My son turned one two days ago, on a snowy day like the one the year before. I can't believe that a year has passed since that beautiful, precious boy was born into this world and, shortly after, born into heaven. It doesn't seem that long ago. It seems like only yesterday I was holding him but my arms have been empty for so long...
Honestly, I didn't want anyone to share his special day with us. I've known this for a while. As Peter and I discussed what we should do, I knew that I couldn't have a house of people on his birthday, even as I also knew that other people wanted to celebrate and remember with us. So, we've created a compromise and, as we discussed it, we've decided it is how we'd like to proceed for all of our children. On the night before or the closest weekend day before, we will invite people for dinner, etc, and will reserve the actual day for a celebration between us and siblings. So, last week, I emailed a reminder to the grandparents, godparents, and the only local aunt (Peter's aunt) that Nicholas's Mass was being celebrated on the 31st (our church doesn't do Mass offerings on Sundays, so we had to choose the Vigil on the night before), and that, immediately following, we were going to have "his" dinner. We picked up my dad (aka Granddad) Saturday afternoon and met Peter's parents (aka Abuelita-Grandma and Grandfather) at church. Peter's Aunt and Nicholas & Sophia's Godmother arrived soon after. The grandparents presented the gifts, Peter was an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, and I was the cantor. Fr. B. gave the homily, which was really beautiful. (There's something to be said for being an active member of the parish; I think it makes a difference at something like this.) What was even more special, I think, was that, as I looked out into the congregation during the singing, I saw so many faces of friends of ours who normally don't go to Saturday night Mass. Our bulletin lists the Mass intentions for the following week; friends saw "Nicholas Haytko" listed for the Mass and came to celebrate that service with us. How sweet it was to see their smiling faces and to spend a few moments with them afterwards, before we journeyed home.
The end of last week, in my heart, I asked my son what type of birthday cake he wanted for his "party". It didn't take long for me to hear a response. I like to bake and I'm always up for a challenge. And so the "train cake" was born.
Dinner went well. Their Godfather was at the house (he had to work and missed the Mass) when their grandparents arrived, and we were last to get there. I made the pork chops, bananas, cornbread, rice and beans that I craved SO much with him and we toasted our little boy's one year birthday. It was a long night (we didn't end up alone until after 10pm) but it was nice to have our son remembered by our family.
Sunday came too soon. Before either of us knew it, light was streaming in the bedroom windows and February 1st was here. My head played out each moment... 8am: I got your daddy off to work; 9am: I met your grandmother for breakfast; 9:45am: We did some local shopping in Skippack to get ready for your arrival: 1pm: We met your daddy for lunch in North Wales; 2pm: We went by Bed, Bath, and Beyond, and BabiesRUs to pick up things for me; 4pm: We dropped by the complex where your grandparents were moving in a week, to pick up their key; 4:30pm: Exhausted, I took a nap, where your daddy joined me, a half hour later when he arrived home; 6:30pm: Hungry, I decided to go to the grocery store to get your favorite craving. It was cold and raining. I was winded when I got back to the car and called your daddy to meet me at the front door to bring in the bags.; 7pm: Making dinner, all seems well. We joke about me turning into a pork chop since we've eaten so many during your pregnancy.; 7:30pm: Not feeling well. I feel bloated, gassy. Your daddy suggests I sit down on the couch for a few minutes to rest while he finishes dinner.; 7:40pm: A horrible pain shoots through my abdomen and I double over on the couch. Convinced I have to go to the bathroom, I hurry to the hall.; 7:45pm: No sooner do I get my pants down than my water breaks and you are in my hands. Holding you is so perfect; it's like that's what my hands are meant to do. I scream for your daddy who calls 911, as he breaks down. Perhaps, more than me, your scientist father realizes what has happened and that science has not bridged wide enough of a gap to save you. We hold you, your heart pulsing against our palms, your hands wrapping around your daddy's finger, your legs kicking and perfect. The sirens get closer and closer, and your daddy runs outside to flag them down. Soon, EMTs fill our tiny first floor bathroom. I am on the floor, while the Chief holds you, wrapping you in aluminum foil to keep you warm. Soon, more arrive and they carry us to a waiting ambulance. It's after 8pm by now. Because there is no way to hold you at my feet in the ambulance, they make the decision to cut the cord that still connects our bodies together. You are hurried to the front of the ambulance, where the Asst. Chief waves the tiniest of oxygen tubes under your little nose. You still squirm. They tell me constantly, "Your son is still with us. Don't worry. We're doing everything that we can." And they did. They worked tirelessly. I remember feeling cold; no matter how many blankets they piled on top of me, I was cold. But you were warm and that mattered more than anything. The fire chaplain arrives. He has heard the call on the radio and rushed from dinner: "Pregnant women in preterm labor with twins. Twin A has been born severely