Friday, June 29, 2007


Ruth calls me every couple of days and gives me the update.

Stranded in the middle of my house, standing like an island whose only attachment to the outside world is this phone cord, I try to take in the news.

“It’s not good, it is bad, the worst. Justin has a very rare, and very hard-to-treat form of leukemia,” Ruth tells me.

Twirling the oft-twirled section of my hair, the section dividing the left from the right on my head, I continue to listen.

Ruth’s voice breaks as she talks of cord blood. She talks of lots of things that I am grateful for having no reference from which to understand.

“Michelle and Joe are staying at the Ronald McDonald House by Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. They don’t know when they’ll be able to take Justin home,” Ruth tells me one day.

Only a few short days later she calls again, “Justin is going to die,” she manages to say between sobs. “They’ve done all they can do, and still, he will die.”

Willing myself to look up from the hardwood floor on which I’m standing, and moving my eyes to the sliding glass window, I look to nature to help me take this all in.

God? What’s going on here? Is this your plan that a child will die? I don’t understand…

At two years old, this boy’s life is over. He is unconscious, cords are all that keep him alive, keep him breathing. Cords tie this family close together.

Members of their church community, parents, grandparents, siblings, in-laws, nephews, nieces, everyone is called and they all show up. Like a parade, night and day there are people holding vigil with Joe and Michelle. I am one of those people.

As my precious son is about to turn one, these parents are going to lose their son. My son is hard, but he is loving, affectionate, with a gentle soul. My son is fully healthy and alive. My “burden” with him will go on for years to come. My burden no longer seems so heavy. I realize that day that being Wil’s mother is not going to be what gets me. What would completely un-do me is if something ever happened to him. I realize that there is no other loss in the entire world, in my whole life, that would even come close to the loss of losing him. My connection, my love, my purpose on this planet is so linked with him, I know, undoubtedly, that having Wil is not a problem, it is a privilege.

Joe and Michelle’s daughter,Brianna, the four-year-old, spends time at Justin’s deathbed. Suddenly she is ready to go, leave the room, and apparently, leave the hospital entirely. She tells Aunt Teresa she wants to go outside.

Half an hour later, when Aunt Teresa and Brianna return to the vigil, Teresa tells us, hushed voice, “She wanted to go outside so she could watch Justin go up to heaven.”

Fresh sobs break the mourning, the silence, the tension. In this cold, sterile, white hospital, the only color comes from our red, red eyes.

The doctors gently urge Michelle and Joe to say their goodbyes. They tell them it is time to turn off all the machines, let him go.

While Joe and Michelle make this excruciating decision, say the unspeakable to their precious child, the crowd waits outside in hall, near the elevators.

There’s not a lot for any of us to say. Mostly we hug, cry, and stand. There are so many of us there aren’t nearly enough chairs. We lean against the blank walls, we lean against each other. We can’t stand up straight, there is only enough strength to lean.

Our bodies, poised around the elevator. Anyone landing on this floor is here to join the mass. No one dares to leave, but more continue to come. As death beckons Justin, it calls us to stay close, to not break the container holding us all together.

After several minutes? Hours? Who knows, there is no sense of time in these situations, Joe and Michelle emerge. He is gone.

Far too soon there is talk of what must happen now. Are Joe, Michelle and their one remaining child just supposed to hop in their too-big cars and drive home to Creswell, over two hours away? Are they just supposed to leave their little boy there?

The doctor is in the hall talking to Joe, “I have my truck,” Joe says, “I’ll carry him out, put him in his car seat and drive him home."

This image is more than any of us can bear and a fresh round of sobbing begins amongst those of us standing vigil.

The reality has not set in for any of us, least of all this man that didn’t stop being a father of two just because one of them died minutes ago. He is not ready to relinquish responsibility. He is not ready to make that awful drive home, alone in that truck, with his son left behind, forever.

As the doctor assures him this won’t be necessary, none of us can wrap our hands around the other possibilities.

Finally, I must tear myself away from this heartbreak and return to my life. When I hear that the funeral will be on Wil’s first birthday, I know, I know. I will be celebrating a sacred birth the day these people share in a sacred passing.

I will never again look at my story with the same eyes. I know these people would trade my story for theirs in a heartbeat. A heartbeat. My son has one, theirs does not.


Jerri said...

Serious crying here, Carrie. Not the dripping tears kind, the hiccupping to breathe kind.

This is powerful, powerful writing. The best, most awful, hard to read writing I've seen from you.

I'll read again later and try to comment constructively. For now, all blessings and love.

kario said...

Damn that Jennifer! She has encouraged you to rip these gorgeous words out of yourself like a magician with a silk scarf. This is exquisite. My chest aches for you and Wil and the reminders you'll have for a lifetime.


Anonymous said...

Carrie, This was so powerful, so moving, so poignant. It was hard to read yet I could not stop. My heart aches for you and this family. Beautiful words, strung together so gently, yet so powerfully. WOW!! Amazing writing.

riversgrace said...

If I could say anything I would, but I just have to sob here for awhile. Be back later. Love it.

Nancy said...

No greater pain and I felt it in every word.

Kim said...

Staggeringly beautiful. So gorgeous. I don't know how you could tell a story like this without a single second of overwriting, but you did it. And the way you wrote about your love for Wil is breathtaking.

I have sobbed through all of my tissues, so I need to go get more now.

Michelle O'Neil said...

So moving Carrie, and so beautifully written.

That little boy and his story and all the love that still surrounds him lives on in you and in all the people who loved him.

Thank you for sharing him with us.

Anonymous said...

"Stranded in the middle of my house..." What moving metaphors you have here. What happens to your children as you take in the words coming at you through the airwaves? Does the room go blurry? Does the water splash? Is everything moving slowly or too fast? I don't know how long ago this event occurred, but you have captured the essence of true friendships, the collapse of other relationships... Please remember that you, Joe, and Michelle are not alone. Justin is not alone... he knows how much he was--IS--loved... Bless you for sharing the beauty of his life... the beauty shared during his death... w/ Love, CMF

Lee Wolfe Blum said...

My heart is breaking. Ouch.

Deb said...

Brilliant. Heartbreaking. Heart opening.

The sister going to watch her brother go to heaven, the people with only strength to lean and having so many to lean against, your knowledge of the biggest possible loss for you.

All expressed beautifully, reaching your reader right to the very core.

Jess said...

I just re-read this.... Heartbreaking story. So well told. Can't imagine losing a child that way (or any way).