioned in denial – the early stage of grief.
            Dr. Gordon arrived early and asked how I felt.
            “I feel great!” I announced with a bit too much enthusiasm. My words resonated a hollowness.
            “Sure you do,” he retorted, smiling sympathetically at my over-ambitious and enthusiastic assessment. “Look at your fingernails.”
            I quickly surveyed my hands and nails. With bewilderment, I noticed their ash-white shade.
            “Your nail beds look as though you died,” he pointed out with friendly sarcasm. “You aren’t ready to get up and begin running around; you need to replenish your red blood cells first. And that means rest, iron pills and food.”
            “Real food,” I sighed. That seemed an acceptable alternative to a transfusion.
            After examining my incision and stitches, and visiting a little longer, he left me to enjoy my first solid meal in four days.
            While eating my mind wrung its neurological hands: Will anyone say anything to me about Victoria? Will they automatically bring her to me? Will they ask if I want to see her? Or have they already taken her away? Wouldn’t they know I’d want to hold her? Afraid to inquire, I ate in silence, eyes examining my food, while the nurse cuffed and compressed my arm and had me twist my tongue around a thermometer for the compulsory vital statistics update.
            Soon after I finished eating, another nurse arrived to announce she’d be wheeling me down the hall in a wheelchair to bathe in the handicapped shower. Unintentionally, I blurted, “May I see my baby?” Then I sucked in my breath.
            “Of course,” she replied. “I was wondering when you would ask. I will bring her in for you to hold.” I exhaled as my heart pounded wildly.
            Within minutes she returned, carrying a small bundle. Victoria was swaddled snugly in a soft, pink and blue-striped receiving blanket, as though she needed shielding  from the cold, just like all other babies in the nursery. She placed her gently in my outstretched arms, smiled tenderly and quietly left the room.
            I lay Victoria delicately on my lap and hesitantly unwrapped the blanket to gaze at her. Chris was right; she was so little. And she was perfect; every intricate, miraculous detail was there. Carefully, I caressed her head, feeling with delight the first wisps of reddish-blonde hair, then cradled her tiny head in the palm of my hand. I stroked her eyebrows and tenderly ruffled her silky eyelashes with my fingertip. Her eyes had not yet opened, so I could only imagine them being the piercing, vivid blue illuminated in my husband and son. My fingers outlined her tiny ears then migrated to her pouting bottom lip. Just like Parker’s, I thought with a melancholy smile. Her skin was translucent, resembling a fragile china doll; even in death, I feared she might break in my grasp.
            Gently opening her clenched fists, I wound her five diminutive, dainty fingers around my one little finger and stared in awe at the miniscule nails adorning the ends. Curled in the fetal position, she resembled a content, slumbering baby. For a brief moment I could have deluded myself into believing she was still alive, and merely resting contentedly in my arms. Fastidiously, I re-wrapped the blanket around her frail form and hugged her to my warm body. She looked so cold.
            Throughout the day I held, cradled, observed, stroked and murmured in her silent ears, “Oh, Victoria…I am so very sorry. I love you!” Repeatedly, I kissed her forehead and caressed her satin cheeks. Chris insisted that she resembled me. I was sure she was identical to him and to her big brother. Although I did concede to her having my chin; yes, it was definitely my chin. And maybe my nose. And of course, I had been an auburn baby, and then a reddish-blonde child.
            Unequivocally, she was beautiful, and I longed to savor these precious moments with her. Once they came to remove her from my embrace, the separation would be permanent. I felt a sense of urgency to prolong my meager demonstrations of love, and to say hello—and goodbye—in as many ways and forms I could. The clock ticked unforgivingly in its reminder that the hourglass had no respect for my needs or desires.
            In mid-afternoon a young woman from housekeeping entered my room and started dusting and emptying. I greeted her with a smile and hello then returned my attention to the tiny infant lying on the bed in front of me. She glanced over at my bundle and smiled a wide, congratulatory smile. Then her head snapped around to look at Victoria again. With the realization that the tiny infant on the bed was inanimate, a look of horror contorted her pretty face. She exited the room in lightning speed, leaving her cleaning duties unfinished. At the door she threw an appraising glance my direction. A glance that made no attempt to conceal her private thoughts: she thought I was a demented, desperate mother.  
            Deep compassion for her flooded my heart. How can she possibly comprehend or appreciate what I’m going through? I was a desperate mother. And at that moment I was behaving in the most natural way a desperate mother would behave: faltering, laboring—struggling with every once of energy and sanity I still possessed—to endure this hideous reality in the most constructive manner I could.
            With the grace of God, I struggled to take up my newly constructed cross and bear my uninvited, wholly unwelcome burden.  
            How could God consider so “precious” what I considered so detestable?


NEXT WEEK: The final goodbye and unexpected decisions to make…


Again, thanks for joining me.

Until next week!