Monday, March 24, 2008

The Very Last Goodbye

A few months after Elijah died, someone asked me if he was cold and blue when we held him. I thought it was an inappropriate, or at least, strange question at the time.

But if it was inappropriate, then my brain has revisited that question over and over.

I might never have thought about it. Then again, it had crossed my mind during those aftermath months of joining dead baby email lists. Most of these mothers had lost children at birth. I would stare at the pictures of other peoples dead babies. I could not look away. For many parents, this was the only photograph they would ever have of their child. For that reason, I fixed on the photo, trying to understand how it would feel to have my whole identity as a mother wrapped up in that one bluish photograph. Sometimes I can convince myself that I was lucky. I had so much more. I had thirteen months and eleven days.

I sat in the parked ambulance for a long time. I kept glancing back at my baby and the team working on him; hoping to see, afraid to see. The helicopter was already there, waiting.
Waiting for too long, I thought. I was strangely quiet. I had done all the screaming back at our house, just a mile away from the heli-pad.
HELP! Is he alive? Is he breathing? Please SAVE HIM!!
I could only clench my jaw and hold my breath and stare through the windshield of the ambulance, fixed on the blades of the helicopter that was going to mysteriously bring my child back to life get him to the hospital in time to save him.
They had told me that I could go with him.
They changed their minds.
It was time to go.
They pulled him out of the back of the ambulance, I jumped out of the front.
He was so tiny on that fullsized gurney.
They told me to kiss him. That I would see him at the hospital.
I looked up; they were lying.
They told me to hurry.
I kissed him. I kissed him three times, I told him I loved him with all of my heart, I touched his face, I reached for his hand and then they told me I had done a good job.
Good job, Mom.
I knew.
They raced him to the helicopter. I began to sob. I asked the ambulance driver to take me to the hospital but he told me that my husband was waiting for me at the end of the road.
What? My husband? Had already gotten back up the mountain after dropping our toddler off at a friend's house at 3 am, as instructed? And why was he here when I told him I was going in the helicopter?
I ran out to investigate. He was, indeed there. Someone had told him to follow the ambulance, and he had complied. Supergirl was there too. In her carseat and clutching her blankie and sucking dearly at her pacifier.
I started yelling again.
Why are you here? Why is she here? Take her to Cate's house! Meet me at the hospital! Leave now!
The sound of the helicopter was long gone.
I sprinted back down the gravel road to the ambulance, and then I saw something that I was truly not meant to see.
Five or six EMTs, paramedics, firefighters, all hugging each other.
I knew.
It broke up quickly when I screamed that I needed a ride to the hospital, NOW.

When we arrived, I was guided to a small room off the hallway of the ER. I wasn't there more than sixty seconds when I couldn't stand it anymore, and stepped out into the hallway, only to see at that very moment, a group of six doctors and nurses walk out of an enclosed area; each of them was crying. One of the doctors started walking straight for me. I began to back up, back into the shrinking room, so he could get past me and deliver the sad sad news to the other family. But he kept coming for me, he kept walking toward me, he kept looking at me. When he reached me, I said it,
He's gone. He's gone, isn't he?
I have never before or since in my life wished so very hard to be wrong.
He nodded. There was someone else there. She must have known what was going to happen next, because she caught me before my buckled knees let me hit the ground. They shut the door; I think they expected me to scream.
I didn't scream.
Those moments are not clear to me. They are a blur of reliving time and willing time to reverse and pleading with the universe.
But I did not scream.
They asked me if I wanted to hold him.
I did.

I was brought to a room at the end of the hall. There was a chair; I sat in it and waited.
A nurse brought him to me. He was wrapped in at least three blankets, which made him seem very bulky. When she handed him to me, this baby we had spent thirteen months coaxing every single ounce upon him, he seemed very heavy.
When I drew him to me, and sniffed, his smell was still there. He smelled warm and sweet; not dead.
He had an endotracheal tube taped to his face, but other than that he just looked like he was asleep. He always was a deep sleeper. He was so warm. He was so heavy.
But when I nuzzled his neck, he was unmistakably dead. No matter how asleep he was, he would always nuzzle back.
I rocked him, I told him how sorry I was for letting him die. I knew I had ultimately failed him as a mother; I had failed to keep my child alive.
At some point my husband joined me. We took turns holding him, bowing our heads together and sobbing over this soft sweet warm dead boy.
We were told not to take the trach tube out; we complied. Dh carefully removed the tape from his cheeks; I remember thinking be gentle, don't hurt him.
We unwrapped his blankets to touch his soft belly one more time and then lovingly snapped his pajamas back up.
Hours went by, and still, he was warm. Not cold, not blue.
But still, he was still.
We passed him back and forth, our son, and the room was still and silent and waiting.

