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.
“rainbows, fluffy clouds, and unicorns…” I used these words to explain to the doctor how I hoped Gabriel would experience his death, and she picked out this blanket for him.
We made this sheet of his hand and footprints after he passed and took a small clipping of his hair.
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.