It was the sign we all waited for…all of those days hoping and praying. We waited for my son to open his eyes.
Surely, after that happened he would be on his road to recovery.
I watched as doctors and nurses began a battery of simple tests. It’s still amazing to me that with all the high tech machines available it’s the simple things that reveal the most. Like shining a pen light into his pupils, and slowly moving an index finger before him and see if he would follow. I watched the neurologist touch a closed safety pin to the white of his eyes. Nurses would press down hard and fast on his chest and apply painful pressure to his fingernails and toenails using the base of an ink pen.
The constant asking if he could squeeze the hand that was placed in his.
If you can hear me, Michael, blink your eyes for me. Can you hear me?
He would only stare blank into space.
I started to hear murmurings about his body movements. Did he flail with his arms out to the side? Or did he jerk inward?
When a pen is scraped hard against the bottom of his foot, do his toes curl in or do they fan out? Does he try to jerk his foot away?
These are tiny little signs and reactions that we all take for granted. Little nuances of the body’s reflexes and responses that are so automatic and mechanical.
It was clear to see that from the beginning of these tests that my son was not passing them. He would hate knowing that because he didn’t like to fail at anything. He was always an A student.
Over the days it was becoming clear that my son was not going to recover.
My son’s brain had regressed to an infantile state.
It’s hard to look back on the idea that my son was not the same, but I have to admit something. There was also something incredibly sweet about it sometimes.
I know it sounds like I am reaching here…and maybe I am (I suppose I am). There were times when I would wipe sweat off of his forehead he would open his eyes and stare blank into space. I really believed he could see me…or at least the image of me.
There was one specific time that remains etched in my memory. I was loving on him and telling him (probably the thousandth time) how much I love and adore him. I wasn’t really looking for any response in particular. Oh, I guess I thought that just maybe he would snap out of it and be normal again right up until the very last breath.
There was a moment of concentrated expression on his face. Most of the time, his eyes would not focus on anything and seemed to always be blank, gray, and lifeless. There was a moment when he focused in on me…a moment when his gaze met mine and a sign of recognition landed on his face. It was reminiscent of the time he was only a few days old, and I would talk into his face and watch and wait for him to connect with me. For that one precious moment there was a sweet, sweet recognition , he knew me.
I know it was real because a warmth spread over me. I was no longer afraid in that fleeting moment…all of the tiredness and the tension and the fear simply drained right out of me.
I kept this experience to myself and told no one. I tucked that moment safe in my heart and locked it away. It was mine to have and to hold.
Once as I stood at the side of his bed with a friend of Michael’s standing on the other, the most remarkable thing happened. I had my hand on his forehead and was stroking his face (and if you’ve read that before…well, that just goes to show you I hardly ever took my hands off of him.) I was talking to Michael and saying all the same things I said over and over and over again…I remember thinking that if he could he would sit up and say
“alright already…mom, it’s enough now.”
But let me tell you that a smile came over his face. A sweet, sweet, loving smile that came over him not only once, but twice. He smiled right at me. I know without a doubt that is true because his friend saw it, too.
A rush of familiar feelings washed over me. Emotions resurfaced of the first days, weeks, and months when I watched his face as an infant. I was so afraid back then. Clueless but so very much in love.
The only difference was that I couldn’t cradle him in my arms any more. I couldn’t scoop him up, nuzzle his neck and most of all…I could not have an assurance of a future.
All of those amazing milestones of life that once laid out before him are now behind him. I worry now that I didn’t have enough appreciation of it all when he was a newborn. I didn’t fully grasp the idea that it was the greatest treasure of my life, and here I was reliving it. We had come full circle in a way, Michael and me.
Except it wasn’t supposed to be this way.
I know how deeply blessed I have been. I know that I have had a beautiful experience knowing my son and watching him grow up. I’ve seen him work, set up house, and have children of his own. These are things we want to see when we set out having children.
The truth is he wasn’t supposed to be the one in that hospital bed, I was. I thought it would be me laying there all old and satisfied and ready to die. It’s the way we all envision it. We never think too hard about it, really. We just assume it’s going to turn out that way.
I can’t help thinking how lovely that would have been. As morbid as that sounds…I would have loved to have lived old and gray and dying… and he would be the one holding my hand.