Tonight I have been thinking about Katie. She was often called Tinkerbell because at four months she weighed a very petite 8 pounds. (Since she was born full-term at 4 pounds, this was actually double her birthweight--pretty much on target for her age.) Despite her tiny size she was healthy and vivacious and just the right feminine addition to her awaiting family of two older brothers and parents thrilled to get their little girl. She had already traveled the California coast, visited the Redwoods and taken in the grandeur of Yosemite. Disneyland was her second home and because she was so tiny, she could nap in the bottom basket of the stroller. She was happy, adorable, and full of personality and life. Until her mom came in to check on her during a nap one day and found her completely white...not breathing at all.
Isn't this every parent's night mare? And my good friend Natalie had to live this nightmare not only in that initial, desperate moment, but in all the numbing moments that were to follow: the call to 911 and the attempt at resuscitation as she was talked through it over the phone; the ride in the ambulance where the paramedics were able to recover a heartbeat; the wait at the hospital where in spite of the heartbeat, Katie was declared brain dead; the slow-motion-like process of paperwork to make her organs available once life support was pulled, and the sad realization that the red tape for 'heart beating donors' made the process TOO long, and the organs no longer usable. (A hard blow for parents who would have liked their baby's death to at least give another parent's child a chance at life.) Then came the whirlwind of planning a funeral, and handling all the mechanical details of death--the death of a life that had just begun.
Katie's funeral and burial took place 700 miles away--and no distance could have kept me from it. But I am sad to report that the funeral was my INTRODUCTION to Katie, in spite of her living only 25 minutes from me. Sure summer is a busy time, and weren't we all traveling and carrying on with summer activities? But the real reason I had not made the time to meet Katie (and take Natalie the baby gift I had kept in my closet for too long) is because I didn't know I had a time limit.
Katie was buried 4 months ago and has now been gone for as long as she was here. The door of her bedroom is closed, and the things inside remain untouched as the array of pink clothes, soft blankets, and little baby things are simply too painful for her mom. It is a huge void that this tiny person leaves, and the ongoing sense of loss and incompleteness in her family-- the gnawing ache of someone missing-- will endure in spite of life "moving on." The first year birthday will never be, the first step will never be taken, the first word never said. No first day of school, no first crush, no prom, no graduation, no wedding, but the memory of Katie will be present through it all.
I ache for Natalie, for her husband, and for the two young brothers who just want to know when Katie is coming back.
And every SINGLE time I pick up my one year old from a night's sleep, or a day's nap, I give thanks that he is breathing, and vow to never take one breath for granted.