Almost three and a half years ago I was thrown into the world of the grieving parent. At the time, I was in a highly alert state, taking words that were said to me and dissecting them one by one. Sometimes people said things that I found confusing, and maybe even hurtful. I started reading…
I remember the evening breeze being much cooler than it should have been.
In Texas, cold weather is as common as my 9-year-old son volunteering to mow the grass – it just doesn’t happen. I sat down on the old wooden bench. It was so quiet. Today was our first day home after leaving the hospital. Friends and family that had filled the house hours before, were now gone. I sat there sinking into silence – again.
Silence is the loudest sound I’ve ever heard.
The last three days, which included the delivery of our still born daughter, reflected a string of moments of failure for me. I began to recap.
Uncharacteristically, I decided to stay in the waiting room with our son, while my wife went back into the doctor’s office. She was alone when she learned that our daughter’s heart had stopped. I wasn’t there the moment she needed me most. I failed.
I was just the man in the room now. In my mind, I wouldn’t become a dad until my little girl opened her eyes. Nicole had been a mom for nine months while she carried Bella. Now, that defining moment was ripped out of my future. I failed.
I fumbled over empty words as I reached into the darkness of grief to bring some sense of comfort to my wife. I failed.
I hadn’t charged our cell phones the night before. Contacting our family to inform them of what happened, was impossible as both phones died during calls. I failed.
When I handed my peaceful daughter to my wife for the first time, her voice carried a million tons of heartache as she looked down at Bella and said, “I don’t understand this.” I followed her plea with a locked-jaw of silence. I failed.
The most crucial moment of failure occurred in the moments before I handed our daughter to her. This is what was haunting me as I sat on the front porch.
I couldn’t keep my daughter warm.
I didn’t know what I expected when they wheeled in the bassinet. I felt nervous to look at her. After delivery, neither my wife nor I had seen her, as the nurses scooped her up and left the room with haste. We didn’t know why. We just knew she was gone — both literally and physically.
The wheels creaked to a stop at the foot of the hospital bed. The nurse began to reach down to pick her up. I spoke out, more abruptly than I had intended, “No!” The nurse backed away, as I moved towards Bella. My eyes gathered her face. I didn’t have one memory of her to attach to my heart, yet I missed her so terribly. The aching was magnificently painful.
How could she be lifeless? Death was not supposed to be beautiful, but she was.
Uninformed, I may have thought she was simply sleeping. My mind begged her to wake up. The purple hue that covered her, went unnoticed to me, as I marveled over just how perfect her tiny face was. Each feature was eloquently designed. Perfection. I reached down, pressed my fingers under the blanket and pulled her towards me.
My eyes blurred with tears as I felt her weight in my hand. I snuggled her closely into the bend of my elbow and whispered to her. “It’s okay, sweet girl.” I knew it wasn’t. My hand instinctively patted under her as if I may disturb her peaceful sleep. Then I kissed her.
A million knives of pain pierced my heart and soul as my lips met her cheek. I wasn’t prepared for the absence of warmth that had vacated her body. She was freezing. Anger reeled up inside of me. The coldness reestablished what I should’ve known. She was gone. I simply held a shell of what my daughter was or could have been. I failed.
I pulled the blanket tighter around her and held her closer as I found myself in a battle against the coldness that was trying to overtake her. I was losing. I was failing her. I was failing everyone — again.
Asking a man to surrender and expecting it, can be quite the task. The pride of a man to take care of, protect and be the hero, is part of his build. It is part of who he is. It could be on the battlefields of Afghanistan, in the court room hearing of a child custody battle, or sometimes just simply letting someone pass him in the fast lane. Volunteering surrender is odd and foreign — even more so, when it is forced. I was being forced to give my daughter up. I wasn’t asked. I wasn’t warned.
My significance had been stripped because I couldn’t prevent the situation. Now surrender to accept it was being pressed into my soul with a disastrous force. These are the first thoughts that begin to plant themselves in my mind.
I pulled my phone out and began to text a friend as the recent memory trailed off and found me back on the porch.
I will conclude this series in the next article that explores inside a grieving fathers mind. To be continued.