I was 8 years old when my sister Beth was 4. My mom told us she was pregnant. I was excited as this would mean I’d could possibly get a cooler sibling rather then the bratty snot of a sister that I already had. My sister on the other hand was the most excited I’d ever seen any child be.
You could often catch my sister talking to my mom’s belly or rubbing it. I on the other hand had already been through this before. Actually a few times before, but only resulting in one sibling to bring home.
The difference between my mom being pregnant with my sister Beth and now pregnant with the new baby was, I’d actually got to know my sister. Beth wouldn’t.
* * * * * *
I went with my mom to her doctors appointment at the local community clinic. I usually hated going to these appointments. We had to sit and wait for hours before seeing the doctor. Which once we got inside with the doctor it didn’t take very long.
“Toni Muse” the nurse called. My mom made her way to the door looking back at me trailing right behind her.
“No. You need to stay in the waiting room. It won’t be very long, I promise.”
“But I want to go in with you.”
“No not this time Alena.”
I sat back down and began thumbing through a magazine. More or less just flipping the pages not really looking at what was on them. About an hour and a half later a nurse came out and asked if I was ok and explained that my mom was back with the doctor and that my grandma Kathi would be picking me up. Twenty minutes later my mom came out to greet my grandma.
“Alena, you need to go with grandma. We are going to have the baby today.”
“Oh my gosh really? YES! Are we going to go get your bag and stuff?”
“No daddies on his way already.”
“I don’t get to watch?”
“No, they need to do an emergency C-section. The baby is in trouble, so he has to be born today. So go with grandma ok?”
“Alright.” I said saddened.
My grandma took me home with her to their motor home. I ate dinner and paced in my mind what was happening to my mom. Would we get to see the new baby. I began reflecting on the baby shower that I helped plan for my mom with my grandma Mary. We had decorated the living room with baby shower streamers and bought my baby brother an outfit and bought my mom the infant car seat that she wanted. We went through so many of them, looking for just the right one. The one my mom wanted, with blue and white stripes and the little compartment in the back.
The look on my mom’s face when she unwrapped everything, was priceless. Beth and I were so excited that we got it right. We got everything she asked for.
5 days had pasted and my grandma kept us entertained and updated on my mom and dad. I hadn’t seen them since we got the news that my mom was having the baby. Grandma took us out to dinner a few times, the flea market to spend $10 on anything we wanted and even invited my cousin Mike over to spend the night. The night my dad came to my grandma’s, is when I knew something was really wrong. He came in the door and ran right to me and my sister, hugging us both. Kissing us all over. The urgency I felt was alarming. His hugs were so long and tight, it scared me.
“Can we see the baby now daddy?”
“Yes, your mom wants me to bring you to her tonight.”
My grandma put us in her car and we buckled out seat belts as we made our way to UCLA hospital. Which in my mind, I knew right then that something really wrong had happened. I started to feel the familiar lump in my throat. You know the feeling you get when you want to cry but your fighting it for so long. Yeah, that feeling.
We arrived at the underground parking lot. We followed my dad to the room where my mom was. It was about 9pm and my mom was sitting in the hospital bed. I started to feel worried. Is it normal for a mom to be in the hospital this long? Where is the baby?
“Can we see baby Richard?”
“No, not tonight. The nursery is already closed honey.” My mom said in a raspy voice.
“Are you ok mom? Were you crying? Your eyes are puffy and red.” I asked.
“We have something very important to tell you. Sit down ok.”
“Is he coming home with us mom?” I began taking the a seat next to my mom on the bed.
“No, not until he gets better. He has to stay in the hospital because his lungs aren’t working right and he is having a hard time breathing. The doctors are watching him and helping him to get better.”
The rest of the night was a whirlwind. I don’t remember much from that point. It’s hard to remember things when you get such a shocking blow that sends your reality into a blurry sensation of worry, sadness, disappointment.
I had felt this same feeling before but just not as strongly. The odd part to this feeling is that the last time I felt it, I was only 2-1/2 years old when my brother Joshua was born and left in the hospital. The many trips we made every other day to UCLA. We actually brought him home with us at one point. He was still connected to monitors and stuff but he was home. Unfortunately only for one night as his monitors kept beeping and going off making my parents rush him back to the hospital were he eventually ended up staying for a few more weeks until he succumbed to so many different thing’s plaguing his tiny fragile body.
Beth, my dad and I stayed for about an hour. Long enough to hug my mom and kiss her good bye as she promised us she’d be home tomorrow night. Giving us something to look forward to.
