Wednesday, October 15, 2008

My turn to hold him

My dear friend Amanda sent me an email today to tell me that, today, October 15th, is the National Day of Remembrance for pregnancy and infant loss. She asked me, along with her/our group of loving friends, to light a candle tonight at 7:00 in honor of the memory of babies that have passed and babies that were lost during pregnancy. And to remember her sweet, sweet, little Gavin who was born on April 7, 2008 and died on May 3, 2008.

I have often thought about sharing my thoughts about Gavin here but had never had the courage to ask Amanda for her permission to do so. I think I felt that her memories of Gavin are sacred and to share mine might somehow spoil or infringe upon hers. I've started to see the error in that thinking though. For others to share their thoughts and memories of her sweet son makes him real, makes his life real. Makes it apparent that though he died, he also lived.

(And yes, I do have her permission to blog about Gavin now. I finally found the courage to ask, and not only was she okay with it, she said it did wonders for her heart and soul to know that other people outside of her family, still think of him.)

I spent this past Monday morning at Amanda's house. She asked for my help packing up the things in Gavin's room. She said that she was torturing herself by going in there and opening his drawers, smelling his little clothes, looking at his diapers neatly lined up in rows in his dresser and that the time had come to put it away. When I stepped foot in his room, I realized it was the only time I'd ever been in there. When he was home from the hospital, he was too sick to sleep alone and he either spent his nights in bed snuggled with Amanda and her husband, Chris, or another family member who had come to hold him while Gavin's weary parents tried to rest. Gavin was not expected to live many days after his release from the hospital but he hung on for several weeks. At his funeral, the family's pastor said that the only reason Gavin was able to live so long was because of the power of the human touch. That he lived because he was constantly being held in someone's loving arms. That statement was so profound and so resonant with me and I was reminded of how important that power is, the power of human touch.

I remember holding Gavin one night, I think the only time I ever held him. (I am so grateful to Amanda for sharing him and so awed at her selflessness in allowing her friends to eat up some of the precious few hours she had with her son. It will never, ever cease to amaze me, that selflessness she displayed in those difficult weeks.) Anyhow, the night I was able to hold him was one of the first days that they were home from the hospital. Amanda had called our group of close friends to go over and we sat in her quiet and cozy living room in a tight little circle and took turns snuggling with little Gavin. When it was my turn and I looked at his cute, tiny, absolutely perfect face, I had a glimmer of hope. Hope that there was some mistake, a misdiagnosis, and that he would be just fine. Did Amanda have this hope too? It was so easy to trick yourself into thinking that just maybe it could turn out differently. My turn to hold him ended much too quickly. When it was time to let someone else enjoy his sweetness, my stomach sank and I simply didn't want to let go of him. And it struck me at that moment, that if that's how I felt about letting him go and feeling that my moments with him passed by too quickly, then I don't think I could even begin to comprehend the depths of Amanda's grief and sorrow and instincts to hold tight to her little boy and frustration with what little time she had with him and how deep her desire to never have to let go. That if I had trouble handing him over to one of my close friends when it was her turn to hold him, how would Amanda be able to find the strength to hand him over to G-d when it was His turn to hold Gavin?

When Amanda and I sat down in front of Gavin's dresser this week, ready to put the clothes that Amanda had lovingly washed and folded and put away in drawers in anticipation of his arrival, a panic spread through me, a sickness in my stomach that clearly told me that this was for real. That he really was gone. I imagine Amanda must have experienced a similar feeling, tears pouring down her face as we sat looking at his drawers full of his things. I looked around as I sat there with her and saw just how ready his room was. Just waiting for him, saying in a gentle whisper, "Come on in, little man!". I didn't want to touch anything the wrong way, or sneak in a sniff of jammies lest I steal the smell of Gavin away from her. I treaded carefully, gently, as respectfully as I could. I felt that I was among relics. And I guess that sounds funny, but in a way, they were. Relics of a short life, yet a life lived. In an ever so meaningful way.

An hour or two later (just an hour or two to pack up his little life) the drawers and baskets and closet were empty, everything neatly packed in boxes now stacked in the storage room. Amanda had saved a few outfits that Gavin had been able to wear while he was home, as well as a couple of blankets and hats and socks he'd used. She had set aside an adorable, heart-shaped keepsake box to pack those precious momentos away in. I sat quietly as I watched her fold, unfold, and refold his few little outfits. Placing them in the box. Taking them out. Putting them back in so they would be just so. I watched her do this, sitting near to her so she would not be alone but trying not to intrude on her moments with Gavin's things. I prayed to G-d that she would not pick up on the symbolism of this task, that she wouldn't realize the significance, at least until later. She popped his little pacifier in the box, rearranged another outfit, put the top of the box on and said through her sobs, "All I have left of him is in a box." And I thought, "I guess G-d didn't hear me," because she sure as hell got it.

I have so much more of him to share and I will. But for now, I thought this day, October 15th, the National Day of Remembrance for pregnancy and infant loss, was an appropriate day to start his story.

Please light a candle tonight. And remember my dear friend Amanda's third son Gavin. And all the other little ones who could only be held by their mothers and fathers and families and friends for a short time, or who never could be held at all.

And remember what Gavin and his extraordinary life taught strong the power of the human touch.

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