I pulled the shower curtain open and quickly put the towel over my face and held it there. “I’m alive”, I whispered to no one. This is my new mantra; I’ve been saying it out loud when things get especially difficult and it gives me the push I need to put my next foot forward and keep moving.
18 months earlier I knelt next to my daughters bed and with my head on her pillow, and the top of my nose pressed against her cheek I gave her permission to let go of her life. She had been struggling with a terminal illness for almost the full 9 years that she had lived; winning one battle just to have another one creep up and take hold of her again. She fought bravely every time, no matter how hard or long the war went on, she fought it with more strength and grace than I have seen in someone three times her age.
This time was different. This time I knew her body had had enough– for 5 weeks we sat in the hospital and prayed that she would make it through; she would take two steps forward then three steps back. The doctors came to me and asked what we wanted to do. “As long as she wants to live, I will push you to do whatever it takes to help her do that” I told him. He looked down at his shoes, nodded his head and turned to leave our room. After a few steps he turned back to me and said, “Sometimes the kindest thing you can do for your child is to let them go.” No. No. No. That is not what a mother does. Not any mother I have ever met, not any mother I would ever want to be… I will not give up on my child.
So, we waited. We watched. And our hearts broke as the realization set in that this was not going to end well. We knew Naomi would fight to be with us for as long as she could, but at what cost to her?
We made the decision to bring her home. Hospice was not a word I liked, every time I heard it I would cringe at the implications that came along with it. But hospice was the route we would have to go in order for us to take our baby home.
As the paramedics arrived with their stretcher to retrieve us–many of the nurses that had cared for Naomi came to say goodbye. A few that actually had the day off came in just to hug us and tell us how special Naomi was to them. One of the nurses told us that she had been given permission to ride in the ambulance home to make sure we had no incidents on the ride.
Leon walked to the elevator with the paramedics, nurse and Naomi and I– it was a very somber walk. Everyone we walked past had a sad look, some whispered “good luck”, some diverted their eyes. When the elevator door opened and we were about to part ways, Leon kissed Naomi goodbye and leaned in to me with last minute instructions: “If something happens on the ride home, do not let them bring her back here. She is going home, no matter what”. I nodded and watched him walk away. How long that ride home must have been for him alone in the car, wondering what was happening in the ambulance.
Naomi had slept most of the 5 weeks that she was in the hospital. She was exhausted in every possible way, but for some reason, once she heard that we were going home, she perked up and was wide awake. I kneeled next to the gurney in the ambulance and held her hand explaining everything that was happening as we drove. “We’re passing daddy’s shop now” I told her as we exited Rt. 34 and moved onto the back roads. “ Now we’re coming up to the green, we’re about 3 minutes from home, Na” “almost there”. Her eyes tracked with mine the whole time, and I actually thought she looked excited.
I cannot even begin to describe the scene for you when we arrived home. The bittersweet feeling of pulling into our driveway and seeing everything that was once so familiar to us should have been comforting, but knowing the circumstances of our arrival it left us swimming in anxiety.
Naomi lived for 6 hours in our home that night; she listened to each of us take turns reminiscing about fun memories, and a few times she responded to our question of “do you remember that?” There was laughter from all of us as we sat on the edge of her bed and enjoyed being home as a family for the first time in ages- and last time for ages.
Finally I told her it was okay. “If you are too tired to fight anymore, you can go to heaven, We‘ll be okay“. And within a few minutes she left us.
That day I felt a part of myself die too. There was the desire to give up and stay in bed, but I couldn’t do it without damaging my other children who were grieving with me. When she left me, it became my turn to fight daily battles, taking two steps forward and three steps backward. I felt trapped in a body that had lost it’s will to live. Almost as if I was being held captive inside a shell, not quite sure of who I was, or what I was supposed to be feeling, or doing, or saying. I hated it.
A few months ago my older daughters joined the gym and started encouraging me to go with them. Olivia will be getting married in a few months and I realized that it was a great opportunity to spend time with her and Bekah before they’re out of the house so I finally said yes.
The first few times on the tread mill I thought I was going to die, but I pushed myself and as I did, I heard the words in my head: “I’m alive”. I didn’t know where they came from, but I knew they were meant to remind me that I have an opportunity that not everyone gets. I can choose to live. It may not always be easy, but it’s a choice I can consciously make.
I write this blog today, on Easter. A day where we who believe, celebrate the resurrections of Jesus. As a child I looked forward to Easter because it was fun to dress up, to hunt for Easter baskets, to eat dinner with my hugely extensive family. But as an adult, things changed. It became more stressful and I will admit that I no longer enjoyed the day like I had.
Today the symbolism struck so close to home and it took on something it never had before. When Jesus rose from the grave He not only defeated death, but He made a way for it to be defeated for us too. When Naomi died, she was immediately absent from her body, but present with the Lord.
We sang He is risen this morning: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling over death by death, come awake come awake, come and rise up from the grave”. While we sang this, I could not only picture Jesus miraculously coming out of the tomb to the wonder of all who followed Him, but I could picture my Naomi walking from my arms into the arms of Jesus. From there I could picture myself laying at the grave site of my 9 year old daughter, curled up in a ball refusing to go on without her– I could hear Jesus saying to me “Lorna, come awake, come awake, come and rise up from her grave”. I hear Him telling me that He has defeated death that Naomi is alive in heaven, and I hear Him telling me it’s okay for me to live too. I will make this choice daily, and for today: I. Am. Alive.