I've blogged about the morning that Joshua died, but I don't think I've ever written about the hours after he died.
That morning, I carried Joshua in my lap the entire trip home. We could have had him transferred by a hearse, but I could not bring myself to even think about him leaving us. We were given a transport paper- permission to transport him ourselves. They tried to put him in a basket with blankets. I couldn't bear to put him in a carseat. What was the point? But I couldn't bear to put him in the basket in the back of the van either. What if it fell over or rolled around? I asked if I could carry him in my lap, and they said yes.
We got onto the highway where the traffic was at a dead stop. He was in my arms, covered in a blue blanket given to us by our friend Kristine. It had his name written on it.
His skin started feeling cooler by the minute. It was a sunny day. I held him in the blanket, but wanted him to be in the sun. He had never been in the sun before. I just wanted it to warm his skin a little. Maybe the sun would bring him back.
But I knew I didn't want him in the sun. He was dead. The warmer he got, the faster he would start to rot. Oh, God. My baby will rot. He's dead.
I held him. Covered in that blue blanket. Sitting in the sun. Praying that the sun would warm him. But hoping it wouldn't warm him too much. I looked at his fingers- his nails turning black. All I could think was that I wanted to run. He was with me and I wanted to run.
If only I ran with him, he would never leave me. But then I remembered the rotting. Running with him would not bring him with me. It would not keep him. It would not bring him back.
We drove 2 hours in the car with him. We didn't stop. Shane and I both held our breath every time we passed a truck. We weren't doing anything wrong, but we didn't want a trucker calling the police on us for carrying a baby in my lap. I couldn't bring myself to explain to a police officer that I was carrying my dead baby in my lap on his first trip home from the hospital. His only trip.
We finally arrived at home. Hannah was 2. She was standing in the doorway of the back door. I hadn't been home in almost 2 months. All she cared about was that mommy was home! And then she saw a baby in my arms. I will never forget the look on her face. She was so happy that her baby brother was home too! She didn't know.
And then there was Caleb. He was 4. He was standing in the back room. My mom and dad behind him. The look of pure joy on his face. His mom and baby brother were home. Life would soon be normal! He didn't know either.
We asked my mom and dad to step outside for a few minutes. We walked through the kitchen into the living room. Hannah on the floor, beaming. Caleb on the couch next to Shane. They were holding Joshua.
And then we told them. Joshua was dead.
Hannah smiled and crawled into my lap. Shane and Caleb wept on the couch. Hannah was the lucky one out of all of us. She didn't understand what was going on. She was spared the devastation.
After a few minutes of crying as a family, we asked my mom and dad to come back in. They held Joshua and cried with us. My dad was at the hospital within an hour of Joshua dying. He planned a visit for that day- unknowing what would happen.
We spent an hour or so with him in our home. The funeral home knew we were coming. We couldn't wait too much longer. We had to take him.
We drove down the street to the funeral home. Once again, Joshua in my lap. When we came to the parking lot of the home, I remember wanting to tell Shane to keep driving. Not to turn- if we just kept going, then we could keep Joshua forever. But he turned and I was reminded that our reality didn't involve living with Joshua.
When we got there, the building was locked. We knew the director was coming, so we waited in the parking lot. There was a corn field next to the building.
We walked along the edge of the field. The kids picked an ear of corn- excited to see what was inside. I remember looking at that field and being bothered by the life that was in it. It took me a few months to figure out why that field bothered me so much.
Finally, the director came. We followed him inside and sat with him for a few minutes. I don't know what I was expecting at that moment, but I wasn't expecting it to all happen so fast. He asked us a few questions, we told the kids that we would not be bringing Joshua home again, and we said our good byes. My arms literally ached the moment I handed his body over to the funeral director. They were empty. That was it.
And then we went home.
When we got home, there was a pot of beef and noodles sitting on the stove. Some friends from church came over while we were gone and left dinner for us. I was so thankful for that. I had not eaten all day. I was exhausted and hungry, but when it came to eating, I couldn't do it. I took one bite and that was all I could eat.
While everyone else ate, I went out to unload the van. Everything looked so different, yet the same. I hadn't been home in almost 2 months. Most of my things were in that van. Joshua's things were as well. I started unloading his things first. I wept.
What was I supposed to do with his things? He didn't have a bedroom of his own. I didn't want it in our bedroom. I couldn't put it in his crib. I pulled the mobile out of the van and I fell to the ground and wept. What was I supposed to do with this stuff?
Shane came out and took over. He told me to go upstairs to our room and rest. He would take care of unloading the van. I had never been more thankful for his strength. I'm still not sure how he survived that day. The strength he demonstrated that day is something I will never forget and something I will respect for the rest of my life.
I went up to our room and I fell apart. My eyes were puffy and burning. My contacts were stuck to my eyes. I sat down on the edge of my bed and I wondered how I would ever pick up the pieces and live again.
I felt my breasts. They were full of milk. I had been pumping milk for Joshua every 2 hours for the past 2 months. I hadn't pumped since 4am that morning. I went into the bathroom and put together my pump. I held the shields up to my breasts, but could not bring myself to turn the pump on- not even enough to relieve the pressure. Again, I wept. My breasts were a painful reminder of what was gone. I needed to endure the pain of engorgement because the emotional pain of pumping was much greater. I went back to my room, sat on floor, and wept again.
In that moment, Shane came into the room. He pulled the door open and the click of the door startled me. I jumped. My heart raced. I began to sweat. My reaction scared me. I knew at that moment that in the upcoming days, I was going to face more than just grief. I was going to face fear, anxiety, and restlessness. I knew that things were never going to be the same.
I don't remember much else from that day. It was all a big blur after we dropped Joshua off at the funeral home. I remember that night, after the Caleb and Hannah were in bed and my parents had gone home, getting online and seeing the horrible things people were saying about and to us- that I killed my child, that we deserved for him to die, that we cared more about his penis than we did his life. I remember feeling shocked at how horribly people were acting and wishing that it would just go away. I remember Shane's family coming in at some point. But other than that, I don't remember much of anything else.
I do remember that night, when we went to bed, Shane fell asleep quickly. I laid in bed, trying to close my eyes, but I was haunted by that morning. All I could see was Joshua dying. All I could see were his eyes looking up at me, begging me for help, or telling me that he loved me, or saying goodbye. I relived that moment in full detail, all while jumping at any sound.
Sometimes, I need to remember these moments. Sometimes, memories come to me that I had forgotten. Sometimes, I feel like I'm crazy and over exaggerating my grief and anxiety, and I just need to write out what happened as a way of reminding myself that I'm not crazy. And sometimes, I need others to know what we have been through. I need them to remember. But mostly, I want my children to eventually know what it was like. I want them to be able to read my words and understand why I've struggled as much as I have- never because of anything they did or were responsible for. I want them to understand fully what happened, when they are ready. So I have to write. I have to write to remember, and to share, and to remind. Thanks for listening.