Up All Night

I haven't slept much the last two nights. I've had a recurring image. It's not so much a nightmare. Nothing is moving. There are no scenes. There really aren't other characters. I wake up every hour or so with the image of Elena lying there in the hospital.

Why now? What's triggered it? I can't say. But there she is before me as clear as she was that February afternoon.

It's not one of those dreams where I see the scenes leading up to that moment or any of the scenes afterwards. It's not one of those dreams where I have altered reality in any way to make what I see make any more sense or have a context. It's not one of those dreams where something beyond reality happens – that is if you don't count a perfectly healthy six year old dead on a table in front of me.

While Kim rode in the ambulance down to the hospital, I drove in the opposite direction taking Maggie to stay at her cousin's house. As frugal as I'd been the last several years with cell phone I was now reckless. I called information and asked for numbers and asked to be connected. I called the numbers out to Maggie who wrote them down in the back seat. Some numbers I knew but couldn't remember. Other numbers I'd never known. There were even people whose names I couldn't spell close enough for the operator to look up their number. I called family first – leaving messages for my parents and Kim's parents to call me. I called co-workers next saying I wouldn't be traveling to Denver the next morning. I called friends and left messages for them to call me back. No one was home.

It wouldn't have mattered. I didn't know Elena was going to die. I didn't know that at that point she already had. Really, she was gone before I'd stood with Kim beside the ambulance – we just didn't know it yet. She was beyond saving before she showed the first signs of anything being wrong.

I dropped Maggie at her cousins' house and headed down to the hospital making more calls. It took ten minutes or days. I don't know. In a strange reversal, those ten minutes felt like dream time where time is both rushed and slow and where you are transported through space without really understanding how you got somewhere. Meanwhile, my recurring dream is static. I parked the car and ran across to the hospital. Two women with a food cart took me down a staff elevator that would get me to the Children's emergency wing faster.

I dashed up to the window and they started to take me back to see Elena but then stopped me. There was something they needed from me first. My insurance card and some forms to fill out. Sure – want my credit card? All the money in my pocket? Take it. Just bring me to my baby.

When the form was filled out they took me back to a room, pushed open the door, and led me inside. There was Elena lying on the table sleeping.

Except she wasn't.

I remember thinking how much better she looked than when I'd last seen her. I turned to Kim and asked "when can she go home?"

Kim's aunt Mary Kay looked at the nurse who led me back and asked "he doesn't know?" She took me by the arm out of the room. By then it was starting to register that Elena wasn't hooked up to anything. She had IV's inserted but they weren't hooked up to any bags. Mary Kay told me "she's gone." She led me back to a room where Kim's parents were waiting. They were supposed to have taken me to that room first.

It wouldn't have made a difference. Elena would still be lying dead next door.

In the next few hours all sorts of people talked to me. A doctor, a nurse, a social worker. Because they suspected bacterial meningitis, a public health official called me on the phone.

Kim and I went back to the room to stand with Elena. Kim's mom came with us. My parents arrived and stood with us too. The social worker took hand prints for us to keep.

I couldn't take my eyes off of the beautiful child lying dead on the table. She still looked as if she was sleeping. Peaceful. Growing colder by the moment. Kim wasn't ready to leave and I wasn't going to drag her away. The doctor talked to us. I wandered in and out of the room. In and out of the world I'd known. It couldn't be real and yet what could be more real than that.

Father Gary arrived and said all of the right things. Mainly he said that there were no right things to say. Kim's brother Tommy came in with his wife Patty. It hit everyone personally, but it hit her very close to home. She'd survived meningitis and she'd lost a sister. She knew the loss from two different perspectives.

The social worker told us to stay until we were ready to go. Ready to go? It's more than two months later and I'm still not ready to leave her there.

I suppose that's why I've been waking up every hour or so these last two nights seeing her lying there on the table.

Published in: on May 4, 2006 at 7:29 am  Comments (12)  

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  1. Daniel,
    I don’t even know what to say here, except that many of us who love you and love her feel this loss with you, albeit in different ways. It is still a very physical pain missing her. I’m still looking for her. Mike came home from soccer last weekend and could barely speak. Later he told me he just couldn’t take being there, watching the other girls, Elena should have been there – he was looking for her too. Same with Kate’s birthday. She should have been there. It still feels so unreal, yet horribly real at the same time. We’re with you in this, as much as we can be. I guess for now we’ll just keep looking for her.
    Love,
    Patti

  2. Dear Daniel,
    One of the things I realized after my daughter’s death was how hard it became the months after. It seems that I was surprisingly calm at first, though of course, bereft…but I coped quite well those first few weeks and months. It was some time later that I realized what bad shape I was in. I think that it is SO important for you, your friends, and family to try and understand this complicated grieving process. After one particularly bad day, a friend actually said to me–“Wow, you’re still really having a very hard time—but it’s been Four months” You can imagine how I wanted to respond. But, it is an odd part of human nature–people just want you to be okay and they are afraid when you are not. Please know that what you will go through over time will sometimes surprise you; the intensity of these images and feelings. I am writing this in the hopes that all who read your Blog, will continue to support you and your family over the long haul–and will always remember that part of your heart, your soul, your body and mind has been forever changed. Your life will still be wonderful, but you are irrevocably changed. Those who love you will accept that. My closest friend still talks to me about my daughter (six years later), sends me cards on her Birthday and the day of her Death. I can’t tell you how wonderful and affirming this is. I know she will probably do this the rest of my life and it fills my heart with warmth that my daughter’s memory will live forever with those I love.
    I’m thinking of you all.
    your neighbor at 3021 Warrington
    Charlotte Neel

  3. I don’t have anything eloquent to say. Just know that I am still reading, and still praying for you and your family. Much love…

  4. I’m sitting here at work, in my cubicle, while the tears fill up my eyes. I have been reading each and every entry since the writing started and they all stay with me far longer than I expected.

