If you were to ask me, I would have had nothing good to say about this year. It's been the most difficult year of my life. I know this is not unique to us, for many this has been the hardest year ever. But ours, it feels, was something especially awful.
We moved three times. First, from our house in southern Arizona to a second-floor apartment in Tennessee that we shared with my two brothers and sister. Four adults, one of them pregnant with twins, one teenage girl, and two small children, all in a three-bedroom, second-floor apartment. The weekend I went into preterm labor with the twins, we were moving from that apartment to a house in another town in Tennessee that we shared with my siblings and my parents. About six weeks after that, we moved from that house in Tennessee to a house in Tempe, Arizona. But before we moved into the new house in Tempe, we lived in two separate houses of two separate friends in the Phoenix area, all while grieving for our youngest son, planning his funeral, and having his funeral. (And thank you friends, for generously opening your homes to us during that time.)
This past year I was pregnant with twins, and it was physically and emotionally the hardest pregnancy I've had. I went into preterm labor with them at 33 weeks due to what was later discovered to be placenta abruption. In hours the birth I had planned at the Farm Midwifery Center turned into a hospital vaginal birth for Llewyn and then a C-section for Emmett. Llewyn was born like lightning, full of energy and power. Emmett flipped breech after Llewyn was born, and because the doctor lacked the skill to deliver a breech baby, I had a C-section. Both boys were in the NICU, Llewyn for around two weeks, Emmett for three. The week Llewyn was home, and Emmett was still in NICU, was a horrible, awful week. I was forever in two places: the hospital to see Emmett, and then home 30 minutes away with my other three kids. I couldn't be in either place enough. Instead of having babies at my breast, I had a hospital grade breast pump. I pumped every 2 to 4 hours around the clock for month. I stopped pumping so often when Emmett came home, but then I was always pumping or breastfeeding, nonstop. I stopped pumping completely when we left Tennessee to return to Arizona. I haven't pumped since, and I hope I never have to ever again. It was a draining, demanding thing to pump exclusively for two babies. Yet it is one of those experiences that really revealed to me my own level of determination and dedication.
This past year my husband's addiction to alcohol reached a head, and between that, the stress of everything externally in our lives, and our own baggage, our marriage began to crumble around us. Over Christmas, the end of the year, I wasn't sure if we would have a marriage in the new one. Many marriages end because of alcohol. Many marriages end because of the death of a child. Many marriages end over the struggle of having a child with autism, like our oldest son. Oh, and money troubles. And moving. So it is no surprise that we hit a place of crisis. What is miraculous is that we are no longer there.
This year my son died. He was exactly one month old, to the hour, in the early hours I woke to find he wasn't breathing. I screamed for my husband, and put Emmett on the beautiful wooden floor of our part of my parents house, and my husband tried to save Emmett's life by performing CPR. However traumatic it was for me, I think he had the worst of it. Because he was trying to save his son's life. I couldn't do that. That's why I put Emmett down, and went for the phone, because I couldn't do that. So it isn't only grief that we navigate, it is also trauma.
I was in the emergency room in Columbia, Tennessee, where a nurse came up to me and told me that it had been half an hour that they had been performing CPR on Emmett, and there was no breath, no heartbeat. I remember the sound of the empty, despairing "No..." that erupted from me as though it was something I overheard; I remember my husband wailing, wailing at the top of his voice. "This wasn't supposed to happen," and "WHY." And I sat there, numb, as he screamed for us both. This year, I told a doctor in the emergency room that it was mine and my husband's call to make when they would stop CPR, not his. I never saw the doctor again. But it *was* our call, and I remember as we walked together into that room and I asked if I could see my son, and my husband told them that they were to stop CPR. And the hospital staff parted like the Red Sea around us and there was my baby and he was gone. Dead.
This year, I sang to Emmett the song I sing to all my kids, but after he died. "I love you, I love you, morning, noon and night. I love you, I love you, you make my world so bright. I love to hear you laugh and sing, learning as you play. When I see your smiling face, this is what I say: I love you, I love you, morning, noon and night. I love you, I love you, you make my world so bright." It was a long time before I could sing that song again, without sobbing and crying for the baby who didn't get to hear it. Sometimes I still can't.
We were with him after his death in the hospital for a little over an hour, I think. I am so thankful for that time. I'm so thankful the nurses were so kind to me, so thankful they told us to stay as long as we needed to. I learned that day that there is something harder than leaving the hospital where your babies are in NICU, and that is leaving your baby's body. The next time I saw Emmett was in his coffin in Arizona, the day before his funeral, and he looked nothing like himself.
This year I buried a son, having never given him a bath. Having never taken a picture of him with his three other siblings. So many experiences lost and stolen from us.
This year wasn't hard, it was trial by fire. I have cursed this year as I went through it, because at one point or another I lost everything.
Until today. Don't mistake me: I curse the experiences. I curse the death. However, I had a realization that changed a few things. It has been almost a year exactly that I found out I was pregnant with what we later learned was the twins. Super Bowl 2014, I couldn't drink beer as I had found out that morning I was pregnant. It's almost Super Bowl again, and in the shadow of that coming anniversary I realize that 2014 is Emmett's year. It was the year he lived, the span of the whole of his life here. 2014 is the only year we had him. Suddenly, 2014 is sacred. It is a sacred space and time, and the trials fall away and all I see is him. 2014 belongs to Emmett.
Emmett means Truth in Hebrew. And that so clearly defines this past year in retrospect. Truth. The truth of who we are, what we are made of, what we have truly sown in our lives, the truth of our relationships, our finances, our habits, the truth of our own patterns of behavior; there is literally nothing left unturned throughout this year. And it was hard and difficult and ugly because we have a lot to change. We are meant to be so much more than our past patterns of behavior. 2014 has been a light into our dark places, showing us where we are weak and where we are strong, and what we have sown.
Yes, now I see: 2014 is sacred. 2015 is the new beginning: it is the rest of our lives, after Emmett. I have no idea what that will look like, but I hope to honor him with every day.