Elise, his mother....
On Saturday, May 19th, our 2-1/2-year-old son slipped unknowingly into our backyard swimming pool. After being discovered by his 9-year-old brother, he began a six-day fight for life in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. Our youngest child, Charlie passed away Friday, May 26th, leaving his 15-year-old brother James, 16-year-old sister Gaela and 9-year-old brother Jack to begin an involuntary battle with grief and sadness. While Charlie's twin, Lola, seems oblivious to the tragedy, my husband and I attempt to survive and lead our family out of these dark days... This is our story.
Elise, Mom's journal
5.26.2011 3:30 p.m.
We stood outside the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) drained of emotion. Not sad or angry, but rather joyless and tired. Empty. We were the hollow people. We lifted the PICU phone for the final time to gain entry.
"This is Charlie's Mom and Dad."
Charlie was dead and wasn't coming home, but we were determined that everything that was with him would be coming home.
"This is Charlie's Mom and Dad"... The present tense for the last time. He is active in this sentence, we are his parents and he is present tense. We were calm, matter-of-fact. It was normal. Of course, we were his parents and everyone on staff recognized us that way. I should have grabbed the pink Post-It note from our hospital door. The one that said, "Charlie's Parents" in a casual cursive "of course you are" manner.
Day one of a life I never wanted.
Today has been busy... We have been on the road travelling to Gaela's soccer tournament. It is a sunny, warm Friday of Memorial Day Weekend... people sit on Chick's Beach as we begin our journey. How can they sit there? The sun just makes me feel gray and sickly. Jay comments on how blue the waters of the Chesapeake Bay are.... I stay silent. I will not participate. Water. He should know better. "The water is so pretty," he continues, and Gaela leans forward to agree. I try to be angry at his normal tone... does he feel normal? I won't be mad if he does... I am just curious. Is he "Mr. Vacationing Dad" already? I am slightly impressed.
"Honey, don't look at the water until you put on my sunglasses," he urges as he hands me his pair. Jay always marvels at the beauty of colors a good pair of Costas can bring... I put the glasses on... To refuse would require words... words require thought... thought requires a mind. And well, mine has been a bit undependable to say the least... on the fritz... on the blink... Like one of those old antenna televisions that seemed to only operate with a bang of the hand.
I find myself silently putting the glasses on to look at water I don't want to look at... in a life I don't want to live... And the waters are bluer... and I feel nothing... I looked at the water and I didn't feel anything. Imagine that... no grief. No images of Charlie. No sadness. I return the glasses to Jay and stare ahead.
An hour earlier... On the way out of town.
The road trip continues on... Silence... sadness... small town after small town. I became aware that Jay wants to ask me something. "Why don't you just ask what you're thinking?" I demand of him. "I'm afraid of upsetting you," he admits. I insist he continue, and he asks if I want to know if Charlie has organs that can be gifted to others... "Absolutely," I say in a light, breezy way and I mean it. I'm strangely excited about the topic. "I want to know everything about my son," I explain with pride... I look at the window again silently surprised by this joyous adrenaline... It occurs to me that it was simply nice to hear of Charlie in the present tense still. That he is still doing things... "Did I tell you Charlie's class went to the museum today?" I picture sharing with a neighbor. "Did I tell you Charlie's kidney is off to Kansas."... That's a lovely place, isn't it?
Will these be the final living statements about my boy? The life gifts he provided to unknown families of the dying? I fail to be lifted. It doesn't seem to heal... Then I remember the six-day battle I waged against death. Night and day, day and night... My husband and I sat, walked and prayed together nearly 20 hours a day. We became one soul for a time as we took turns praying, then holding Charlie's hand, and calling out to rouse him. One morning when I walked to the vending machine, I stopped to watch people passing and to have silence for a time. Jay called hysterically looking for me, and I rushed back to find him leaning against a wall... stooped and sobbing. His tremendous pain had forced him from Charlie's side and he wailed in grief. Charlie's donations of life will certainly comfort us in time.
That a child needs a mother is obvious to even my clouded brain. My children, though, deserve the best of mothers. They are excellent, caring, high-quality children. They've become unwilling witnesses and participants in horrific trauma of a devastating personal nature. I can't imagine the shock of seeing your small brother floating face down. It is painful for me to picture my 9-year-old son struggling to pull him from the water. My 16-year-old daughter must have been frantic as she called 911 and stared in shock through a window as the horror unfolded. I can't imagine the disciplined panic that my 15-year-old son maintained as he administered CPR to his little brother's lifeless body. My shell of maternity, shaken and fragile, under this tear-stained shawl of grief is an unacceptable replacement for the Super Loving-Super Mom who once resided here.
