Life and Death
The past few months have been rough in my little corner of the universe. Not within my intimate circle, but within my larger extended circle.
It’s the circle of people you know, or once knew, who no longer are a part of your daily reality, but you’re still connected. You may be fac.ebook friends. You may send the occasional email. You may chat online from time to time. You no longer live in the same cities and maybe you haven’t seen each other in years. Maybe you’ve never actually met face-to-face. But these are good people who have intersected your life at some point in time.
Mothers have lost their children. This short time period has been punctuated with the death of three children.
Stella was the first child. She died in October. While her death was expected, it still startled me. I never met 3-year-old Stella, but I had volunteered with one of her moms before Stella was born, and her death shook me. I never expected to follow Stella’s story from afar and to have it conjure hot, wet tears. News of her death left me stunned. Not because she died, but because how I was so impacted by the life and death of a spirited little one who I never had met, but reminded me so much of the Doodle, was entirely unanticipated.
Stella’s life was beautiful. And, so was her death. Stella’s journey, her mothers’ journey, resonated with me because I would have made the same decisions around dying if Stella had been my own child. I wouldn’t have proceeded with treatment, I would have mustered up all my strength to make her final days the best they could possibly be. I would want to celebrate and enjoy what life there was left. I wouldn’t have wanted to prolong the inevitable.
If you haven’t read Stella’s story, it’s been documented in the Toronto Star (part 1, part 2 and part 3). It’s a beautifully written tribute. Take the time to read it with a cup of coffee or tea. It’s long, so you’ll need to carve space and time to do so properly. I woke up before the sun rose and spent an hour in the Doodle’s bed bawling again at the story of a little girl and her moms that has deeply and profoundly impacted my perspective and the way I now live my life.
E. died the first week of December. He was born, contracted meningitis, and lived for fewer than 24 hours. His moms are devastated and heartbroken. They thought they’d be catering to the demands of a newborn. Instead, they’ve returned to their apartment strewn with baby stuff and no baby in their arms.
I’ve never met E.’s moms – they’re part of my larger internet circle of queer moms. They struggled and struggled to get pregnant with E., battling homophobic restrictions on fertility assistance in France, and had to make trips to Belgium for the inseminations just to get pregnant. E. was a miracle baby for them from the moment of conception.
I can’t even imagine what it’s like to carry a baby in your womb for nine months, to birth your baby, and then to have him ripped away from you before you even have a chance to map and memorize every inch of their tiny infant body. I can’t imagine having my milk come in, breasts painfully engorged, and then having no baby to nurse. I can’t imagine living overseas from my family, a family who wasn’t supportive of my queerness and the arrival of a grand baby in the first place, to only have to make that call to let them know that there would be no grand baby after all.
A. died the same day as E. I’m not sure which child passed away first because of the time difference. News of their deaths came one on top of the other.
A. was 6-years-old. She’s an incredibly vivacious young girl with Down’s syndrome that my friend adopted a few years back. A. was non-verbal, on the autism spectrum, and had numerous health issues. In spite of all this, she was thriving. A loving doting mother brought every ounce of this kid’s spirit to the surface.
It started with a tummy bug. A. caught some sort of flu/gastro bug on the weekend, her mom took her to ER, and 20 hours later she was dead due to massive sepsis and multi-organ failure.
I watched A.’s death unfold on fac.ebook with each update more critical and with a greater sense of urgency than the one before. The pacing was steady, health was deteriorating, and it was situation critical in the ICU.
Then there was radio silence. A long period absent of updates. You knew, by virtue of that silence, what it meant. But you wanted it and willed it not to be so. Then the condolences started to pour in.
Before you can share the news of your child’s death, your network who is connected to one another through you, already is informed. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not. It’s a status update I’d never want to write. But given that so many of my fac.ebook “friends” are so far removed from my inner circle, I’d hate to get a note about why I hadn’t talked about or posted a picture of my child in ages.
A.’s death hit me when I thought of leaving the hospital without one of your children. Going back to the apartment full of toys and Christmas presents that you carefully selected, but hadn’t yet wrapped. Going home to loads of laundry from the tummy bug that had yet to be washed. Going home to your uneaten breakfast on the table.
Then I saw a photo of her white casket with notes scribbled in coloured marker and decorated with stickers. It was the most touching tribute to a child.
Life is punctuated with death. This I know. But it doesn’t make it any easier for me to think of the mothers I know cradling the bodies of their babies. It doesn’t make it easier to think that the parents’ of the kids who died in the Newtown shootings probably didn’t get to hold their babies again given the horrific way they died.
I could be one of those mothers. Those babies could have been mine.
I am struck by gratitude that each day I get to scoop the Doodle into my arms, give Bella and Bubaloo a big hug, plant a kiss on my wife’s lips, that I have all of my family to hold near. There is a very simple and profound joy, a comfort in this knowledge, that I now intentionally seek daily.