Adoption, Life, Nonfiction, Parenting

A sweet dream of repose

Last night afforded a lovely consolation. I dreamed of our little boy Gabriel. (Gabriel, if you don’t already know from previous posts, is our child who passed away last month.)

In real life, Gabriel became very ill very quickly. When it became clear that he wasn’t going to make it through the night, I gathered him up in my arms.

Considering I’m a nurse, I’ve been around remarkably few dead bodies. Hardly any. I’ve been around dying people, mostly when I worked in the jail. Some of those experiences were beautiful and others were horrifying.

But I’ve never been there at the very moment when a life left a body, such as what happened with my little boy.

When we knew his heart was going to fail–the doctors were clear with me, as it sped away wildly in septic shock, that a sudden drop would indicate the beginning of the end of its functioning–we took off his g-tube and oximeter probe and other things attached to him but I wanted to keep the heart monitor on him…to know the exact moment when it happened. That’s the nurse in me.

And sure enough, his heart rate, which had been speeding away in the 180s, dropped suddenly into the 80s. I knew he was dying. I gathered him up and held him and loved him and said goodbye to him. I cried all over his sweet little self. I felt very privileged to be there with him.

The heart monitor flat-lined…for real. Like in the movies. A flat purple line on the black screen. Intellectually, I knew that would happen, but to see it was wild.

I didn’t know what to expect but what truly amazed me was how quickly his color changed. All the vitality, the energy, the electricity which had emanated from his little living self was gone.

For the longest time, I looked at my vibrant, pink hand on his grey, ashen face. All of my aliveness next to all of his death. But his skin stayed supple and soft. How quickly would his little body become rigid? I’m sure I learned that in the textbooks forever ago in nursing school but it wasn’t a typical encounter for me in my work life so I really didn’t know.

I held him for hours…probably six or seven hours, off and on. My shoulders and back reminded me the next day. He died at 2 in the morning and I wanted my husband and other children to have the chance to see him before he was picked up and taken to the mortuary.

We were visited by a dear priest friend and then one of my closest friends Anastasia, who wrote about her experience here. Aside from the cool temperature of his skin, I lost track at times that he was dead during those special hours because he never moved much at all when he was alive. His brain injury had significantly hindered him; he rarely moved intentionally.

It was a sacred time. I’m very grateful to have had it with him.

So back to my dream. I was holding my sweet Gabriel once again. He was already gone, but in my arms in that same supple, soft, peaceful repose as he had been for so many hours in the early morning.

In my dream, my husband was there, and I knew I should give him a turn to hold our little boy but I didn’t want to give up this chance. And then the dream would occasionally transport me to a well, the kind with a water pump that needs to be cranked up and down. And I’d crank the handle up and down and cup my hands in the spurt of water that would occasionally flow.

I woke up today, grateful for that little living memory of our guy. To be able to feel him physically like that again. Dreams aren’t often pleasant experiences for me, but this one I am cherishing.

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Adoption, Foster Care, Life, Parenting

Tiny stuffed creature of love

stuffed-creature

A little girl joined our family two and a half years ago. (Her super secret internet code name shall be KCup.)

KCup had a rocky start from the very beginning of her existence. Her birth mother drank heavily throughout her pregnancy, and KCup’s brain has damage from that, although it’s hard for most people to see it until they spend extended periods of time with her.

After doing so, it becomes more noticeable that she requires different parenting techniques, that concrete communication and predictable structure reign supreme, and that her emotional responses are more exaggerated and less nuanced than expected.

For a long time, I worried because she didn’t exhibit nearly the same complexity of emotional expression that I would expect for a little girl her age. She was either SUPER HAPPY BOUNCING OFF THE WALLS BLISSED OUT or she was completely despondent and morose, crying in the most pitiable fashion imaginable. There was not a lot of in-between.

As time has passed, her development has accelerated and we get excited about all of it.

Yesterday was a hard day…in the wake of Gabriel’s death, I’m finding it hard to consistently engage in “ordinary life” at every moment.

I wish sometimes that I could press a pause button for a little while, like floating in a pool, ears muffled to the noises around me, pondering the heavens and staring at the stars. (Hmm, this looks to be an outdoor pool…maybe Chena Hot Springs on a quiet night. Swoon.)

