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There’s No Screaming In The NICU

Matt,  I fell asleep that night before we had the chance to speak again.   I remember setting my alarm before closing my eyes.  I said my nightly prayer asking Jesus to keep you safe.  I had no reason to worry.   You sounded perfect.  I was planning on touching base in the morning before my day got too busy.  It was my weekend to work.  Those back to back 12 hour shifts just about killed me.   It was Saturday and you had plans to meet your friends and spend the day at the beach.  In my mind it was just another weekend.  You were loving the fact that while I was freezing in January you were able to enjoy the heat.  You would send me pictures trying to give me a taste of the beach as Delaware was hit with daily snow.  I was counting the days before I saw you again.  Ray and I booked a flight in February.   We were coming to spend a week with you in the sunshine of your new home.  I couldn’t wait to see you in person and feel myself being wrapped in that bear hug you were so famous for. You and I spoke about spending the days enjoying the beach.   I would meet your boss and the people you now called friends.  We would stock your fridge with food  and go out to lunches and dinners.  Visiting you was the bright spot in my cold and dreary winter.

I remember waking up to the strangest sensation.  I was enveloped in a cool breath.  I was startled as I checked to make sure Ray and the dogs were all breathing.  I remember sitting straight up in bed.  The room completely dark.  This sensation lay on my chest and in my throat.  A chill I could not explain.  There was no pain.  I wondered if this was what a heart attack felt like.  I remember looking at the clock.  It read 4:50.  The chill continued to work its way through my chest.  I felt like I was surrounded by ice.  I remember feeling the sensation of a breath in my throat.  It would not move.  I opened my mouth and let it go.  A warmth then surrounded me.  I was shaking.  My heart was racing.  I was too startled to fall back to sleep.  I’ve never felt anything like that in my life.  I got out of bed.  Grabbed my scrubs and went downstairs.  It was too early for Ray to wake.  He usually slept in on Saturday mornings.  I just needed a hot cup of coffee to start my day and take away the chill that followed me.

I left the house earlier than usual.  I planned on stopping by Dunkin Donuts before heading to the hospital.  I tried to forget how I woke and focused on getting that much needed coffee.  Without warning, my vision became blurry.  The earlier sensation of a breath that was not mine enveloped me again.  I started to panic.  My mind now racing telling me to pull over.   I was terrified that something was happening to me.  Once again my heart started to race and that breath was caught in my throat.  I sat in my car and closed my eyes.  I kept telling myself I was ok. I sat until my vision cleared and my heart stopped racing.  My clock said 6:20. When I finally made it to get my coffee the girl taking my order joked and said I looked like someone who had seen a ghost.

It was another busy day in the NICU.  Weekends were usually short staffed and that Saturday was no different.  I kept thinking I wanted to call you but my three sick babies kept me hopping.  I was able to forget about my two unexplained episodes and focused my attention on helping parents care for their premature babes.  I kept checking the time.  I still had not been able to step away and call you.  I though it was funny that I didn’t hear from you but I figured you were enjoying the day with your friends.  Lunch time was getting close.  I knew I wasn’t going to make it to the cafeteria so I suggested that my coworker and I order out and try to cover for each other so we could at least eat.  We just placed our orders when the Unit Clerk buzzed me and told me Ray was out front and I needed to come.  I remember laughing and thinking about the irony.  Thinking he brought me lunch right after I ordered.  Oh Well, I’ll just eat my lunch for dinner.

Rays face was not what I expected.  Red, swollen eyes.  Tears starting to fall again as he sees my face.  My brain automatically thinking it must be his father.   His mother died 5 months before and his father was lost without her.  I grabbed Rays arms.  “Oh God, Ray is it your father?”  He looked directly in my eyes.  His pity is palpable.  He grabs me by both arms.  “No, it’s Matt, he’s dead”.    I am surrounded by a thick fog.  Sounds and sights are muffled.  My breath is sucked out of my lungs.  I am trapped in a vacuum.  I am falling down the rabbit hole.  I am disappearing.

