My son died in the early morning hours of July 24th, 2008, just six days shy of his eighth birthday. He and I had arrived at the hospital emergency room that afternoon via ambulance from the pediatrician’s office. I’d taken him in to the doctor after I’d noticed that in the space of an hour his stomach had become hard and distended; in the time it took us to drive two miles to the doctor, my son lost color in his legs and face and grew eerily quiet.
My time as Evan’s mother has taught me to stay calm in an emergency. In none of these moments — the pediatrician’s office where the staff flew into action and put him on oxygen, or the ambulance ride, where I calmly removed Evan’s shoes and answered questions about his medical history — at no point did I ever think my son would not live, or that I would, twelve short hours later, be saying goodbye.
“I’m not done with you,” I told my son later that night, in the pediatric intensive care unit. The doctors were preparing him for emergency surgery to address what turned out to be a severely herniated bowel. “Don’t you dare go anywhere,” I said.
Then my husband and I left Evan’s bedside while the surgeons operated and went to sit in a waiting room with other parents of very sick children. A mother whose eleven-year old son was recovering from a cerebral hemorrhage fixed us tea. “You must take care of yourselves,” she said. She and her family had set up camp in the waiting room, brought in an electric kettle and cups, sugar and milk. There were boxes of cookies too and later someone carried in microwave containers full of dinner.
“We have been here for two weeks,” the mother said, indicating the supplies. “I have not left this place.”
I did not tell her about my own veteran years in waiting rooms. Instead I sipped the tea she made, grateful for its sugary warmth in my otherwise cold stomach.
A short while later the doctors came and told us our son would not survive. The insults to Evan’s system had been too great, and every organ was shutting down. “He’s not going to make it through the night,” the one doctor said, his voice low, sad. And all I could think of to say, through my tears, was this: “I told him I wasn’t done with him, I told him I wasn’t done.”
Even the most anticipated ending can leave us lost, confused. Imagine an ending that comes without warning or preparation, one that is shocking, sudden, and unexpected. When my husband and I left the hospital that night — the same hospital where Evan and his twin sister had been born — I said, “I am so done with this place,” as if by putting my own words of finality on the subject, I might also bring the matter to a close. We want, in an ending, a sense of justice and purpose, a feeling of finality that is comprehensible. In truth, no ending is ever complete, no goodbye sufficient. I was not done with my son and yet he died. Did that mean he was done with me?
For nearly two years now I have had the great gift to tell Evan’s story in this space and to hear those of my readers. While I am not done, it is the case that it is time to say goodbye. Evan’s stories live on. Your stories also continue, and I hope you will all find a way for them to be heard and shared. Remember the mother at the swings, and do it for her, for Evan, and for us.
33 replies on ““Saying Goodbye””
Vicki…i was one who didn’t know Evan had died…and i am so very, very sorry to hear it. you had painted him so vividly through all your posts that i felt i knew him, and i am sitting here weeping because a little boy i quite cared about, through his mother’s words, is gone.
the shock of the ending reverberates through this post. all i know how to say is that yes, i’ll remember the mother at the swings. and i will remember Evan too.
Vicki, You are my hero.
…just wanted to add, i don’t think he was done with you, Vicki. sometimes our bodies give out on us long before we’re done…you helped him keep his body going for quite a lifetime.
I will always rememner, Vicki. And I will count myself lucky to have know Evan, through you.
My love and always, always, thank you.
This was kind of like picking away at the scab, knowing it will leave a faint, permanent scar. In this case, the scar willbe a reminder for me of how you touched my heart and my life with Evan’s story. How you invited so many strangers-yet-not-strangers into your life adn your heart.
Your writing was one of the first things I found when I was in my pre-blogging days; it helped push me over the precipice. Where I feared an empty, jagged cavern awaited upon landing, what I found was a pair of soft arms to catch me. Your words, Evan’s story, led to the words of other mothers and fathers of special children and to other people who love them and care for them. You and Evan led me to a sense of peace and hope amid the fearfulness and gave me encouragement to find my own voice.
I will make certain I use that voice and continue to tell our story. And I look forward to sharing it with you. :-)
“Yes, all that was is part of me
As I am part of what’s to be
And thus it is, our story goes on
And on, and on, and on,
And on!” (“The Story Goes On” from Baby, the muscial)
You, mother at the swings, are unforgettable, as is Evan – thanks to you. xo~
First, thank you for sharing this last good bye with myself and all your loyal readers. You are an amazing writer and your unconditional love for Evan is so tangible through your words.
The sympathy I feel for you is indescribable. I can’t even begin to understand how you must feel and truly hope you and your entire family are doing ok.
Thank you for sharing so much of your knowledge as a special needs mom to new moms such as myself. Thank you for your writing here and input on my blog.
You are an inspiration. Evan, and your writings about being his wonderful Mommy, will be sorely missed.
Ah Vicki. So heartbreaking. Thank you for all that you have shared with us. And for this most difficult piece. It’s not the last, of course. You’ll always be Special Needs Mama, along with the rest of us.
May you and your family thrive.
Oh, Vicki, how do you do this – write so poignantly, so honestly, so heartbreakingly, while doing Evan proud? You have my deepest reverence and respect. And love.
Thanks for being so generous in sharing your feelings and experience’s. You have a warm and loving spirit and I can’t say how much I’ve learned and how sad I am for Evan’s death.