premature." While an IV is being prepped, the fire chaplain, unbeknownst to me, baptizes our son with rain water, captured in a coffee cup, while the Chief holds him. He told me later that he wasn't sure if we were Christian and if his actions were right, but he just felt that he had to do whatever he could do and worry about the consequences later. After they wrapped you back up and we waited for the helicopter that the Chief begged someone, anyone, to send (the weather, being so icy and snowy, impeded 2 of the 3 possible Medevac units), the chaplain held my hand and prayed. I don't remember what he said. I remember he put one hand on my stomach, where your sister frantically moved to and fro. I remember his kind eyes and the slight wrinkles around his mouth. But his words are lost to history. In my memory, I was driven to the fire department, a few streets over. I always thought this because I was surrounded by firemen when they moved me from the ambulance to the helicopter, but this isn't so. The entire fire department was there, but we were transported to the elementary school down the street. The Asst. Chief handed you over to the flight EMT, a 30 something man with the clearest blue eyes I have ever seen. He strapped in and continued to wave oxygen. Firemen created a canopy over me as they wheeled the stretcher to the waiting helicopter. I remember looking up as they waited to board me and seeing a young fireman, perhaps 20, crying. It was the first time I think the idea that we wouldn't all make it crossed my mind. He's crying... I thought... For us... During this time, one of the policemen who had stayed with your daddy heard over the radio that we were being transported to the Children's Hospital; your daddy took off towards Philadelphia before the helicopter was even in the air. I watched as the EMT held you. He rocked you back and forth. Our eyes would meet and he would give me a nod of his head. I remember holding my breath so many times, waiting for that nod. As we touched down at the hospital, I remember him saying "I wont leave him", and taking off as soon as the doors were opened. He ran from the heliport to the ER. Moments later, a team of nurses- nurses who weren't used to working on an adult- helped get my stretcher off the aircraft and wheeled me into the hospital. I thought I was dreaming as I was pushed passed your daddy, but it was no dream. He somehow had made it to the hospital, a good half hour to forty minutes away on a good day, in 20 minutes. He told me later that he had just arrived as I was being wheeled in. Doctors worked so hard to stop my bleeding and to stabilize your little sister. I still remember the moment that I knew you were gone. The flight EMT stood over my head. He began to cry and slowly shook his head from side to side. No. I closed my eyes. I wanted to die and be with you at that moment. He bent down and kissed my forehead before he was gone. I can still remember it, the way he smelled (spice and pine), the softness of his lips against my forehead, the brush of tears as he moved away. The Chief of EMTs told me later that he called EMS regularly to get updates on how your twin sister and I were. A nurse asked if I wanted to see you- how could I not!- and a few moments later, your father brought you to me, wrapped in a soft, clean blanket. Your right hand held your left wrist and you had a smile on your face. I reached over and touched your sweet face. Our son... Our dear, perfect, little Nicholas.
We spent much of the day holding one another, crying, laughing, remembering. Around 2pm, we decided to drive to New Jersey, where my brother-in-law is buried. We took their box with us and spent some time at the cemetery, where we even added something we felt our children would have added.
Afterwards, we drove to the beach. We longed to take our children there, to watch them play in the water and sad, to see the wonder and amazement of a sunrise or sunset. During part of our visit, we felt them so present with us. Peter was putting their box near the waves for a picture. The waves had gotten lower and lower, which caused him to walk farther towards the water. Just as he had placed their box down, a huge wave rolled him. He grabbed their box but didn't have time to run far before his feet and legs below the knees were wet. I couldn't have heard their angelic laughs louder had they been in my arms. We laughed and held and finished taking some photos before heading home, wet feet and all.
Once back, we warmed up the remainder of his dinner and I iced the small cake that I had made for his actual birthday. On the table in the living room that I refer to as "theirs", I placed their box and his birthday cake, along with a candle that we lit at 7:45pm. I had originally thought of extinguishing it at 8:45, but I couldn't, and we let it burn until it burned out, several hours later. We watched the Super Bowl on TV, just as we did last year from our hospital bed, when I had convinced myself that if the underdogs, the Giants, won, we would go home from the hospital with Sophia still inside, contrary to the thoughts of the doctors. The Giants won, and we indeed went home, where we spent two more precious weeks with our daughter.
I miss them so much, but just how special the time together was. I'd do this all over again, even if it meant the same amount of time. I can't believe that a year has gone by. A year with them, a year without them. But still... Just the knowing them... The holding them... The loving them... Worth every second and every heartbreak.
Thank you for remembering them with me, especially my son, Nicholas, on his first birthday.