Taking respite from these intense memories, I get up to refill my coffee mug. Through the kitchen window, I notice the tulip tree across the street is in bloom. Then, I notice my free hand resting at the base of my neck, the way it does when I’m at work, trying to figure out what to do next for my patient’s comfort.
I return to my armchair, and resume writing in my journal.
I remind myself that my parents were younger than I am now when Joel died. As a PICU nurse, I believe there are few fates, if any, worse than losing a child. Most parents I’ve encountered have told me they would do anything to take the place of their child in the hospital bed, and I’ve believed everyone of them.
For awhile, my parents were completely lost after Joel’s death, overwhelmed by their grief. I wasn’t allowed to go to his funeral, though I begged. Instead, I was left with a babysitter. I cried the whole time. My grandparents picked me up from the sitter’s house, and took me back home after everything was over.
In the weeks that followed, my father spent more and more time at work, earning overtime to help pay off the accumulated medical bills. My mother became a ghost of herself, spending much of her days in bed, barely speaking. My grandmother stayed with us another week after the funeral, getting groceries, making meals, and coaxing mom to eat. Before she left us, Grandma stocked our refrigerator, and made multiple casseroles which she froze for Dad to reheat when he came home from work. Often he was home late, however, so I made myself peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dinner. When Dad realized this was happening, he showed me how to heat in the microwave small portions of the casseroles that he put out in the morning to thaw. I tried to get Mom to eat some too, like Grandma did, but she never would.
Grandma came to visit often. She and Mom had long talks in her bedroom with the door closed. I couldn’t hear what they said, but often I heard either Mom, or both of them, crying.
Grandma taught me to make my bed, and how to dust. I hoped Mom would see I was taking good care of us when Dad was at work, and it would help her get better.
I was in 4th grade when Mom and Dad announced I was going to have a baby brother or sister. They made sure I understood that another baby would never replace our Joel, who would live forever in our hearts, but they felt that it was time to grow our family with the addition of another child. “it’ll be good for all of us, don’t you think, Niki?”
I didn’t know what to think. I hoped Joel wouldn’t think I didn’t love him anymore. I prayed, hoping he could hear me in heaven.