You know how sometimes you find yourself in a situation and then wonder how you wound up there? That's exactly how I felt as I sat in the back of the training getting ready to go up to the front to share. The group was on a break and we were encouraged to go and take our seats up in the front. For some reason I just couldn't really get myself to move. My mind was racing and I wondered why on earth I had agreed to this.
I was clutching Carter's little box in my hands. The box that usually held almost everything that belonged to him. We were encouraged to bring something to share if we wanted. I had been pacing around the house earlier that morning, packing and unpacking the box. I felt sick about bringing it. Eventually, bawling, I told Danny that I would bring the box itself, but not the contents. They were just too special and I couldn't stop thinking about what if they got lost? What if we got in a car accident and they were ruined? What if I somehow forgot them there? When you have so very few things from someone so precious, you guard them with your life. Once I took all of his things out and packed the empty box, I felt a huge weight off my shoulders. I wanted to bring the box because I wanted to show the staff how very little I had of my son. That everything that had once touched him or had meaning for me fit in that small box the hospital had given me. Someone commented on the ID sticker that the hospital had put on it, similar to the ones on a hospital bracelet. I can't bring myself to take it off.
Once I finished pacing the house, we packed up the boys and put them in the car. We dropped off the boys at my sister's and started the familiar drive. It's a two hour drive each way, but it just seems normal almost because we have made it so many times. As we drove we talked about what we might say. We chatted about whether we had anything to say that might make a difference in someone else's life. I thought about the things that were done and said that never fail to make someone's jaw drop open and how I never wanted another grieving parent to hear them. I thought about the chances we wished we would have had and the moments that we will never get back.
The training originally had been scheduled to be in the conference room in the NICU, but with over 30 people attending, they had to move it to another location. That location happened to be on the exact same street that "the home" was on. "The home" was our dorm-room-turned-"hotel"-room that we lived in for over 4 months along with other families who were patients at UW or had family members who were patients. We both noticed the fancy new awning the building had gotten. We looked up to the window of the room that had been our home for 100+ days. Our room that I didn't even know the number of when I locked myself out without a key card. The room with it's single beds with rock hard mattresses and built in desks from it's days as a dorm room. We stayed in the same room for the whole time, which turned out to be lucky for us as sometimes people had to change rooms depending on what was available and who needed which room.
We were a little early so we payed for parking and wandered around the block talking about the thai restaurant we had eaten at that was no longer there. Finally we went into the building and made our way up to the very top. It was an amazing view of the city! We wandered in to find some familiar faces, nurses and other NICU staff who had taken care of Cohen.
And then it was our turn. We sat with another family and shared our stories. Of loss and pain and hope and healing. There were lots of tears on my part. I can't say enough how very thankful and encouraged I am that this program has been set up. I think often there is not enough done for loss families, whether it's due to lack of training for staff, or just not enough resources to be able to provide keepsakes and mementos. It touched my heart to see a good number of staff there at the optional training. I felt validated as I looked out and saw tears in so many eyes as we shared our stories. It touched my heart when a nurse asked if it was okay to cry with a family.
I love this hospital and this staff and even though it was really hard, I'm glad to have been a part of the steps they are taking to make the loss process just a little bit easier. I think there are a lot of changes to be made in the way of bereavement and how families who have lost babies are dealt with and cared for. And UW has a pretty amazing thing going and I am so encouraged by their willingness to acknowledge and support families facing loss.
Coming Up Next: Some of the things we talked about at the training.