One year ago I was up on campus for an exam and afterward I headed to the bookstore to get something for another exam. Graduation Fair was taking place and the bookstore was filled with chaos as people were trying on gowns and ordering class rings and vendors were hawking their graduation memorabilia. It was March 2015 and my heart ached as I realized I was supposed to graduate the following May. It had been my plan for a while, ever since I went back to school to study something new. I would graduate May 2016, take a year off while I interned and applied to graduate school, then I would start grad school in 2017. Things were choreographed quite nicely and I could look to the future, my future and my family's future, with certainty. At the age of thirty-four I finally knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life and my career goals were set into play.
And then on July 12, 2014......
You know the rest.
Garrett died three weeks before the summer termed ended. Up to that point I had a 4.0 GPA, something I was proud of and had worked very hard to attain. I did not finish the term, and I did not go back that fall. I didn't know if I would ever go back, really.
But I did go back and it was so much harder than I anticipated. On bad days, I had thoughts of ending my life. On better days, I had thoughts of just checking out of life, but not ending it. I cried and screamed each day while the kids were in school, then I picked myself up off the floor and forced myself to study. It was during this time that I happened upon that Graduation Fair and felt hopelessly bereft. Then summer term began and triggers came at me from every corner of the world, but I got through it. I had to almost double up on my class load to make up for lost time, all while finishing the incomplete classes from THAT summer, but I got through it.
And now, I graduate in thirty-six days, just as I planned in the beginning. Perhaps I should have been kinder to myself and allowed more time to pass before I jumped back into school. But honestly, I think it is school that has kept me alive this last year. It has given me purpose and something to work toward and without it, I don't know what would have happened to me.
A year later, today, I took my children up to the University of Utah to participate in this year's Graduation Fair. As we walked into the bookstore and were met with banners and the hustle and bustle of fellow graduates, a lump formed in my throat and I thought back to this time last year. I don't know what carried me through to now, but I am grateful. And as I stood there hand in hand with Devin, I knew I would never take it for granted.
Yesterday I texted a dear friend and asked him if he would like to meet us for lunch on campus somewhere after Grad Fair. Mike is one of my favorite people in the universe, and he also delivered (well, almost delivered) four of my five children. It may seem odd to have such a close relationship with your OB, but Mike is different and I've always thought of him as a big brother. I hadn't seen him since a month after Garrett's death, and it was time to make good on the "Hey, we need to meet up for lunch one of these days" sentiments we always share, but ever follow through on. The kids are huge fans of Dr. Mike and we lucked out that he happened to be available this afternoon.
After getting my graduation supplies, we headed over to the med center to meet at the cafeteria. All of our children but Ethan were born there, and I hadn't been back since the day we brought Garrett home when he was a newborn. In fact, in all the times I've been on campus since going back to school post-death, I have deliberately avoided everything associated with the hospital. Although my memories of it are only good ones, I ache at those memories. I literally spent years at that place, pregnant with at least two other babies in tow. I would maneuver through the parking garage and usually park in the same stall each time, load the kids into the double stroller, and waddle my way to the fourth floor. It was so routine that I could do it in my sleep.
But I decided today that it was another band-aid in need of removal. I needed...no...I WANTED to see the place. I wanted to remember the good times of stopping at the coffee shop to get a turkey and pesto sandwich while listening to the volunteer pianist playing the baby grand in the lobby. I wanted to remember walking through the corridors and going up the elevator with my toddlers, dreaming of the day when we would welcome a new baby into our family within those very hospital walls.
I knew the parking garage would be too painful. Of all things, I knew that would make me very sad so I opted to use the free valet service. When we walked into the lobby, memories and emotions flooded me and I smiled and fought tears at the same time. The kids remembered the place, all of them but Devin because he was only a baby himself when he was there last. Seeing Mike was like taking a drink of cold water on a hot day. His very presence calms me and I can always count on laughing when we talk. When I met him eleven years ago under very uncertain circumstances surrounding my complicated pregnancy with Hailey, I never could have imagined that all these years later, he would still be so important to our family. So important to me and such a good friend.
After lunch he had to get to a meeting, so we said goodbye. The kids wanted to go play on the escalators for a while, but I was ready to get out of there because it was becoming too painful. But I obliged, and then they asked to go explore and see where they were born. My heart sank. I looked ahead and saw the very elevator that would lead to the fourth floor, to the maternal fetal medicine clinic, and to the maternity wing. I don't know what made me agree to it, but the next thing I knew we were on the elevator.
When we stepped off, I was immediately hit with the smell. It wasn't a bad smell, but a very medical smell and one I used to know very well. I was overcome with feelings of dejavu and it was hard keeping my emotions in check. I could recall with clarity the last time I'd been in that clinic. I knew what I was wearing, I knew Ethan was in school, I knew I was pushing Devin in the little blue umbrella stroller, and I knew Hailey and Lauren were wearing the matching striped sweaters Granana had given them for Christmas. I also knew it would be my last OB appointment ever, and that Garrett would be born the next week.
After walking through that corridor, I was impulsive and decided to head in the other direction and go through the big metal security doors into the maternity wing. What was I doing, and why was I doing it? And then we were there, standing at the check in desk, and I was telling the nurse we were just going down memory lane and wanted to walk through the halls. She gave each of us masks to wear, but the boys decided they didn;t want to wear masks so they sat in the waiting area near the big doors. The girls and I walked hand in hand down the hall and when we got there, I knew exactly what room had been mine when Garrett was born. I stayed there for five days and I knew it. I saw the door, and I was taken back to the first time I saw Garrett's face. I knew him and loved him so intensely that my heart felt like it would burst. It was as if I'd been waiting for him my whole life and when I saw him, I knew him.
I couldn't control the emotion and I stood there and shook all over. I buried my face in my hands and wept as I remembered. I remembered the first time he laid on my bare chest and how he nursed like a pro from the start. I remembered those first few hours in the room together when it was just the two of us. It was snowing outside and I laid there in the dark room and watched the snowfall out my window. I was so in love with this new person and I laid there and cried. I knew it would be my last time to ever experience this kind of thing, and I breathed every bit of it in.
I starred at the closed door, knowing another mother was on the other side, likely loving on her new baby as well. I wanted to be her. I wanted to have those feelings all over again. I wanted to change everything about the events that lead to Garrett's death. I wanted to fix everything. I wanted to go back to a time when I could fully protect my little boy....but instead, I stood there, powerless to change anything. So together with my daughters, we cried.
I don't know if it was at all healing to have done what I did today. All I know is that it has rendered me useless since we got home, and that I've spent the afternoon and evening in bed crying myself dry. I know I wanted to remember my precious time with my precious baby, and that I've been tempted to do all that I did today for a long time. Although it hurt tremendously, I think it was good to go back and live all of the goodness one more time. Sometimes I worry that I will forget the pain, but I want to hold on to the pain. Sometimes I need it to hurt like it did today, because it reminds me that nothing has been forgotten and that Garrett is as real to me now as he was the last time I saw him.
It was a terrible band-aid to rip off.