Today has been a strange, emotional day. Both of my daughters have the flu. When I say flu, I don’t mean “stomach flu” or a cold that I’m casually labeling the flu. My eldest tested positive on Monday for flu A, and my second broke with the exact same symptoms 48 hours later. For 3 days, I’ve been in the house, taking care of sick kids, taking care of house items, paying bills, and cleaning. I’ve fretted and worried over them for the past 72 hours, as this is the sickest that I’ve ever seen them in 6 and 4 years respectively.
This kind of intense, housebound parenting doesn’t leave time for anything else, certainly not being open to my grief. Truth be told, I’ve had little time to think of much else but the girls and worrying about not catching the flu from them in my pregnant state.
But today, Jim was off work, and I was able to spend several hours alone. In the space of that aloneness, my grief flowered within me. I felt the rivers of sorrow start to flow again.
Then dinner happened. I went out with a close friend who has a new baby. Said baby was sleeping peacefully in her carseat while her mother and I talked about the struggles of parenting small children, the difficulty of relationships in the face of parenting, and everything else under the sun. I happened to look down during dinner and notice that her baby was sleeping very heavily. She was nestled in a dark blue snowsuit, and I couldn’t see her face well. The light was reflecting on her suit, and she was very still and looked blue to me.
I have PTSD. I don’t say that lightly or casually. PTSD is not a term to be used as a label for anxiety or panic. It is a true disorder caused by a traumatic circumstance. My therapist has diagnosed me with this. I have flashbacks, terrible anxiety, panic attacks, and sometimes I feel confusion when dealing with stressful situations. Further, even before James’s death, I would suddenly startle, terrified that my sleeping children weren’t breathing. Many mothers I know did this with their infants and do it still. The specter of SIDS and accidental suffocation looms large in our minds. So as I glanced down, the combination of a deeply sleeping newborn, the reflection of her blue suit onto her skin, the horrific news stories, and the memory of my own son, limp and blue, overwhelmed me.
I kept my voice level but quietly told my friend this. I said it calmly and without panic, only that I thought, from my angle, her skin looked a little blue-ish. My friend checked her daughter by lightly stroking her nose. No response. She touched her daughter’s hands. No response again. She started to unbuckle her, opened the snowsuit, and still, her little girl didn’t stir. I heard panic in her voice when she said, “Cat, she’s not moving.”
My own heart began to pound, sickeningly fast, and my stomach dropped into my soles. I slid to the edge of my seat, literally picturing doing CPR on my sweet friend’s baby on the top of our table. As she lifted the baby out of the carseat, her eyes flickered open, bright blue, inquisitive, and vaguely annoyed that mom had waken her out of such a deep, contented sleep.
I released a huge sigh of relief. She’d just been sleeping deeply, warm and snug in her carseat. My heart’s staccato booming slowed, and I could feel the shakes wanting to take over my body. Tears rushed to my eyes, and I had to choke them back.
My friend propped her daughter in her lap, now awake and inquisitively checking out her surroundings. I could see the relief and terror mirrored in my friend’s eyes. I felt terrible knowing that I’d caused that fear. My PTSD caused me to panic in a benign situation.
And yet, as I watched her kiss her baby on the head repeatedly, I was taken back to a different room – a room in which I held a chubby boy with a headful of dark hair, kissing him over and over again, knowing that he was in the process of dying. I knew then that there would be no CPR. There would be no second chances. There would be no sighs of relief and exchanged looks of chagrin at an overreaction.
No, there would only be silence, the silence of no oxygen concentrator, no ventilator. Silence occasionally disrupted by the alarmed beeping of an oxygen monitor. There would be no bright-eyed, curious baby in my lap, wondering what all the fuss was about. There would only be the silence of a grave in January.
That was a flashback. I had to hold back the urge to scream, to cry. I had to once again tell myself that yes, Catherine, yes, you did hold one of your children while they died. That did happen to you. You held James, your beloved, only son, the only son that you will ever have, as he died. You would think at 14 months since his death, I would have accepted and internalized this fact, but it still shocks the hell out of me. As I watched my friend hold her beautiful little girl, her relief a tangible presence in the room, I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that James is gone. That he died while I held him. He’s really gone forever.
My world has been cracked open. I have seen the heart of all truth, and it is that we are all a mere hairsbreadth from death at all times. Not only has my world cracked open, but my heart has cracked open, as well. I can’t handle anything. I feel as if the world should see this wound, this mortal, gaping, bleeding wound, within me. But it’s invisible to the naked eye, so invisible that others can convince themselves “she’s doing well.”
I’m not well. I am bleeding inside. I will bleed inside until the hairsbreadth between me and death exists no more. No amount of time will heal this wound.