Finally, he said he was ready to go. He needed to leave this place, he said, and go now to our living child. Child, I thought. Not children.
I knew what he meant; I even agreed.
I looked at the door, and then back again at Elijah in my arms. Who I would never see again, once I walked through that door.
I was not ready.
But we had to go.
It took many false starts, many attempts at placing him in the kind nurse's waiting arms.
I have often thought about that little detail and been grateful - that I was not required to put him down on a gurney, but allowed to place him in another woman's arms.
But at some moment, I don't know how, I knew I had to go.
How could we walk away from him forever?
How could we leave him there?
There were no other options.
So we kissed him one last time, breathed him in one last time, and touched him one last time before we stepped back into the too bright, too loud, too functional world, to reclaim our lives as parents.


Broady said...

I am so very, very sorry.

Boss of Seattle said...

I love you honey.

Lunasea said...

You have lived through the worst thing in the world. I'm so sorry you and Elijah had to leave each other.

Also, you are a gifted writer.

Sarah said...

It doesn't seem like there is anything that I can even say here, but I'm crying for you and your sweet baby boy.

Kate said...


Anonymous said...

Oh no. Oh, dear g2. Oh dear God.

How did you write about the worst day in anyone's life so beautifully?

Sending kisses upwards to Angel Elijah, sweet, sweet baby boy.

Anonymous said...

i love you and i am so glad to be coming to see you and hug the hell out of you soon.

Tricia said...


Thank you for sharing this.

Lin said...

Oh, but this was just so hard for me to read. Beautifully written, but so hard. And as I sat back in my chair, tears falling fast, I thought if this was hard for me to read, how hard was this for you to write. I am in awe, dear G. xoxoxo

Denise said...

I love you and am so so sorry. You awe me with you raw emotion and incredible courage.

Anonymous said...

hey! here is the site i was talking about where i made the extra $800 last month, checkit out... the site is here said...

I'm so, so sorry... I'm nauseous and weeping for you and your husband...

Anonymous said...

You have tears running down my face in my cube. And I know it is just automated spam, but somehow seeing the comment from "jason dittle" about making $800 last month just made me want to reach through the computer and punch "jason dittle" in the face. How dare you bring that cheap, dirty, commercial shit to a topic as sacred as this.

mamadaisy said...

Oh dear woman, I am so sorry. It must be so good for your soul to finally write this down. Thank you for letting us read it.

Gretchen said...

Thank you for sharing this. I can't begin to understand what you've gone through - but know that I'm thinking about you!

Shannon said...

Dear Gwen,
This is the most painful post ever Im sure. And the most painful I've read. Sometimes I bargain with God and ask him to please let me go before my children. I know those of us who live far from you wished we could hug you or hear you in your time of need. Even though we are far we are "here". Thank you for letting us in to your heart and soul.

gwendomama said...

every single comment (okay, maybe not jason's) is valuable to me.
thank you.
truthfully, when i write these memories of elijah's life and death, these stories that come out in a non-linear fashion, i am surprised that anyone else can read all the way through.
yes, hard for me to write. because usually i dont see it coming - i don't sit down to write about that - but at the keyboard, the memories flow and the words follow sometimes.
but hard for you to read. which is why i am surprised and touched by every single commenter's endurance.
writing this may simultaneously scrape at and help my soul, but i am aware of the sledgehammer it carries with it for a reader.
when people tell me they don't know what to say, i just tell them to say something kind. it's a way of touching someone's arm gently, to remind them that you are there.
thank you for the reminder.

Cindy said...

You know I'm so sorry. You could not have been a better mom to him. You both gave him so much in his short little life.

Anonymous said...

If it helps, reading about your loss helps me to appreciate my little girls more deeply.

God bless little Elijah.

Rebecca F.

Anonymous said...

Your beautiful, special, sweet Elijah was so lucky to have spent his brief time here on earth with a mom as wonderful as you.

I cannot imagine losing a child, but as horrid as it is, I am so glad you got to hold him, and breathe in that warm baby boy smell one last time as you said goodbye to the physical part of Elijah. And that you will forever hold his amazing, giggling, happy-go-lucky spirit and soul with you forever.

Denise said...

I am not a hugger, but when we finally meet, we will hug:) Because you have touched my life so much. I become hooked on your blog last year, and have read through all of the archives. Elijah is lucky to have you as a mother.
Now I need to go have a stiff drink or something because damnitt, i feel like crying.