Suddenly I hear the guttural screams of a wounded animal.  Louder and louder she screams.  No, no, no, no.  The sound breaks my heart.   I’m thinking, Oh God, a mother must have just lost her precious baby.  Oh God, someone please help her.  Tell her she must stop screaming.  This is the NICU.  Her screams will scare the babes and their mothers.  My brain is in survival mode, refusing to let me understand those screams are coming from my shattered soul.

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I am surrounded by nurses.  I see tears falling everywhere.  Hands cup my face and a familiar voice tells me to breathe.  Breathing something once so natural feels foreign to my lungs.  There is no air.  I tell Ray it must be a mistake.  Matt must have lost his wallet.  It couldn’t be him.  He sounded perfect last night.  My denial is keeping me alive.  Please call his roommate.  He would have called.  It can’t be Matt.  Ray walks away and makes that call.  I sit and remember our last conversation.  Our last words, “Love you, Mom”.  “Love you, Matt”.  I remember your promise.  “Mom, I love you too much to hurt you that badly”.    Matt I want to scream.  I want to wake up from this nightmare.

Ray returns.  His eyes give me the answer I don’t want to hear.  I remember being walked to Ray’s car.  A co-worker on each side holding me up.  My legs have forgotten how to work.  My body is numb.  I am buckled in like a child.  The words, “I’m so sorry” float around the car.   Ray grabs my hand.   There is nothing left to say.  I am destroyed.   My wounds are invisible to the human eye.  My heart and soul are shattered.

Oh God. Mike. I must tell Mike.  How do I tell your brother you are gone.  Mike answers on the first ring.  I can not speak.  Sobs escape from my throat.  Mike, Mike, Mike.

We arrive home.  The day is cold and grey.  The weather mimicking my heart.  The dogs greet me with wagging tails.   I sit as they lick the tears falling from my eyes.  They have no way of knowing that I want to disappear from this pain that has taken over my heart.  I’ve read about broken heart syndrome.  Now I’m living it.  I will my heart to stop beating.  I want to be where you are.  I want to follow you.  I call your number.  I need to hear your voice.  I still deny that you are gone.  The constant ringing is killing me.  No more “Hey Mom, what’s up?”   Oh God, how do I do this?  How do I continue to live without you?

I sit on the couch as darkness falls.  I can’t move.  Ray sits and gives me the details that I don’t want to hear but need to know.  There are calls we need to make.  The detective on your case is kind and gentle as he tells me the story of your last night on earth. He tells me your time of death was 4:50 a.m.  My mind is going wild.  Remembering that cold breath waking me from a sound sleep.  Was that you Matt?  Did you come to me to say goodbye?   You are now lying in the morgue in Boca Raton.  We must make arrangements to bring your lifeless body back to the place    you were loved.  Home.

There was no sleep for me that night.  I watched as the snow fell and talked to you.  I looked at your beautiful pictures and could not believe there would be no more.  I remember staring out the window asking questions that would have no answers.  I started to write you a letter.

Matt,

I sit here all night in the dark looking at your picture and telling myself to breathe.  Matt, you told me this would never happen.  You would never hurt me like this.  You promised and I believed.  We were both so foolish to think you could stop slowly killing yourself.  Your new life in Florida was supposed to be a fresh start away from the demons you wrestled with most of your life.  I am so proud that you tried to live a clean life.  You fought a battle against all odds.  But to know I will never hear your voice, touch your face or be able to tell you how much I love you is just too much for my heart to bear.  You and I fought this battle together and I torture my mind wondering what could have been done to change this outcome.  When I spoke to you for the last time, you sounded perfect.  I’m happy I told you that I loved you.  It’s pouring out tonight.  The angels crying for your broken mother.  I sit in the dark talking to you.  Oh Matt,  your struggle is over and mine is just beginning.  I prayed for Jesus to keep you safe.  I never thought this would be how your story ended.  I am making arrangements to bring you home.  I need to see you,  to touch you one last time.   Know that you are loved.  Know that your family is broken by your loss.  I wish you loved yourself enough.  Matt, my most precious child.  Even though you were a man you will always be my tow headed little boy.  Mommy….Mommy…Don’t let go.