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.