Vicki, You and Evan have been a lifeline for so many people. I would await your column whenever it came for news of you and Evan. How you were holding up. How you found humor in even the worst situations. I can find no humor here. Only sadness that Evan, who I took into my heart, even though I never knew him, is gone. You have been an amazing mom, and an amazing special needs mom. Not just to Evan, but to all of us. I send you condolences from the deepest part of my soul. You made Evan live for all of us, and he will continue to do so. May you find peace in this time. Thank you for sharing so deeply. Warmly, Karen
Beautiful and heartbreaking, honest and elequent, as always. Not only will I buy your book but I will tell the world to read your story when it comes out. Goodbyes are never enough…never complete…never really over. Thinking of you and your family often. Hugs to all, Christy
Thank you, Vicki. My thoughts are with you and Evan.
MUCH LOVE TO YOU & YOURS, VICKI….
I’m in tears.
BIG ANGEL KISSES going up to Evan… and hugs across the miles to you, my friend.
Thank you for sharing with such honesty, love, fearlessness, beauty and even humor. Evan was certainly not done with you. He chose a great mother.
You, your words, and your son are unforgettable. Thank you for sharing so honestly and deeply with all of us.
Thank you for sharing Evan with us, for encouraging us, for strengthing us. Your words have meant more to me than you will ever know. I will always remember the mother at the swings and her precious son Evan. I will continue to share Brooklyn’s story and share her with the world as well. If I can help just one mother with her story half as much as you helped me, it will be worth it. I appreciate you sharing this final post with us, it means so much……
Love from Brooklyn’s Mommy!
Vicki, you’ve given us all such a gift with your words. Evan was a gift, too, I think, and the gift he gave you remains with us all. How amazing that one small child can do so much for so many. I agree that he wasn’t really done with you, nor are we. Thanks for taking us on this journey.
Vicki, all of us are feeling the heartbreak of surrender as Evan’s body could stand no more. Please know you are not alone-we love you.
I can still remember a poignant moment in our family, just after my daughter died 21 years ago. My older son was 6 when he looked up to me and asked, how could she die? She has a purpose in our family. You see, her two big brothers had attended a preschool program that taught them two important lessons: EVERYONE is a friend (and that is how they still refer to others, to this day) and EVERYONE has a purpose in life. I assured my heartbroken son that his sister did indeed have a purpose, we just hadn’t yet had time to truly understand what it was.
Just one year later, my third son was born prematurely and with complex medical concerns that remain a piece of who he is at age 20. Through the years, we have come to understand that Kim’s purpose was to prepare us with a new focus: that life is what it’s all about, lived with gusto and making the most of whatever gifts we have.
I have a sense that Evan arrived with many purposes, and one is similar to our daughter’s. I send my heartfelt sympathy to your family, with the knowledge that Evan’s purposeful love survives long into the future – through your family’s hearts. Best wishes and thank you for the love and loving work you have shared with us.
There are no other words except for how profoundly sorry I am and have continued to be. You and Evan will always have a place in my head and heart. Vale Evan.
I am so sorry for your loss and so devastated by the death of this child I only knew from your stories of him.
His spirit lives on in all of us who gather strength from his life.
Thank you so much for sharing your stories about Evan with us. You are such a strong person and I admire all you have done and shared. I wish you and your family the best of luck in continuing on.
I will never be done with you & Evan. Even though you are saying goodbye on the Literary Mama you both will stay in my heart.
Just as Evan was a gift to you, your column and your very presense on Literary Mama has been a gift to me.
Thank you for your friendship and for sharing this goodbye.
How difficult this essay must have been to write. Thank you for sharing the gift of your beautiful writing with us. You are the reason I read Literary Mama…it all started with “Woman at the Swings.” I hope you continue blogging.
Evan was so lucky to have you for a mom.
Dear Vicki, thank you for this, for all of these painful details.
I don’t think Evan was done with you either, but in the end that didn’t matter, it couldn’t stop what happened. What DOES matter is your great love for him.
Holding you all close still.
this made me cry, cry for the many years at that hospital, beginning with the first unforgettable odyssey of bringing evan and ellie into the world, and for this last unforgiving night with your beautiful son. i have loved every one of your columns. your voice is strong and piercing, both through my mind and my heart. i love that voice. i loved that boy. i’m so sorry.
thank you for sharing your story. As a mother who has pulled life support and sat in hospital after hospital as well. I understand….
May you find happiness in the wonderful memories created while your son was here
thanks for sharing your heartfelt story. You are truly an amazing woman & a constant reminder of how we all should strive to be. I am truly sorry for your loss and will miss hearing Evan’s laughter on the swings in the park. Take care & thanks again for your wonderful stories.
Best always, Irene (Colin’s mom)
This is a story that has no ending. You and Evan have touched so many lives, all irrevocably changed because of the all-too-brief presence of one little boy and his mother. Ripples in a pond.
I’m so shocked that Evan died. I’m so sorry for you.
You and Evan have touched so many lives through your stories. Thank you for sharing your son with us.
I wish I had the power to write something to help you too.
I read this entry days ago and have not been able to find words to express myself in response… I am sorry for your loss, moved by your example and hope that happy memories of your son will comfort you in the time ahead. Thank you for sharing your experience — I do not think I really knew what love was, until I started learning more about special needs parents and children. -Lisa
I do not believe for one instant that Evan left because he was done with you; you were his lifeline and his connection to the world in so many important ways.
I am reminded of that quote from Raymond Carver that I believe I found at your web site:
“And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.”
While none of us knows how long we each have on Earth, mothers like us have the burden of not knowing how much time we have with our medically fragile children. I know I wonder about it with my youngest son – no doctor can give me an answer, because not a single doctor I have ever met believed that Asher would survive past his 1st birthday, and Asher is turning 6 this year. At the end of the day, I have learned that it just makes all the days we do have all the more precious, regardless of any final number.