It doesn't seem like five years have passed... Not to me. Surely, it wasn't 5 years ago that I laid down for that final nap with my sweet twins bouncing around on the inside... that I succumbed to a craving and went to the local market to pick up pork chops... that I cooked dinner and then, while it was still on the stove, went to lay on the couch with strange stomach cramps. There's no way that 5 years have gone by since my sweet, first born son came into this world, into my hands, with his little feet kicking and his tiny fingers grasping, with his head moving from side to side as if asking What is this place?. 5 years... 18,826 days... 43,824 hours... 2,629,440 minutes. It seems like such a long time, and yet... It's slightly more than a sixth of my life spent wondering and missing, hoping and loving, here and yet far.
If I close my eyes, I can see the night of February 1, 2008; I can hear the sounds and smell the smells from the kitchen. I can tell you that Modern Marvels was on, and I can, even now, hear that tell tale theme. I wore maternity jeans and a grey, Motherhood Maternity shirt. They cut that shirt off of me; I wish that I still had it, still had that reminder of Nicholas against me, keeping warm. I can close my eyes and see the vivid, lime green of the downstairs bathroom at our old house, the gentle blue eyes of the Chief of the EMTs as he promised he would keep my baby safe, wrapping him in a towel as he called out for a space blanket. I can recall the look of horror, of sadness, of pain, and then of amazement when Nicholas grabbed his finger, of Peter; in our minds- in all our minds: us, the EMTs, the fire and police- we had to know that it was too soon, that this tiny baby wouldn't survive regardless of what we did. But it didnt matter. In that moment, Nicholas was the patient they all strove to save. He was this sacred piece of all of us that we had to work, beyond time and space and reason, to keep here with us. I will be forever grateful for that...
The chaplain with sloping laugh lines around his kind eyes who prayed with me, who baptized a baby who fit in the palm of his hand... an EMT who used a tube no bigger that a straw to wave oxygen beneath the tiny nostrils that couldnt full open to breathe and lungs that had no idea how to process air, who kept that wee one warm in his strong arms, and talked to the little boy, telling him that he was really the strong one among us.
I remember the snow turning to rain... The young fireman with the even younger face who stood over my stretcher as they loaded me into the helicopter and tried to use his hat and his hands to shield me from the precipitation. I'll remember his tears and the choked expression on his face. Even now I wonder if he'd ever seen death-in-waiting before. Did he know, when the rest of us couldnt see, that Nicholas wouldnt make it into the hospital alive? Did he know and he just couldnt bear the thought?
And then, those last moments, as we touched down at the Children's Hospital, the final nod of the flight paramedic telling me that yes, Nicholas was still alive, as he raced from the open back of the chopper into the sanitary, white walled building... The nurses who tried to get me to the emergency room as soon as possible... The pediatricians who tried to stop my bleeding and labor to keep Sophia inside a few more moments...hours... days. The noise and then, the silence.
The silence when that same flight paramedic stood over me and looked down; I saw him from upside down, but his tears were falling and I knew. His shaking head... the kiss on my forehead... the blood rushing into my ears and the nothingness. Did I scream? Were my sobs loud enough that people outside could hear?
I still have the hospital blanket that they wrapped Nicholas in, the blanket that covered his tiny little body when Peter brought him over to me and I was able to kiss his sweet little head again. I remember watching Peter sleep, holding Nicholas on his chest like an extension of himself. I remember singing to him and telling him how sorry I was that I'd failed him, how he was such a brave big brother for leaving Sophia behind to gestate for a bit longer, how I'd never forget him and that I'd love him forever. The three nights in the hospital were a blur but the saying goodbye... The last time I counted his fingers and toes, kissed the top of his bald little head, smelled the scent of boy and baby, hugged him close to me and never wanted to let go- was that five years ago? Was it really that long since I last had him in my arms and physically near me?
How has the sun risen and the moon circled the earth for almost 19,000 days? How can it be that I havent seen him again but the pictures are as fresh in my mind as if I had snapshots of every second of our time together?
This day, five years later, is much like that one in that it hasn't worked out as I'd expected. This year was the first that we'd have the Masses for each of the children said at our new parish. When I registered, the lady gave me a little slip of paper with the 3 dates on it and wrote "8:30" for the Mass time. I was busy last weekend and during the week, so I didnt bother to check the bulletin to confirm the time for Mass today. This morning, Peter and I were up early and spent some time together, then we got the kids up and showered, taking our time before, finally, we had nothing left to do and left early to make our 8:30 Mass, only to get to the chapel at the end of the Liturgy of the Eucharist... because Mass started at 8am.
I felt sick. Literally, I wanted to puke. I was heartbroken, on the verge of tears, and pissed off, all at the same time. All I could think of was how this was the ONE BIG THING, the only sacred, real thing, that we could do for Nicholas (and for Sophia and Alexander on their days), and how it was ruined. How dare the woman who registering for the Masses- and who clearly had been registering for a billion years- write the wrong time!!!! How dare I not double check the times!!!! Why didnt I bother to check the time in the bulletin I'd picked up after Sunday Mass!!! STUPID STUPID STUPID. I was crying and upset to the point that I was practically dragging Maya down the stairs, which was getting her more upset since she was already upset that we weren't going into the chapel. Peter told me to wait, so he and Bobby could catch up, and together, still upset, we left the church. I was still upset when we went for breakfast (our tradition) and was only feeling slightly better when we headed out to the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa, to see the candle for N, S, and A, (and Robert), and pray.