The next night was spent with my mom sitting on my grandma’s couch, crying constantly. There was nothing we could do to stop her sobbing. Lord knows we tried. So we were content playing outside on the play set with my cousin Mike.
Two days later my life changed again. My parents were rushing around the house, gathering up thing’s that we might need. Grandma helped me and my sister get out of our pajama’s and into clothes. It was around 9 or 10 pm. My parents got a call from the hospital, telling us that we needed to get to the hospital that he wasn’t going to make it through the night.
This trip to the hospital seemed frantic. I didn’t understand what the rush was as my parents kept their faces straight and emotionless, as well as keeping the impending doom to themselves.
We ran into the hospital and up to the elevator. We reached the third floor when we were greeted by a lady in a blue business suit.
“Hi girls. Your grandma is going to go with your parents to check on your baby brother. Come with me in here and you can play on the chalk board.”
Not really wanting to go, I wanted to stay with my mom and dad. I was tired of being separated from them. We went into a room with a big conference table in the center and chairs all around it. Up on the wall was a chalk board, that we began drawing pictures while the lady started rambling on to us. Talking to us as if we were toddlers.
“Did your parents tell you anything about your baby brother?”
“Yeah, that he’s sick and needs to stay in the hospital to get better. Are we taking him home? Is that why we are here tonight?” I said shortly.
“Your baby brother…”
“Richard. His name is Richard, not baby brother.”
“Richard is getting sicker instead of getting better. I want to talk to you about what to expect when you see him tonight.”
“We get to see him?” said with excitement.
“Yes, your mom and dad want you to meet him.”
“Does he look like me?”
“Sort of honey. He’s got blonde hair like you and blue eyes. But he looks like he’s been sunburned ok. His skin is kind of red.”
“Why?” I asked as we both had stopped writing on the chalk board and took a seat across from the lady in the blue suit.
“Because he can’t expel the toxins inside his body. His kidney’s are shutting down.”
“Is he going to get better?”
“Probably not sweety. The doctors have tried to help him. They’ve tried everything. Your parents are in there with him right now.”
“Can we go in there too?”
“Yes, they are getting him ready, so you can see him. When the phone rings right there, then we can go in.” She said motioning to the phone sitting on the table in the corner.
“Can we color some more on the board?”
“Sure.” We continued coloring until it was us just doodling. I wanted to leave but couldn’t.
Ring. Ring. Ring. We stopped dead in our tracks.
“Are you two ready?” she asked.
“Yes.” We both responded at the same time.
We made our way into the special room where we had to wash our hands and put on a special gown. Beth and I washed up and put the gowns on when my dad entered the room. He hugged us and grabbed our hands leading us over to a plastic bed with my mom standing next to it. Her eyes were watering and she had tissue in her hand. My grandparents were standing on the other side. We both stood up on the foot stool next to the bed. Oh how I was so nervous.
In my mind, I was expecting this creature with 3 fingers, red skin, spewing green stuff, what I wasn’t expecting was a beautiful baby.
He laid there with his tiny feet and tiny hands and itty bitty diaper. He had a couple of chords connected to the big monitor behind his bed. He wasn’t squirming or moving, just laying there. His chest rising and falling with each beep of his heart beat.
“He likes to be touched. You can run your finger across his eye brows if you want.” My mom said.
“no. I don’t want to.” I said feeling like I’d break him if I did. I couldn’t help but feel sad. I just kept pondering the possibilities. He has to get better. Will he always be in the hospital or…is he going to die.
“Mom, is he going to live?”
“No. He isn’t going to make it through the night Alena. I’m sorry. That’s why you are in here. We want you to meet him before he passes away.”
I was shocked, stunned rather. Paralyzed in the moment. What do I do? What do I say? Why is this happening again?
“How much longer until he passes away mom?” I asked trying to be brave and prepare myself.
“We don’t know. But just try to enjoy this moment Alena. Try to just stay with him until you are ready to let go. Are you ok?”
“No. I want to take him home mom. I don’t want to leave him here.”
“We can’t honey. He won’t make it at home.”
My sister had started rubbing his eye brow when one eye slowly popped open. He did have blue eyes. In that moment I knew, I didn’t want to go anywhere. As long as I stayed right next to him, he wouldn’t die. He wouldn’t go anywhere. I would have stayed there forever, if it would have kept him alive.
It was valentines day and we had given him valentine’s cards that we made him which adorned the sides of his crib. About an hour later, my mom and dad told us we could go down to the cafeteria and get an ice cream.
“Good bye baby Richard. I love you.” I said as I stepped down and took the lady in the blue suits hand.
