In many ways it made perfect sense that I would call her at 7:30am, blurry eyed and frogged-voiced, having just rolled out of bed, bone-weary. It was the day after Christmas. All six of us were sick—whooping cough, we’d later find—and exhausted from both the fun and the coughing.
After I received her text—stilted, formal, apologetic for its intrusion—I called every hospital in the area, finally finding her where two of my own four were born.
Her husband answered, his voice making clear his surprise. After all, who calls the hospital phone these days? But I didn’t want to call her cell. At least I was awake enough to think of that.
“She’s with a nurse right now. She’ll call you back.”
Of course, she didn’t. And who can blame her.
She’d been at my house just four days prior, shuffling from one foot to the other the way pregnant women do. Her daughter ate a cupcake. They left within moments—I’m sure she was tired.
He was born a trimester too early, weighing barely one pound. Placental failure. Not insufficiency, but failure. I cried all day.
One hundred and ten days later—on her birthday, no less—he came home. Still tiny, still feeding through a tube, still too cold for his own good.
I finally met him at five and a half months, found him not yet the weight of my second the day he was born.
“Are you kidding, he’s huge!” His mother protested.
I was embarrassed at my gaffe.
“Yes, yes! He is. Of course.”
He was beautiful. I held him as long as I could, only putting him down when I ate my burger. So warm… he had finally learned the trick of self-regulating his temperature and he performed it masterfully.
He was beautiful.
A mere three weeks later, I cried again. This time the news came by mass email, one I read at least three times before feeling it settle, hard, between the shoulder blades, the eyes, the heart: “Almost zero chance of normalcy… Leave us alone. We’ll let you know. We don’t need anything. Just… let us be.”
“Should I come home?” A text from my husband.
“No. It’s fine. I’m praying.”
I prayed to God, to Google, searching every avenue for an answer, but finding none.
I emailed a client—world-renowned pediatrician, a fellow congregant at my church. He would know.
“This will be difficult. No matter what, this will be difficult.”
The next day a follow up: “Be patient and hope that some sort of answer will come in the years that follow.”
And the next day: “Do they go to our church?”
When I lost my son, eight months old, flaming hair, world’s most gummy smile, I thought those answers would never come. No years would follow—the earth stilled, and with it, my heart.
I know her days are frozen—she’s said as much. Each day she lifts him, tries to gauge if he’s gained an ounce. Half-an-ounce. A stack of envelopes in one hand, a baby in the other. How do they compare? Which fatigues her muscles more?
She looks at his head. Measures it’s circumference. Eyes it against her daughter’s .50 cent bouncy ball—the kind on end caps at grocery stores, drawing the sticky eyes of children, begging meter money from purse bottoms. She’s refined the skill—can tell you the weight and width of a fly these days. She and her husband take bets; they’re experts now.
Google frustrates me with its ambivalence, God tries my patience. I keep living. Cooking, cleaning, writing. My daughter hits her first single. My oldest lands an internship and the youngest just won’t quit climbing the stove. We are living.
She’s living too. Living in fear, in doubt, in the hollow place between inhale and exhale. She watches him breathe. Smooth, warm, the way he should. Air fills small lungs, routes oxygen to all the necessary places. Escapes in sighs so sweet a flower bears its name.
But his name is not sweet. His name is that of a warrior who dared ask God for more. More miracles, God, and I will do your bidding. Do not be angry, God, but I simply must have more. God relented and the trumpets blew and the idols fell. And when that warrior died, years later, the alters were resurrected and the false Gods rose.
Let him live, God.
Full and healthy, conqueror of enemies. Bearer of swords and trumpets and weighty things of glory. An unlikely warrior, God. Let him live.
I wrote this prayer in July of 2014. Four months later, on November 28, 2014, Gideon passed from this world and into the next. He was not quite one year old.
Today, on this one-year-anniversary, my household is where it should be: in a time of board games and late nights, of midnight pie with cream, and just one more game of pool before heading off to bed. We’re enjoying the smell of simmering soup while the just-put-up tree glitters with fresh-bought lights and tip-top star, and the littles dance to a singing snowman we plot to sneak away as soon as their heads are turned.
We are living life as it should be lived. As Gideon’s mom would say, we are loving hard.
I can think of no greater tribute to a boy so loved and missed.