In the car, I was trying to stop my fuming and I checked my email on my phone. There was one from a friend of mine, who also happens to go to our parish and her kids go to the parish school.
I had to write but dont have the words. I dropped off the kids today...and saw the 4 of you coming out of Mass. I just wanted to jump out of the car and give you a big hug. You have no idea how much you have had an impact on me as a mother...I hugged [son] a little tighter as he got out of the car. I dont believe things happen by chance. I believe God puts people in places and you were sent over to St. Stan's to remind us all of what is truly important. Happy birthday to your sweet little boy.
And, in an instant, everything came into clear focus. The Sacrifice of the Mass will go on, regardless of whether or not we are there. Nicholas's memory was honored, he was the intention and on the minds of the packed chapel, and the prayers for the world were said. The Liturgies of the Word and Eucharist were proclaimed. Our presence in the building wasnt important in the grand scheme, but our presence was still in play. Even months ago, when I was registering, the wheels were set in motion so that on this day, we would be free and running "early" to Mass... that we would be seen without knowing it by a friend... that all these things would come to pass, and the day would be as it should be.
For the last week, Bobby has told me over and over (and over) again that I had to make a green cake. "Green Birthday Cake, Mama." "Nick Birthday- Green Cake". "Birthday Cake, Friday, Green." I've heard this time and time again, and all I could think about was why a green cake??? How am I supposed to pull that off. I finally went to the store and poured over cake pans before coming away with a shamrock. A shamrock? It's not St. Patrick's Day- it's February 1st! But whatever. I had food coloring, so I decided I'd dye my frosting and voila! Green cake.
After I baked and iced it, I was cleaning up and looking out the kitchen window over the sink. Was it some sort of joke? I always say the kids are mostly Irish- was this Nicholas's way of getting in on the fun?
And then it hit me.
Nicholas was born on Feb 1st. The feast of St. Brigid, patroness of midwives, women in labor, babies being born, and newborns. When he was born, we entrusted him to her, knowing that she would help carry him to see God face to face. St. Brigid... patron saint of Ireland... a green cake. Today is also Ordinary Time, and the vestments and altars would be in, you guessed it, green. Perhaps it wasnt a joke at all, simply a boy older than time telling his mom in a simple way and through his younger brother as messenger, I'm okay.
He's okay. I know it. My heart still aches, but I'm at peace because he is, in every way, okay.
Dear Sweet Nicholas,
It's your fifth birthday. What a big boy you'd be. In my mind, you look like your dad in so many ways and I bet you'd be tall. Bobby is in a size bigger than his age, and I think you'd be the same, just a bit more lanky... Perhaps Uita would be doing a lot of inseam work on your pants so they'd fit in all the right places! I wonder if you'd love Kindergarten, the way that Bobby and Maya love preschool... I bet you would. I think, like your dad though you'd be, you'd have my mischevious streak :) But you'd always want to set a good example, and you'd take special care to look after all your younger siblings.
Today was an interesting day, not at all how I'd planned or thought it would be, but I bet you're laughing with the angels and saints, shaking your head and thinking how Mama will never learn. You're right. :) I'm hardheaded. Keep trying, though. Knowing you're on my side up there and keeping busy helps me stay focused on the day we'll meet again.
I cant do my traditional 'miles for your birthday' running because of little Michael growing inside, but I'll make up for it once he's born, and with interest! Maybe for Alexander's birthday, I'll do a half marathon. 5 for you plus 5 for Sophia and 5 (in late November) for him is 15 miles instead of 13.1 but I'll make sure to work in an extra 2 miles somewhere. And since it's a race, I'll try to power it through. :) We'll see.
I hope that you've enjoyed how we've spent the day, and all the folks who are holding you near their hearts. I hope that I got your message right, and that the cake is exactly what you told Bobby to tell me, and that I heard your words correctly when you explained the why... I know you're okay. I do. It hurts- it will always hurt- to know that okay doesnt mean here with me. But we all have a destiny and a road in this life, and you walked yours here, and now, you have a new journey. Being your mother isnt just a blip in my life here; it's a defining moment and a lifelong treasure, and I'll always be grateful that, of all the moms in the world, I was the one who had the extraordinary priviledge of carrying you for all those months and then bringing you into this world. I'll always carry you inside of me... I'll carry you forever. I'll love you even longer.
The first time ever I saw your face I thought the sun rose in your eyes, and the moon and the stars were gifts you gave to the dark and the endless skies. The first time ever I kissed you, I felt the earth move in my hands, ;ike the trembling heart of a captive bird, that was then at my command, my love. The first time ever I lay down with you, I felt your heart so close to mine, and I knew our joy would fill the earth and last til the end of time, my love. The first time ever I saw your face.
I just didnt know the first time would be followed so soon by the last time. But, thankfully, in my mind, you're there forever.
I love you, sweet Nicholas. May you feel that love across the distance and time that keeps us apart, until the day we are reborn.
Until the day we are reborn.