Last week we went to a memorial held by the Children’s Hospital. All of the families who had lost a child in the last year were invited. We received the invitation months ago and I anxiously anticipated the day we would once again drive to that hospital out in the middle of Nowhere, CA.
The day finally came. We dropped our daughter off at her aunt and uncle’s house and drove the rest of the way there. I checked us into a super cheap hotel for the evening. We dragged our bags upstairs to our room (no elevator), changed clothes and drove frantically to the hospital, barely arriving on time.
As soon as we approached the main entrance, I saw a white reception table with the word Memorial taped to the front. I started crying. We were attending a memorial for our son. It was so overwhelming, to be simply doing that thing. As a person who has lost a child, you often need to go through life as if it hasn’t happened because you have to get on with things. You can’t live in a state of trauma 24/7 if you want to get anything done. But with these kinds of things, your brain can’t cover it up. It’s just right there, in all its horror.
The staff led us and about two dozen other families into the hospital, down some corridors and out the back to white chairs on the grass. We were handed a program and a candle. I was a disaster, that is, until I looked around and didn’t see anyone as upset as I was. Why was that?? I think I was looking forward to just letting go, and I found myself stuffing the tears away because everybody else seemed to have it together.
We sat down and I immediately searched the program for the picture I had submitted of my son. I finally found it on the last page at the bottom. It was so teeny I almost missed it.
The service started. There were some prayers, some songs. They released “doves”, which I later learned are actually homing pigeons. My husband and I looked at each other when dozens of doves exploded out of a cage and flew above us in complete confusion. Is this really supposed to make us feel better?? My husband quietly made a joke about a bird of prey swooping down and eating one of the doves and I silently shook with laughter. He can always make me laugh, even in that moment.
After the bird thing we went into a reception room where cake and punch were waiting. We then sat down and listened for 40 minutes to a devout Christian recite scripture, play Christian songs and paint pictures of Jesus Christ with glow in the dark paint. I am totally serious. They obviously knew their target audience, because the guy got a standing ovation. I sat. Whether I believe in God or not, I’m not ready to go for the “God works in mysterious ways” thing right now. Not 7 months into this nightmare that will last until I die.
Afterwards my husband and I took a walk in the dark to a place not far from where the memorial was set up. It was behind the hospital, in the back at the end of a wide stretch of neatly cut grass where a lone bronze horse was erected sometime before we ever knew about this place. We sat on the bench, where we sat and cried and made phone calls all those months ago, when this was still new. I looked up at the same tree and the same leaves that I stared at while lying on the grass crying. I looked back at the hospital and was sad that I could no longer remember which window it was that was his room. A window I looked out while sitting with my son and wondered who my husband was having to call that time. Which family member was he having to tell that our son was brain dead.
We sat in the dark and talked about those horrible days, and the days afterward, and everything that’s happened between now and then. Just going back there to sit in the dark with my husband and talk about that time was worth the 40 minutes of scripture and glow in the dark paint.
We touched the bronze horse one last time and made our way back to the car, my heels sinking into the muddy path. I knew this was the last time I would ever come to this hospital. I don’t feel anything negative toward that place. They tried to help my child. He just couldn’t be saved.
We drove back the next day. Back to our beautiful daughter, our new life, and his empty room. I wish I could say that it provided some closure, or that things are a little better now. They aren’t. But once things stop getting worse, I promise I will let you know.