Yesterday morning was no exception…I had a mini-meltdown, crying in my husband’s arms before going to work. And KCup approached us and watched me for a moment. With her large, dark, probing eyes, she pointed at my face and said, “Sad. Crying.”

My face broke into a smile, not because I expect my toddlers to comfort me…God help me, I don’t want to be this person at all. Stoicism has my vote, especially when attempting to, oh, function.

But KCup recognized my emotions! She labeled them with her words. She showed the most heartfelt concern with her precious brain. Then she handed me this strange stuffed animal to help me feel better. Amazing!

What a privilege to play any part at all in the cultivation of this young woman’s developing self. It was hard to stay sad when she had just demonstrated a monumental breakthrough in her emotional development. Emotional displays for the win. 🙂

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Adoption, Foster Care, Life, Parenting

A rare and unexpected time

I am exhaling, looking around, crying occasionally.

The purpose of this blog is not to guilt you into action, or inundate you with personal details about myself, my family.

I write this blog to share about writing, the creative process, the endeavors undertaken to bring that needed outlet and expression into my life–professionally, a life which focuses on child trauma.

However, my home life has also had its share of encounters with child trauma, as my husband and I have been foster parents for several years.

And two years ago this week, we brought home a little boy who was otherwise living in the hospital after undergoing horrendous trauma. (I cannot escape entirely from attempting to guilt you into action as there are actual living and breathing children staying at a hospital near you, waiting for someone to engage with and commit to their needs.)

Our state’s child welfare agency agreed to place him in our crazy home. Our family hoped that he would have peace, safety, and comfort. His long-term prognosis was somewhat unknown but not expected to be anywhere near the same as a healthy child. His brain had been gravely injured and he couldn’t do anything a typical child can do.

For two years, he was treated like a prince. We plopped his adorable, fat, 1-year-old self into a living space right in the center of our home so that he wouldn’t be stuck in a bedroom, waiting for attention.

After 15 months, we were blessed to adopt him, an urgent priority because kids like him need actual, legal parents who are invested in their lives and have the authority to make medical decisions. (He didn’t have any.) The process felt like pushing oatmeal up a hill. It took a lot of pressure to finally get all the parts talking to one another so that this could happen sooner rather than later.

He was the regular recipient of drive-by kisses and snuggles. He received nursing care on a daily basis. One nurse, particularly intrepid, took him out daily to the library, local coffee houses, and walks on the trails.

He developed a veritable entourage of folks who would spend time talking to him and appreciating his adorable self. He was deemed “the best listener,” no doubt because he couldn’t interrupt. 😉 I thought about starting a Facebook page to give folks a chance to document his whereabouts because I’d get texts from friends regularly that there had been a sighting of our guy out in the community. I loved getting those because it meant he wasn’t stuck in a hospital or living in a bed.

In short, this little man was loved to the end.

After having remarkably stable health for two years in our home, he woke up one morning extremely ill. His heart rate was high, his oxygen saturation was low, and he was struggling to breathe in a way we had never seen.

And within 18 hours of waking up that morning, our angel had passed away.

His physical decline was rapid and absolute. He thankfully did not suffer for long, and his passing happened peacefully and calmly in my arms while I poured tears over him and caressed his precious face.

So the last two weeks have been the rare kind that happen unexpectedly, even while known to be inevitable sometimes. Middle of the night phone calls. Breaking it to the children. Funeral-planning. Grieving, laughing, remembering. Being at the receiving end of intensely generous love, support, and outreach of our wonderful community.

And yesterday, cleaning. Packing. So many medical supplies, his wheelchair, his personal items and our many memories. We did all that yesterday.

And we would do it again, if it means a child will not live in a hospital or die without a real and actual family.

In fact, we will do it again, someday, when our other adopted son reaches the end of his brave journey, a reality brought into sharp focus in a way that I often blissfully choose to forget.

Rest in peace, our sweet Gabriel. You are dearly missed, although I know with certainty you are living the life right now in a way you never could here on earth.

…they shall shine and dart about as sparks through stubble. ~Wisdom 3:7

 

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