Time passes. Landscapes change. People come in and out of your life. This tapestry that we are constantly weaving contains many, many threads, some short, others incredibly long; they pass in and out, unbroken, made stronger by their connection to the other threads that in the end, are the portraits of our lives. But when we step back, we see the barren spots, the threadbare patches. These are the incomplete pieces of our lives, the places in which we were unable to fulfill a part of our destiny, for whatever reason, or a place in which a piece of our life was taken from us unwillingly.
These barren spots on our tapestries are the wounded pieces of our soul, and often, we do not recognize them until late in our lives when we are looking back, reflecting on our lives. But once in a while, we are forced to face these wounds much sooner than we would like, and it is in these moments, when we face our own mortality, that our lives are changed forever, and the weaving of our tapestry takes on a completely different pattern.
Mine changed on November 7, 1988 at 2:42 p.m., the day my daughter Caitlin took her last breath in my arms.
Some years, this anniversary passes me by without much pain at all. In the beginning, each year was like a fresh debridement, a new removal of my skin, and I welcomed the pain like a junkie welcomes the needle. The pain reminded me that I was alive and that she wasn’t, and the pain forced me to relive my self-imposed guilt for being the one who lived, for as any parent in this situation will tell you: the death of a child is not the natural order of things. Gradually, by around year nine or ten, the pain had lessened in its acuteness, and for that I felt a different kind of guilt. And then when I stopped going to the cemetery as much, I felt a new kind of guilt.
There are all kinds of books on the stages of grieving, but none on the stages of guilt, or at least, none on the many stages of imposed guilt: guilt when you no longer buy silk flowers every year on her birthday, guilt when you no longer think of her every single day, guilt when you no longer can recall the smell of her skin, guilt when you can no longer carry her baby blanket around with you everywhere you go . . . well, you begin to understand the idea.
What brings me to this posting? Twenty years. This morning I was sitting in a hospital outpatient waiting room awaiting my mother’s surgeon to finish a relatively simple procedure on her eye, and I felt as if the room was closing in on me. Twenty years ago on this date, I was sitting in a hospital room in pediatric intensive care, watching a machine breathe for my daughter, knowing that this was going to be the last day of her life, knowing that her organs were not going to be able to help anyone after her death because she was too far gone, knowing that I would never brush her hair again, never sing to her again, never sleep on the hospital vinyl furniture again, never, never, never . . . and all I wanted was another day, another week, a Thanksgiving, a Christmas, a birthday. Anything. Everything. And all that I had was another few hours.
They have come so far in treating what ultimately killed my sweet baby girl—ARDS—Adult Respiratory Distress Syndrome, a big name for a tiny child for a toxic syndrome that develops in the lungs from being on a respirator for too long. She was on a respirator because of the pneumonia. She got the pneumonia from the depressed immune system that she got from the chemo. She was on the chemo because of the brain tumor. No one knows why she got the brain tumor.
My sweet baby Caitlin died when she was 7 months, 12 days, and a few hours old.
Some wounds never heal. Some threads are not long enough to create their own pictures. Some holes are burned beyond repair. Some tapestries remain incomplete forever.