November arrives, and brings with it so much excitement and anticipation. The years first snowfalls delight children, and adults who feel like children and the promise of Christmas coming soon. For my family, November is a month of celebration, of birthdays for Avery and Landon, my mom and niece Anna, and for Everett. Don't forget Everett. Of course we never could, never would. But strangely, come November, a new and much higher degree of awareness of Everett washes over me. November ushers in so much happiness, but it also ushers in the grieving season. All my Everett senses are heightened. Suddenly, I can feel him.
The first snows that stick to the cars and the grass bring flash backs
to looking out the window at Sick Kids, it's snowing, and I'm thinking,
maybe he'll be home at our local NICU for Christmas. Those birthday
candles Landon picked out for his cake, the ones shaped like Lego
bricks, I'm wondering what candles would Everett want on his birthday
cake. On his 6th birthday cake. Six years have vanished before my
eyes. Time passed so astonishingly fast, how time has distanced me from
him, and how miraculous it is that come November, I am right there
again at his bedside. I walk in the doors at work, the dialysis doors
that are right next to the pediatrics entry, labor and delivery is
straight ahead, the air smells different in this part of the hospital,
and something as simple as a breath of that smell, and I'm standing at
the payphone just inside these doors, and I'm talking to my dad and I'm
bawling about his heart, Everett's heart, and I'm telling him how sick
he is. Or I'm standing by the nursing station while the team from Sick
Kids stabilizes Everett for transfer, and Elvis is there and he's
inconsolable, he's crying so hard he is breathless, he's terrified and
I'm holding him. It takes only the scent of the hospital linens this
time of year, and it's November 2007.
At the time, in the thick of it, Sick Kids felt like an awful place to
be. After Everett passed away I walked away from Sick Kids and I vowed I
never wanted to set foot in it again. I was overcome with anger and
grief and I never wanted to be reminded of that place and that battle
that defeated my son. As time went on, those feelings that repelled me
faded and in 2011 I found myself at Sick Kids once more, accompanying a
friend who worked there. She left us there in that same lobby as she
went to conduct some work business, and I sat in those same tables Elvis
and I ate at while we were there with him. I looked up at his floor,
the hallway that led to his wing, I watched people ride up and down the
elevators we rode it, I listened to the familiar fountains, I used the
same washroom, saw the same murals. To my eyes, to my ears, to my nose,
it was EXACTLY the same. It could have been November/December 2007.
Everett could have been upstairs waiting for me. He could have been
alive. I could have had hope. Everything was exactly as it was then.
And instead of being overcome with the guilt I expected would arrive, I
felt unexpectedly content. Happy almost. Happy to pretend for that
very short time that I was back then, I felt closer to Everett then I
had in a very, very long time. It felt, dare I say it, good. I went to
the gift shop where we bought our Bravery Bead necklaces, our symbols
of solidarity and love for Everett, and bought a matching bracelet, and
put it on my wrist, and felt something tying now to then. And I
walked out of that building with a hesitancy I didn't expect, the closer
I got to the doors, to the parking lot, to the street, the greater the
pull to go back got. I wanted to stay. I could have stayed all day.
Leaving felt like leaving him, all over again. Lately I've been
thinking I want to go back. I want to sit in that little food court. I
want to walk down that hallway to the Tim Hortons and the little
vending machines that give out miniature Care Bears figurines. I want
to go to that gift shop and buy some piece of jewelry. Bolder still, I
want to ride up those elevators, I want to walk down that hallway, and I
want to enter that waiting room just outside his wing. I want to sit
on those couches we waited on endlessly and I want to just feel. I want
to feel whatever emotions come my way. I want to pretend that Everett
is through those double doors, the last room on the left in his hallway,
the bed in the back left corner, he had a nurse named Stephanie I
believe, and she was Scottish. He laid in open bed with a warmer above
it, he had a flannel sheet folded beneath him with sea turtles on it,
his lamb we bought him (and one for Landon too) was in the upper left
corner of his bed, by his head at the start, his feet near the end. I
want to pretend I'm crouched down at his bedside, or perched on one of
those awkward white metal stools, and hold his hand, and touch is
cheeks, and emplore him once more, "please don't go". I can't be sure
if it happened or if I just wanted it to happen, but the day he died,
when we were huddled at his bedside making these huge decisions about
his life, I held his hand and he looked at me, just one eye opened, but
he looked at me. I hope he really did, I hope that moment was the
incredibly meaningful deep connecting moment I've remembered it as.
November arrives and suddenly my memories light up and Everett is
suddenly quite alive in my head, so vivid these memories can be that my
even my senses feel uncertain of what's real.
I can hear the sounds of his monitors alarming, I can hear his little bleating cry.
I can smell the hospital smells.
I can see him laying there in various stages of his life.
All these senses bring me back to his life.
But my arms, these haunted arms, only remember the weight of his body in
death. Heavy from fluid and the excess blankets he was wrapped in,
unyeilding, and cold. These haunted arms, desperate to recall what it
felt like when he was placed in my arms wailing and pink, and only for a
split second after his birth. Whisked away and intubated right away,
unable to be held for a few days more, then suddenly so sick, on a
helicopter ride to Toronto, held only once or twice, we shuttled from
our NICU where Landon was to Sick Kids to see Everett, who was then
intubated again, unholdable, then operated on. An open sternum for the
last two weeks of his life, unholdable. On the day he passed away the
Dr's worked fast hoping to place him in my arms alive, they were too
late. The longest period of time I ever held my Everett was when he was
newly gone. I held him close, I cradled him, I kissed him, I studied
his face, his puffy little face, his hair, where they shaved a spot for a
IV, then a sensor left a funny little bald spot. And the weight of him,
not really him at all, the weight of what we did to him, that's what my
Sunday we'll celebrate Landon and Avery's birthday's, 6 and 8 years
old. Landon will blow out his candles and open his gifts and my heart
will celebrate him, my smile will be genuine, because Landon delights
and amazes me. I'm awestruck over that little boy. None of it will be
for show. The love and appreciation I have for my living children is
consuming, it fuels me. But the grief, the haunted arms, the longing
heart, the memories that are so strong and so calling, they're very real
too, especially this time of year. The memories from this time of
year, six years ago, of Everett, of his life and of his death, though
they may be at times quite macabre, are also quite welcome.
Everett can haunt me any day.
Grieving season is as welcome as Christmas. It brings him close enough to see, to hear, to smell, to feel. That alone is a blessing.
(This entry is also posted in my new blog, From Self Destruction to Reconstruction).