I have learned not to expect anything, because things -- even memorial services -- will turn out differently than I imagined.
-- Me, a few days ago.
It started yesterday, Saturday, with a runny nose and the now-familiar cough. In a few short hours, Bella was writhing on the couch in agony, weeping, moaning, unable to sit still. My gut said "ear infection," but my brain . . . well. Bella just kept clutching her hair in tufts crying, "My head hurts!" There was fever. There was some throwing up. And why, WHY do these things happen on Saturday afternoon and not during weekday office hours? Why does the fire-alarm battery beep at 3 a.m. and not 10 a.m.? Why does the car always break down on vacation and not two blocks from your house?
And in my (I think) excusable, somewhat anxious state, I vacillated between "This is nothing, give her motrin, we can do this" and "Holy crap, better google the symptoms for that really awful shit that starts with an M and ends with -eningitis," and even got an after-hours nurse on the phone, just to double check my gut. She concurred, upped our pain-killer dosage, and wished me well.
This morning, first words from Bella's mouth after a broken night of sleep were "My ear hurts." Well! There we are. We lounged. Got her more pain-relief. She was hungry, daddy treated her by running to the bakery. And we finally got around to looking up an urgent care clinic a million miles away (topic for another post: NO URGENT CARE CLINICS IN AREA. Seriously, WTF? Has our system come to this? My mother was reminiscing about MY pediatrician driving in on a weekend, and unlocking the door and turning on the light to peer into my ear and write out a script for antibiotics. Them days are o-vuh) and decided we'd leisurely make our way out there for a check. Went to take off Bella's PJ's and discovered . . . .she was covered in a horrible red puffy rash.
Rash. Wasn't that a symptom the night nurse warned me about? Er, yes. Screw the trek to Urgent Care, off went the family to [Delivery Hospital] ER. I knew from the gos that they always have a ped resident on duty, and triage accordingly, and I knew from experience that if this hospital ever felt over in over their heads they wouldn't hesitate to send us to Children's. We were seen within minutes; rash was quickly written off as topical -- either fever or allergy related; and she was then found to have not one, but TWO ear infections. No wonder her head hurt.
Relieved as we were, this presented us with a small problem. And I don't mean losing a weekend we had intended to dedicate to shopping and decorating our house with. We had a candlelight ceremony to go to this evening, and it was clear Bella was in no shape to go. My aunt offered to stay with her, but we couldn't imagine leaving a weeping, moaning Bella with her -- for either of their sakes. So it was decided: Mr. ABF would stay home and light candles with Bella, I would go to the service at Children's with my aunt and uncle.
I always knew that having another child would mean shifts in logistics just like this; I could have never imagined them being this difficult if one child was dead.
Tonight, watching the names and slides slip across the screen, I wanted to remember them all. I don't know if that was some subconscious way of wanting to tell Mr. ABF exactly what I felt, how it went down, or if I just wanted to collect all of those children -- all of their names and faces and dates and hold them close. I should've felt desperately alone and torn, leaving a sick daughter at home to attend to my other one, but I was surprisingly clear. I held my candle high, I clutched my baggie of names.
I was not alone. Maddy, sadly, was not alone either.
I walked in my front door to find my husband had put Maddy's picture on our entry hall table and lit three candles. "I wanted three," piped in Bella. I put my scraps in a bowl next to the picture. I gave Bella a glow stick, and Mr. ABF the book of remembrances they hand out at the service.
Just like I attended a concert with one daughter, while my husband stayed home with the other. Except, not.
We're constantly amazed that you were only with us six days and have left such an overwhelming impression on our lives -- even now, almost two years later.
Much has changed. Your big sister asks about you now, now that she has the words and understanding. And it breaks our hearts, but also melts them. The nightmare that used to replay in our heads has softened a bit, as we simply try to remember and envision what a world with you in it would look like. We laugh now, we plan a little, we function rather well. We smile, we water your lilac without the wind being knocked out of us, we say s your name a bit less haltingly. We've moved beyond crying inconsolably to wondering how to answer the confounding question, "How many children do you have?" And that hasn't gotten easier. We still trip up, wondering when to let others into our life, into your life.
But much remains just as it was a year ago. Missing you still consumes us. You are still the strongest and most courageous person we know. Losing you still eats at our ability to hope and dream and wish. And one thing for certain hasn't changed: Please know, you are still loved, deeply, by all of us.
Mommy, Daddy, and Bella.