“Bye baby brother. I love you so much.” My sister told him.
We headed down the hall and to the elevator towards the cafeteria with the lady. She bought us our ice cream and we sat in silence eating it. After about an hour we had finished the ice cream, but we just continued to sit there in silence.
“Are you two ok? Do you have any questions that you’d like to ask?” The lady in the blue suit asked.
I looked at Beth and knew I was speaking for both of us. “Can we see our dad now?”
“Yes, of course.”
We walked back to the elevator and reached the third floor for the last time. Stepping out of the elevator, I seen my dad leaning against the wall, with his sunglasses on and his hat pulled down.
“Daddy, are you ok?” I asked as one tear trickled down his cheek. In that moment I realized I had never in my life seen my daddy cry. I put my arms around his waist and hugged him.
“Yes, I’ll be fine Alena.” He responded with a choked up voice. I knew by the sound that he was fighting so stiffly to keep it together. To be strong for us.
“Is he gone daddy?”
“Yes. Your mom is in there holding him.” He said as he grabbed us tighter.
I fought back the tears so strongly. My stomach was hurting and I wanted to just be mad. Mad at someone. Someone for hurting me like this. Hurting my mom and dad. Mad for taking him away from us.
“I need to go to the bathroom daddy.”
“It’s right there,” and he pointed to the ladies room.
I walked into the bathroom and stared at my self in the mirror. Hoping and praying no one would walk in on me. I didn’t want anyone to see me crying. I was so angry and so upset. I wanted the pain in my throat to go away. I wanted to cry for a hundred years if that would ease the pain. I wanted to get to know Richard. I wanted to push him on the swings, I wanted to play with him, feed him, rock him. I wanted a brother to play baseball with. I didn’t want my mom and dad to be crying. I didn’t want to have to take back all the stuff we picked out for him. I began crying and just letting it all out but quietly. I didn’t want anyone to come in with me.
I wiped my face clean and dry with the brown paper towels. I tried to make it look like I wasn’t in here crying. I made a promise to my reflection that I wouldn’t cry over this anymore. I wouldn’t cry or do anything that would upset my parents. I was going to be strong and not be a pain in the ass. I would do whatever it took to make everyone happy. Even if I didn’t want to do it, I would. Because it would stop them from feeling pain and sadness. I wouldn’t mention his name anymore, in fear it would make them cry again.
I walked out to the hallway and my dad was standing there, with his sunglasses still on.
“Are you ok?” He asked.
“YES! I’ll be fine. I just had to go to the bathroom daddy.” I said trying to disguise my shaking voice.
My dad excused himself and went into the bathroom as well. That’s when I heard the loud crashing and banging noises. I heard something loud hit the floor. About twenty minutes later my dad came out. With his knuckles red and his sunglasses still on.
* * * * * *
The rest of the night was a blur as we drove back to my grandparents house, without my baby brother and both parents in the car this time. Walking into my grandma’s house, she comforted me with cereal and a movie in her bedroom. Noting in my head that we were never allowed to eat in her room and yet she was letting me have cereal in bed. I didn’t question her. My sister had fallen asleep on the way back in the car.
The days following the death of my brother Richard were frustrating to say the least. We had to carry on as if nothing happened. My mom was often crying or sleeping or gone some where. My dad went back to work. On weekends we would go to my grandparents house where Beth and I played with my cousin Mike in the back yard. I had to go back to school and pay attention, when all I wanted to do was sit and stare and day dream about my brother and ask God why he took him.
One weekend, I walked out to my grandpa’s garage where my mom and dad were. I normally would have knocked but I wanted to know why everyone was out there. That’s when I opened the door and found my mom crying and my dad consoling her. Oh how I fought the tears upon looking at them.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“Come here.” My mom said. I walked over to her and sat on her knee looking at the white ceramic heart shaped container she held in hands.
“What is that mom?” I inquired.
“This is baby Richards ashes.”
Fight! Fight the tears Alena. DON’T CRY. I ran out of the garage and into the house, right into the bathroom. The next morning we all got dressed as if we were going to the snow. I asked my mom what we were doing and she told me we were going to spread Richards ashes up in the mountains in the snow at Jackson Lake where we all go to have fun.
Through the last week after Richard passed away and before the memorial, I had learned that my beloved cat Blue, had died too. He came down with some disease and made his way back to my bedroom one morning. It slowly took over his body and he finally died while I was at school. I had sat with him until the bus came that morning. So the day of us spreading his ashes, I asked my grandmother, the pastor, to say a prayer for Blue.
Shortly after, we moved to Northern California to start over and try to live happily ever after.