November arrives, and brings with it so much excitement and anticipation. The years first snowfalls delight children, and adults who feel like children and the promise of Christmas coming soon. For my family, November is a month of celebration, of birthdays for Avery and Landon, my mom and niece Anna, and for Everett. Don't forget Everett. Of course we never could, never would. But strangely, come November, a new and much higher degree of awareness of Everett washes over me. November ushers in so much happiness, but it also ushers in the grieving season. All my Everett senses are heightened. Suddenly, I can feel him.
The first snows that stick to the cars and the grass bring flash backs to looking out the window at Sick Kids, it's snowing, and I'm thinking, maybe he'll be home at our local NICU for Christmas. Those birthday candles Landon picked out for his cake, the ones shaped like Lego bricks, I'm wondering what candles would Everett want on his birthday cake. On his 6th birthday cake. Six years have vanished before my eyes. Time passed so astonishingly fast, how time has distanced me from him, and how miraculous it is that come November, I am right there again at his bedside. I walk in the doors at work, the dialysis doors that are right next to the pediatrics entry, labor and delivery is straight ahead, the air smells different in this part of the hospital, and something as simple as a breath of that smell, and I'm standing at the payphone just inside these doors, and I'm talking to my dad and I'm bawling about his heart, Everett's heart, and I'm telling him how sick he is. Or I'm standing by the nursing station while the team from Sick Kids stabilizes Everett for transfer, and Elvis is there and he's inconsolable, he's crying so hard he is breathless, he's terrified and I'm holding him. It takes only the scent of the hospital linens this time of year, and it's November 2007.
At the time, in the thick of it, Sick Kids felt like an awful place to be. After Everett passed away I walked away from Sick Kids and I vowed I never wanted to set foot in it again. I was overcome with anger and grief and I never wanted to be reminded of that place and that battle that defeated my son. As time went on, those feelings that repelled me faded and in 2011 I found myself at Sick Kids once more, accompanying a friend who worked there. She left us there in that same lobby as she went to conduct some work business, and I sat in those same tables Elvis and I ate at while we were there with him. I looked up at his floor, the hallway that led to his wing, I watched people ride up and down the elevators we rode it, I listened to the familiar fountains, I used the same washroom, saw the same murals. To my eyes, to my ears, to my nose, it was EXACTLY the same. It could have been November/December 2007. Everett could have been upstairs waiting for me. He could have been alive. I could have had hope. Everything was exactly as it was then. And instead of being overcome with the guilt I expected would arrive, I felt unexpectedly content. Happy almost. Happy to pretend for that very short time that I was back then, I felt closer to Everett then I had in a very, very long time. It felt, dare I say it, good. I went to the gift shop where we bought our Bravery Bead necklaces, our symbols of solidarity and love for Everett, and bought a matching bracelet, and put it on my wrist, and felt something tying now to then. And I walked out of that building with a hesitancy I didn't expect, the closer I got to the doors, to the parking lot, to the street, the greater the pull to go back got. I wanted to stay. I could have stayed all day. Leaving felt like leaving him, all over again. Lately I've been thinking I want to go back. I want to sit in that little food court. I want to walk down that hallway to the Tim Hortons and the little vending machines that give out miniature Care Bears figurines. I want to go to that gift shop and buy some piece of jewelry. Bolder still, I want to ride up those elevators, I want to walk down that hallway, and I want to enter that waiting room just outside his wing. I want to sit on those couches we waited on endlessly and I want to just feel. I want to feel whatever emotions come my way. I want to pretend that Everett is through those double doors, the last room on the left in his hallway, the bed in the back left corner, he had a nurse named Stephanie I believe, and she was Scottish. He laid in open bed with a warmer above it, he had a flannel sheet folded beneath him with sea turtles on it, his lamb we bought him (and one for Landon too) was in the upper left corner of his bed, by his head at the start, his feet near the end. I want to pretend I'm crouched down at his bedside, or perched on one of those awkward white metal stools, and hold his hand, and touch is cheeks, and emplore him once more, "please don't go". I can't be sure if it happened or if I just wanted it to happen, but the day he died, when we were huddled at his bedside making these huge decisions about his life, I held his hand and he looked at me, just one eye opened, but he looked at me. I hope he really did, I hope that moment was the incredibly meaningful deep connecting moment I've remembered it as.
November arrives and suddenly my memories light up and Everett is suddenly quite alive in my head, so vivid these memories can be that my even my senses feel uncertain of what's real.
I can hear the sounds of his monitors alarming, I can hear his little bleating cry.
I can smell the hospital smells.
I can see him laying there in various stages of his life.
All these senses bring me back to his life.
But my arms, these haunted arms, only remember the weight of his body in death. Heavy from fluid and the excess blankets he was wrapped in, unyeilding, and cold. These haunted arms, desperate to recall what it felt like when he was placed in my arms wailing and pink, and only for a split second after his birth. Whisked away and intubated right away, unable to be held for a few days more, then suddenly so sick, on a helicopter ride to Toronto, held only once or twice, we shuttled from our NICU where Landon was to Sick Kids to see Everett, who was then intubated again, unholdable, then operated on. An open sternum for the last two weeks of his life, unholdable. On the day he passed away the Dr's worked fast hoping to place him in my arms alive, they were too late. The longest period of time I ever held my Everett was when he was newly gone. I held him close, I cradled him, I kissed him, I studied his face, his puffy little face, his hair, where they shaved a spot for a IV, then a sensor left a funny little bald spot. And the weight of him, not really him at all, the weight of what we did to him, that's what my arms remember.
Sunday we'll celebrate Landon and Avery's birthday's, 6 and 8 years old. Landon will blow out his candles and open his gifts and my heart will celebrate him, my smile will be genuine, because Landon delights and amazes me. I'm awestruck over that little boy. None of it will be for show. The love and appreciation I have for my living children is consuming, it fuels me. But the grief, the haunted arms, the longing heart, the memories that are so strong and so calling, they're very real too, especially this time of year. The memories from this time of year, six years ago, of Everett, of his life and of his death, though they may be at times quite macabre, are also quite welcome.
Everett can haunt me any day.
Grieving season is as welcome as Christmas. It brings him close enough to see, to hear, to smell, to feel. That alone is a blessing.