Anonymous said...

This is very similar to my own experience with Alli. I know that I could never write about it so eloquently. ((hugs))
Tomorrow's the birthday day... I already want to go hide under my bed!

Broady said...

I saw your comment at my place and responded, but wanted to be sure you saw my reply, so here it is again:


Yours is the only blog I read by someone that has lost a child... I found you via Kate's Evolution/Figs & Lavender.

But when I started reading about Elijah, I couldn't stop. I'm not going to lie-- that is some very, very difficult stuff to read at times (I can't imagine living it). But at the same time, your unconditional love and enduring devotion to your son inspires me, and makes me think about the type of mom I want to be. So I think I will keep reading.

Plus, I like it that you are a smartass. That's important to me.

Anonymous said...


This was so heartbreaking and beautifully written, seldom am I moved to cry actual tears when reading something, but this time I was sobbing.

I do wish with every fiber of my being that you never had a reason to write this.

Anonymous said...

This was tough for me to read.

As my experience was so achingly familiar. Right down to the tube and the tape on the cheek.

I'm here. Admiring you from a far. In this unpleasant little club we are stuck in, with so many other sad parents.

Donna said...

This is the first time to stumble on your blog, but I just can't not comment.
I may not know what happened, but I know the pain.
You wrote your experience beautifully; and, if you're like me I'm sure you could write more, in a different way, with a different voice.
May you continue to move on without forgetting what needs to be remembered.

Anonymous said...

I wish that I could touch your arm....thanks for sharing.

hey you, from

Anonymous said...

I am crying so hard for you and your family. I am glad you wrote this. And sorry for your loss.


Jmav_goddess said...

Very sorry for your loss....thank you very much for sharing.

silverdragoncub said...

Words can't even express how this makes me feel. Thank you for sharing. You have an amazing way with words.

I am so sorry.

Anonymous said...

Words can't even express how this makes me feel. Thank you for sharing. You have an amazing way with words.

I am so sorry.

Anonymous said...

I've been reading your blog for a couple of months. I can't stop thinking about this post. You write so beautifully about such a terrible tragedy. Thank you for sharing and hugs and sympathies to you. -Anita

Scribbit said...

I have a friend who is trying to let go of her son who is dying from brain cancer. I wonder if this is how she is feeling.

Sitting In Silence said...

What a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing it with us,your son is a sweet little angel.

Thinking of you all..

Jenny, the Bloggess said...

I don't have the words to tell you how your son's short life story has touched me but know that it has. And even though I never met him I will hug my child tighter tonight and become a better person just from listening to his short song.

Becky said...

I'm so sorry this happened to you. My heart is aching just reading about the pain you went through. Hang tight to those comforting memories of your son.

Anonymous said...

Beautifully written.
I remember reading (but I've probably gotten it slightly twisted) "Life. It's not about the length, it's the roundness". I feel Elijah had a very round and full and loved and blessed life.

fairymama said...

Wow. I've been offline a few days. I was stuck in the Minneapolis airport yesterday and came to catch up and started to read this post and promptly slammed my laptop shut. Nope, not gonna cry in the airport. Now I sit here sobbing, wishing so much to take away the pain for you and your family. Thank you for sharing, thank you for your courage. {{{hugs}}}

Anonymous said...

People often comment on posts that they are crying after having read them, but not me. I rarely cry actual tears from reading a post-until this one. My husband had to come and hold me for a minute and let me sob on his shoulder. I keep thinking about you handing the baby to the nurse and having to walk away, and the tears start up all over again.

Like Kristen said above, I wish so much that I could take this away. That I could take you back in time and have everything unfold in a completely different way. That I could make doctors read reports and not give treatments and have there never ever be a helicopter.

But certainly not more than you must wish that, every single day. You are amazing for being able to put this into words. Big hugs and smooches, darlin'

gwendomama said...

this has got to be one of the most profound and thoughtful comments i have ever received. ever.
i guess that i could see so clearly, that A)you have read a lot of my posts, and B)you have an incredible memory..
you are so lucky to have a husband that will hold you. knows to do so.

yes, handing him over was the worst moment of my life. perhaps worse than him ceasing to breathe.

that you know that the reports would have made a difference. the treatments would have been better spared.
my now inane but seriously real fear of helicopters.

you are yourself amazing for being able to put all that into words, and thank you.

Anonymous said...

There are no words, and yet words are the only way for us to reach out. And who isn't craving to reach out to you, with that silent touch which can mean so much in a moment of such profound sorrow that it renders you mute?

