in the first twelve hours
My aunt laura came to MEEI soon after Ayrie died. She drove through the middle of the night, pulling over to cry, pulling herself back together to be there for me. My dad had a surgery scheduled for that morning so my mom, of course, was with him.
The pediatric floor is on one long hallway with locked doors at one end. I remember seeing the doors open and a nurse ushering Laura in. I was so relieved. I suppose we hugged. I suppose we cried. But these moments are lost to me.
But I do flashes of intense, although disconnected, memories from those first twelve hours that somehow manage to shine through the haze.
- I remember sitting in a small break room with a copier and coffee machine. People came and went, cried, comforted, received comfort… Â People gave me food but my throat wasn’t working. I felt like I didn’t remember how to swallow and I didn’t care.
- Sitting in the conference room with the resident and the nurse anethetist in charge of Ayrie’s code blue. They were miserable. They were professional. They were giving me the time to yell, scream, ask questions, blame, forgive… I suppose I could have done or said anything in those moments and it would have been appropriate. But I couldn’t think of anything to say. Did I blame them? Yes, to a degree. What I saw in the hours before was messy enough and confusing enough that I wasn’t sure I was ready to forgive. I thought at the time, and still think, that if Dr. Hartnick had been there in the very first minutes of Ayrie’s distress that Ayrie would still be alive. But I also understand that it was 2:30am and of course Dr. Hartnick wasn’t there. It’s okay, but I do think the outcome would have been different. I simply didn’t have specific questions about what happened yet. How could I? I was numb. I wan’t Ayrie back. I think they talked about God. I didn’t want to hear about God. I appreciated the time and space they were giving me but couldn’t think of what else to do with it other than sit there. And I suppose I cried the entire time. Honestly, to this day, when people ask me how Ayrie died I tell them that I don’t know. Because I don’t and I don’t think anyone does.
- Sitting in the same conference room when the chaplain came in. He was a Catholic priest with theÂ black outfitÂ and the starched white square in his collar. I can’t even remember what this called. He started talking to be about how it was a special angel day… or something… and I was so mad that I had to sit through this! I didn’t care about God, I didn’t care about angels. I cared about Ayrie and his passing. But I also couldn’t bring myself to be rude. So I did the best thing I could think of, I asked him to say a prayer over Ayrie’s body. I told him that I had already said my goodbyes and couldn’t bring myself to see the body again. Really, though, I just wanted him to leave me alone and I thought, why not? Prayer can’t hurt, only help, I suppose.
Promising myself that I would not become over-protective of Shiya, treating him like he is fragile, living with the constant fear that I might lose him too…because I might. I know now that we don’t know how long we will be able to grow with our children. But I would rather let Shiya live a full and joyous life and lose him earlier than shelter and protect him in a way that makes his life strange and weird in some misguided attempt to maximize the quantity but not quality of his life. I would help Shiya have an active social life, creative life, travel with him…
- Crying in a bathroom and feeling an intense and sudden connection to the collective suffering of the mothers who have lost their children too early…i felt gratitude that i was able to give him everything that i did… i felt unbearable sadness that so many people lose their kids every day and sometimes for the most horrific reasons…that there might be mothers in Afghanistan, for example, who cherish their children as much as me but are absolutely unable to provide enough food or a safe home. I felt heartbroken and my first glimpse into the light and gratitude that I have been trying to stay in touch as I travel through my own grief
Many people offering me a place to stay and seeming surprised that I wanted to spend a night in the Holiday Inn. But it was where Ayrie and grammy and I always stayed. I never would have guessed before that night that our times there were over so I wanted to have one more night there to say goodbye. Ayrie would have loved that.
- Knowing that Shiya and I needed to be a foster family. Ayrie made me a better parent and Shiya a better brother. And the best way we can honor what he taught us is to build a strong intentional family that we can share with others. In the weeks Â before Ayrie died he told me that he wanted 10 brothers and sisters besides Shiya. So I made a vow in those first hours to be a foster parent at least 10 children over my life.
- Sitting in the same conference room with Dr. Hartnick. He was serious. He wasn’t crying. Maybe he seemed a bit in shock. Maybe not. Maybe disappointed. Really, I didn’t have a good read on how he felt. I just knew that he cared. And I didn’t know what to ask him either. So all I wanted to ask him was about his personal life. I had trusted Ayrie’s life to him (which still gives me great comfort to this day) and I craved knowing more details about him. But I also know that professional boundaries are likely important to him so I tried to hold back and not ask too much…But I did ask him if he could make two promises to me. He solemnly nodded his head… which was brave because really, who knew what i was going to ask?… and I asked him if I could call him in the future to ask questions. I told him that I had no idea what to ask him right then and that I knew my questions would rise and change throughout my grief process. I also asked him to help me find a way to stay involved with him, or his clinic or something so that in some way I could give back. That I needed help finding a way to give back so that Ayrie’s death wasn’t meaningless.
- Knowing that I wanted to have him cremated. Knowing that Ayrie’s spirit would not want to be tied to one place in the ground. That I didn’t want to have one place that people went to feel sad. But talking to the funeral home that day and not being able to tell them to cremate him. It was too fast. And even though I was certain in my decision, I needed a few days before I could make it official.
- Wondering if I should be conferring with others about all of the decisions that needed to be made, but ultimately the feeling that I needed to ‘connect’ with Ayrie on each decision and follow my heart.
- Knowing that I wanted to be the one to tell Shiya. Calling the school only hours after Ayrie died and telling his teacher… asking if Shiya could come to school for the next two days and if they could refrain from telling Shiya and the other kids so that Shiya could hear it directly from me when I returned from Boston.
Yep. This is all I can write right now about what I remember in those first twelve hours. I had to make an incredible number of decisions and luckily felt guided and supported through the process by Ayrie… although I didn’t know at the time that Ayrie was still so close to me in those moments.
Sounds like it was an overwhelming time. I can’t even imagine knowing what to ask, what to say, how to do anything but live the shock. Glad that you thought to ask if you could get back to Hartnick sometime later. Even if you never need to, it is good to know the door is open if you decide you need to. HUG
Nora, I’ve been following your journey through this blog ever since I heard of Ayrie’s passing. First of all, I want to thank you for being so open and honest about your grief. Although I never knew Ayrie personally, I feel like I’ve gotten to know the amazing person he was, because of your writing. His story is really inspiring, and deserves to be told. It’s so important to keep these memories alive–for yourself, for those of us who may or may not have known Ayrie, and for those of us who have grieved. Your courage to share your story and grief, and his courage and will to live resonates with all of us.
Thanks, Gretchen and Jenny!! Writing the memories down is critica, I’m realizing. The details get lost to quickly… and I think that I am going to be able to keep learning from this experience for years. I’ll probably be able to read these words over and over and see new things each time, even though I was there!