    I don’t know you Daniel, Kim or Maggie but I feel close to you and want nothing but the best for you. I pray that the healing will continue. It seems like I should have so much more to say, but I’ve got nothing.

  5. Daniel,Kim and Maggie, My prayers and heart are with you all. Please try what I did when my Dad, Mother, Niece and Sisters and brothers in law died. I talked to them. In my head and out loud. My Dad has been gone more than 50 years, when I have a problem or a big decision to make, I ask him for guidance. I can still hear his advice and believe me I take it. I ask my Mom to talk to Jesus’ Mother and guide us to the right answer or path. I don’t feel I am a nut case, but I found this works for me. Perhaps it will help you all. Your blog is a wonder. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
    Marie/Nana

  6. I wasn’t sure if you were ever going to write about the hospital. I would have understood if you never did. I can’t imagine how hard it must have been to write about that day, never mind to live through it. It was hard to read. I admire you for posting this. Your writing is wonderful, even when the subject matter is so, so painful.

  7. I’ve been reading this blog since early March or so. I’ve started to comment often, and have felt that I really had nothing helpful to say, so I bailed over and over…tho the urge is always there because it’s fueled by emotion.

    I am 32, and a mom of 4, ages 6, 7, 8 and 12. 2 girls, 2 boys. By 27, I had 4 children and 3 brief bouts with relatively “minor” cancer. This taught me so much, for which I am now SO grateful. Since that time, I don’t sweat the small stuff…I enjoy a sunny day, and cherish every day with my children, including the chaos and well…laundry. At first I felt angry, victimized and violated and one day I realized that the lesson that came was beautiful, and was something I needed to learn. Really, cancer is never a “gift” but in my case it became one. Your story, your thoughts, your experience have caused me to evaluate, further, how precious every moment is, and how we take them for granted.

    If anything could change what happened, I’d give myself to allow Elena to have the future she deserved. I feel fleeting moments of guilt for having all of my children, today anyway, healthy. I wish so much I could take a day, an hour or a minute and give her back to you for one more…one more anything.

    I am more deeply sorry for all of you, and Elena, than I could ever begin to express. However, the expression of your love for your family…all of your family…is one of the greatest gifts to me. While I am desperately sorry for the root of the blog, I am inspired and “bettered” by the blossom.

    Thanks to the kind of child and person that Elena was, and by your willingness to share so much, I live a little bit better. My children know me even better than before. The blue sky is deeper and the sun shines brighter at my house, every day. It is the gift you (and Kim, Maggie and Elena) continue to give my family.

    I can not imagine what that experience was like, nor can I imagine having it with you even in your sleep…but I appreciate the gift you’ve given me in your candor and heartfelt postings. I would love for none of us to live with that reality, however, and be able to live blissfully unaware that anyone lives with such a thing.

    My sincerest condolences, and the warmest thoughts for healing. Never forgetting, but slowly healing.

    Thank you. For all you’ve said and shared. Though I live so far away (near your brief stomping ground just outside Newton, MA in Needham), I, too, look for Elena at the playgroung and in places I think she would love. Isn’t it strange what the mind and heart can do?

    Bless Elena…I’m sure she’s as close to you as she can possibly be.

    ~Lynn

  8. I stumbled across your blog from a link from somewhere else. I don’t know you at all. But I’ve cried reading your blog a handful of times already. Then I go upstairs and hold my kids. There is nothing anyone can ever say to make sense of any of this, nor can anything I say give you any solace. Nevertheless let me say that in the last month since I’ve found your writings I am a better father to my kids, more loving, more “there” for them. Thank you for sharing your journey with those who are close to you and those you don’t know you at all. I include you and your family in my prayers.

  9. The reminders can be a little hard to take sometimes. I was at Parmatown once, and saw someone who looked very much like my sister. I started to smile and walk toward her. She was smiling back. When I realized what I was doing, I just kept on walking. I wonder what she thought with this.

    Now, much later, the reminders are a lot more pleasant. The beautiful things which happened earlier in life remain beautiful.

  10. Daniel:

    I haven’t been reading your words daily as I did for the first two months since you started writing. Something pulled me to your site this evening, something had me go to May 4th first, I haven’t been able to go to any other dates, I cannot stop reading and crying and hurting for you. No words will bring her back, no words will take the pain away, no words will take us back to that day and try to stop it. I hurt with you and Kim and Maggie and your whole family.

    I am praying for you all, my heart hurts with yours.
    Paola Olson

  11. You are a poet, a guide and, as always, a teacher. Your ability to be so transparent with the feelings that so many would never even be able to express to themselves is life changing. I wish there was something I could say that could give you back even a modicum of what I got from just this one piece. All I have right now is to tell you that I am proud to your friend and proud to be one of your students in the classroom of life.


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