I'm pouring out words, but really what I'm doing is holding you. And you can cry all you want.

Mama Klistel said...

I can't breath, I'm shocked. How is something like this even possible. I wish you and your family every possible comfort and joy and bliss and laughter the universe can possibly muster. You deserve that, and more.

Anonymous said...

no words. Just pure and gut wrenching pain and sorrow for you and your family. I am so incredibly, and truly, deeply sorry for your loss.

Anonymous said...

Gwendomama, I followed your profile from your comment at Suburban Turmoil and was riveted by your story. Thankyou for writing it.

I read it feverishly and desperately, knowing the ending but hoping it would magically change as I read. I had tears pouring down my face as I grieved for all the dear sweet kids who have been lost to Mums all over the world, including my own sister 28 years ago.

My 3 year old son interrupted my reading by putting on his favourite music and dancing around the room. "Mummy, come and dance!" he shouted. "I'm just reading a sad story sweetheart," I said. "I'm nearly finished. I really want to read all the way down to the bottom of the page here ..."

"Come and dance around in a circle with me!" he urged.

And then I got it. I think I knew what you'd tell me to do if you were here.

I stood up, turned off the screen and danced around the living room with my boy as my little one year old girl watched us and clapped. I guessed that that's probably what it's about.

My heart has grieved for you and my mind has been preoccupied with your story. I've waited for hours til I could get back to your story and finish it, and read more of dear Elijah in your other posts.

Thanks for sharing. Thanks for being so honest. And thanks for reminding me to get up and dance with my kids because they seriously are THAT precious.

My girl has a yucky cough right now and is coughing in her sleep. I'll get up off my butt and go to her now. Right now. Man. Life is so precious.

Tammy, HollywoodFarmGirl said...

i do believe God(s)/Goddess(es)/the Higher Power/nothing at all

sends us messages through the Angels- us. and i have learned in less than twenty minutes to bless my childrens' every breath. to never once take their chubby little nuzzle necks for granted. you remind me to discern between what is "small stuff" and what is Life.

i thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing your story. and i'm a hugger. even to stranger-friends. so i'm sending you a hug right now.

Tammy, HollywoodFarmGirl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I'm sitting here in an internet cafe, tears streaming down my face, and the guy next to me wondering what's going on. Big hugs to you, Gwendomama.

Anonymous said...

i only just discovered this post and like everyone else, was desperately gripped. never before have i wanted a different ending so badly.

your love, your family's love, for elijah is so big and so wonderful.

thank you for writing about it.

A Mama's Blog (Heather) said...

This touched me so much, and I am so very, very sorry you lost your sweet, precious boy.

I think you are an amazing mother who made sure her baby was safe and warm before you had to leave him.

Thank you for sharing your story with us.

A Mama's Blog (Heather) said...

This touched me so much, and I am so very, very sorry you lost your sweet, precious boy.

I think you are an amazing mother who made sure her baby was safe and warm before you had to leave him.

Thank you for sharing your story with us.

Anonymous said...

This story makes me cry every time I read it. I know the story. Yet it still, well, just...

It is that I love you and can feel the ache and know that it just can not be covered with a blanket or a band aid or some how soothed with calendula.

It is yours, G, and it is just what it is. Absolutely Real.

You are an amazing woman and an even more incredible mother. All your children are blessed.

Anonymous said...

Damn. I'm so sorry. Peace to you, Elijah.

Dalene said...

I just found this post from a more recent one and it has me sobbing remembering how I had to hand my baby over to a nurse and say goodbye almost 1 year ago. I just hate that anyone has to go through this. How did my life end up here? I miss my son every moment of every day.

Debby@Just Breathe said...

I was given your site from a dear friend of mine. I sit here crying at what I just read. I have not read all your posts yet but I will.
I am so deeply sorry for your loss. There are no words that can ever be said to help you, or other's like you going through such a horrific tragedy. I pray to God that I could be the healer, the one person that can answer all your questions, give you hope and ease your pain. I did see the beautiful picture of your son when he was born. What a beautiful boy. He looks just like one of those dolls with the thick head of hair which you usually don't see in blonde on a baby. Precious. I am in awe of the mother's who I have been following,the fact that you are able to get out of bed each day or even breathe. The challenge must be horrible as the sun comes up each day only to have to face your loss over and over again. I am so deeply sorry that life has given you this. Please continue to be strong and please continue to blog because I know that you are an inspiration. God Bless You

Lisa BC said...

Gwen, Im so sorry for your loss. Im sitting here crying, & in total awe of your gracious strength in writing so well on such a horrendous experience. My very best to your & your children.