And so I struggle. To be or not to be. Everyday the decision seems more critical. I'm breaking apart. My heart feels dead. This scares the children. Do I fight to recover? Is it possible? Is that even the right word? Recovery. This seems to mean getting back to where you were. I find myself today, though, in a life I never had. Recovery can also mean gaining back that which you have lost. That, too, is impossible.
The wake and the funeral were a blur of time, faces and thoughts. Like stepping into a Dali-esque landscape, time had melted. The faces of the mourning visitors brought unbreathable grief. Mothers of twins, friends named Charlie, members of the ladder company that had first responded to the tragedy, medical professionals from the hospital, family, relatives, in-laws, friends, neighbors, young peers of our children, even mothers of boy-girl twins. We had shared Charlie and Lola lovingly and often throughout their short lives with those around us. It crushed me with guilt to see how many were hurt by his loss. I could only repeat, "I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry for hurting you."
Jay, Dad’s journal
It still does not seem real. I feel ashamed for making so many people sad. But most of all, I miss Charlie and don’t know how I’ll live with the knowledge that I wasn’t there to save him. I know Elise blames me, and I don’t know what to say to her because I don’t want to make her mad or upset. I try to keep my mind occupied on dumb and mundane things ... like how green someone’s yard is or whether or not I like Maryland’s new license plates and signs. I don’t seem to miss one road sign now. If my mind stops processing useless information, then I think of Charlie and I get so sad. Sometimes there is a break in information-gathering, and I immediately feel like crying. You will hear a long exhale. That means I just pulled back tears. I feel like I push them back inside (cliche, I know, but that’s exactly the feeling). I try not to think about what people think about me, I try not to think about how my kids hurt, I try not to think about how Elise hurts, I am sad. I try to act like everything is normal; I know it is not.
I am numb ... yesterday I started to think about things I still cannot even write about, and I realized it would make me come to a complete stop. So I turn my thoughts to other empty thoughts. I try to pass time. I wish I could just jump three years into the future because then I can remember and not want to stop.
Gaela, age 16
Just leaving the gas station connected to an Arby’s on our way home from the soccer tournament in New Jersey. It’s silent. Right before this gas and food stop, my parents had a fight … again. It seems as though the stress of the funeral arrangements for my brother have made my parents on edge. The grief is too much for a parent to bear. There are moments of happiness, but they don’t last for long. The car ride home is constantly tense and quiet, except for the occasional calls my mom makes for “Charlie’s last party” or the replaying of the movie “Gnomeo and Juliet,” which I have probably seen about 10 times on this one trip.
I’m too quiet. My brother James always knows the right thing to say to keep a situation from becoming too tense, but he’s not here. He stayed home this weekend for his soccer tournament in Virginia Beach.
I constantly miss Charlie. I might not show it, but I cry at least once a day. Ever since the incident, I have made my relationship with my siblings stronger. I don’t want any more fighting. I can’t imagine what life will be like after our final goodbye to Charlie in this upcoming funeral.
Jack, age 9
The day Charlie died was terrible. I felt sick to my stomach. I couldn’t stop thinking about him and couldn’t stop crying. It was the worst day of my life seeing him there limp, face down, pale … it all just scared me. Right now, life is terrible without him. I remember now more than ever things he always said, like “dee-leecious” and shaking his head side to side. As I’m writing with a hurt stomach, I will just cry.
James, age 15
The day was an ugly one. Even though we were in a three-story beach house, the day was still ugly as if the whole world was mourning the loss of my baby brother. With light rain tears coming from the sky’s clouds, we decided to check out the beach, which also was ugly. The water was cold, and the waves were flat. Even the ocean was depressed. After about 30 minutes of pretending to relax at the beach, we returned to our estate to try and soak up some heat in the hot tub.
Lola started off the day sick as though her body knew something was wrong. Her other half was missing. Her mind is oblivious for she still loves to laugh and run. I am jealous that she is not experiencing the same pain as her family. At the same time, I am sad, for I know she will never have a good memory of her other half, Charlie, in her later years. That is why my mom (the situational genius of the family) has decided to record the funeral professionally and have us write these journals. That’s so that my baby sister can know how loved her “other half” is, and how big of a chunk he has taken from our souls with his departure.