Dec 12, 2012

Survivor Guilt

This post has been rolling around in my head for a few days.  Five days to be exact.  I've struggled with how to word it, how to phrase things.  And then I just decided to write it how I've written every other post -- just blurt it all out and let the chips fall where they may.

On Saturday, December 8th, exactly 24 hours after Claire was wheeled into recovery from a six-hour long brain surgery, she was taking a walk around the PICU.  Walking. Unassisted. Being told to slow down and not run.  She was wearing her stylish purple IV gown complete with sparkly cape, matching furry slippers, and ordering family friend Mr. Scott to come hold her hand (she's a bit of a flirt and he's one of her favorite people.)

Since the day we found out something was "abnormal" with Claire's MRI, I think I have run every worst-case scenario through my head. Her having a stroke and being left a vegetable.  Finding her unresponsive in her bed. Wheelchairs. Atrophied muscles. I've thought of them all.

And death. I've spent some time planning what I would do if Claire died.  I was scolded for this. Told I was tempting the fates.  But, I am a planner by nature -- it calms me -- knowing what to do.  And since so much of Claire's diagnosis and health crisis was out of my control, this was something I could DO.  Something I could figure out. 

Added to this was the thought of planning Claire's funeral.  This is where I fell apart.  Nine months ago, my friends Thomas and Erin lost their beloved son Willem due to complications from HLH.  His father, whom I did not actually meet in person until the day of Willem's funeral, chronicled Willem's pain and suffering in a blog.  I recommend every parent read it.  Because when your child is annoying the hell out of you and you are tired and weary and worried about things that only feel important -- you can take a moment and realize not one of those things matter. The only thing that matters is your family.  Spend some time thinking about what you would do if it all went away.

Erin was the epitome of grace and poise. She was, quite frankly, amazing.  I still, to this day, feel like an absolute moron for what I said to her when I went to her to hug her. "How you doing?"  It wasn't the words so much as the inflection.  It didn't come out like the concerned inquiry I meant it to be. It came out a bit like Joey Tribiani on Friends... "How YOU doin'?"  I could have bit my tongue off.  And Erin... Erin smiled at me.  A grin almost.  And said, "I'm shitty.  People keep asking me that and I keep telling them, I'm shitty."  And we laughed and I sobbed and said, "Of course you are. You are shitty. Because this fucking sucks."  And she hugged me and I felt better. And then I felt awful because here we stood at her first-born child's funeral and she was making ME feel better.  

Thomas spoke at Willem's funeral.  He spoke with passion. He spoke with grace.  He spoke with love and meaning words I would not be able to get out of my throat if put in his circumstances.  It was gut wrenching and heartbreaking and absolutely the worst fucking thing I've ever witnessed.  And yet, it was also a beautiful and amazing tribute to a beautiful and amazing boy.  I felt then, and feel now, that my life is less for not having met this child.

I remember being in awe of Thomas as he spoke.  Knowing deep down in my soul there was no way on earth I would EVER be able to do what he did. And arrogantly believing I would never have to.

So, as I lay awake in bed counting down the days until a surgeon would go into Claire's brain in an attempt to fix it, I would think about a funeral that I could not do.  I had been shown by an amazing family the right way to bury your child -- who the fuck wants to be shown that?? -- and I knew, unquestionably, that I lacked the strength, the courage, to do the same for my child.  I would fail her.  She deserves so much better than what I am capable of doing.

As we walked around the PICU, I looked into some of the rooms. Most of them were occupied by tiny little babies full of tiny little wires plugged into tiny little machines. What seemed like hundreds of them.

I've spent a lot of time in an intensive care unit.  First when Quinn was a baby, then when my mother was dying.  You get to know the routine, the feel of the ward.  The vibe.  And as we walked past a room three doors down from Claire's, I looked in and I knew.  I could tell by the way the occupants were standing around the bed.  I could tell by the looks on the nurses' faces.  I could tell... these people were saying goodbye to the tiny little bump under the green blanket in the crib.

My heart ached. I felt a sob well up.  And I felt... guilty.  Terribly, horribly, inexplicably guilty.

Why?  Why does that family have to say goodbye and I am watching my daughter practically skip down the ward?

Why do I get to keep my daughter, while Willem's parents struggle to find purpose and meaning and carry on after losing him?

I've pretty much never done a thing right in my entire life. I have a complete lack of faith. I have anger management issues.  I'm not a very nice person. 

So now I lay awake nights trying to figure out what this all means. What am I supposed to do now? Am I supposed to suddenly get my shit straight? Because, frankly, I don't even have a clue how to do that.

So I will do what I always do -- soldier on with brute force and ignorance and hope for the best.  But, at the same time, I will remember the grace and courage of a father saying goodbye to his son. I will remember the mother who hugged me and made me feel better in her worst moment.  I will remember the tiny little life fading in that room.  I will be grateful. And I will try -- try to do better.

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