Memory Matters

I want to write a bit about Sam’s last night and morning with us. I don’t want to forget the details of those moments. I need to put down in words how difficult things were, how death is not always pretty. There’s trembling and raspy breath and blood and shit and vomit. And constant care and attention to try, however futilely, to provide some comfort. I want to make sure to tell of the relief I felt when Sam seemed to relax and fall into a deep sleep. The struggle and the peace. It was after midnight but I didn’t know we were facing the last twelve hours we’d have with him. I just knew that I could finally turn off his light and lay my head down on the pillow in the bed next to his. His rhythmic breathing comforted me. The same feeling you get when the colicky infant in your arms finally settles. Peace and well-being at last. And just like with an infant I wanted to hold Sam, move him to my bed, cradle him against me. The ache for his little body was so strong. But I knew moving him might start up his vomiting again. So I just listened, until I began drifting off. The house was so quiet. The room so dark. His breath sounds so salient. And I need to remember the feeling of panic when I realized his breathing had stopped. Caught between holding on and letting go. But it was only his typical apnea he’s had his entire life, something that shouldn’t have startled me awake. But I can’t forget this, how tuned in I was to any sign of a problem. This is important because the next day, when Clara and Jackson were awake and life was busy again, I had to step away from Sam for moments. So it is critical to my memory that I did spend time so connected with my baby boy the night before he died.

There’s another moment I must describe and that was only hours before his death when I stood next to his bed stroking his hair and talking to him. He looked so handsome. He was on his back, asleep, with his head turned toward me. We had given him a sponge bath after he’d vomited repeatedly that morning. His hair, parted, lay neatly down to either side. His skin was smooth and porcelain. Beautiful boy. As I stood with him I described to him what I could see out his window. The new spring grass, the green leaves swaying in the breeze, the glimpse of blue sky through the trees. His window was open so we could both enjoy the bird songs. It was a gorgeous morning. “Just like the day you were born Sam Sam,” I said to him. And then I leaned down, pressed my lips to his forehead – warm and smelling of baby shampoo – and told him this:

“I love you I love you I love you I love you…. It’s okay for you to go… I love you.”

These things need to be remembered because when Sam chose his moment to leave us I had gone upstairs to get dressed and David had stepped away for mere minutes to help the other kids get lunch. And Sam was alone. But those moments before matter. And all the moments that make up Sam’s life matter. He left this world filled up with so much love. And that’s what matters.