Two years ago today, we had to say goodbye to Isabel. I don’t talk about this day too much but it feels wrong to let the day slide by without honoring it in its own terrible beauty.
Bill had gone home the night before to be with Talia but I stayed overnight in a room right next to the ICU. That morning, I went into the room and it was tangibly apparent that Isabel wasn’t with us. (Whenever we left the ICU for any reason and came back, it was apparent every time we walked back in the room. Not because of her appearance, but in a deeper sense of understanding.)
I spent that morning alone with Izzy, talking with nurses. A team came in to take plaster and ink impressions of her hands and cut a lock of hair for me to keep. I was in a shock so deep I wouldn’t fully emerge until sometime in November, but I remember peace that day. A lot of peace.
Bill came back and late that night the incredible staff at Stanford Hospital began the process of moving her bed and all its attendant equipment downstairs, to be adjacent to an OR so that she could give her organs to those who needed them. That walk down endless hallways as we followed the 15-person crew will forever be the worst collection of moments of my life. I held Bill’s hand and that of Dr. C, Isabel’s primary cardiologist. Dr. K, the doctor in charge of her case at the ICU walked with us and Bill joked to him that I only held hands with the most handsome men (which was funny since Dr K was very handsome, but I only had two hands 🙂
At one point, I nearly fainted. The walls grayed out and I started to go down. Bill and Dr. C held me up and asked me if I needed to stop. Yes. I needed all of this to stop, but it couldn’t. In the room next to a curtained off OR, it took a lot of time to remove the ECMO tubes and pumps and respirators. We held her hand in ours.
Then it was time and we stood up, because you stand up to honor the person who is leaving, who has left, and the time has come to let their body go. Dr. K put a stethoscope to her chest and within seconds reported she had gone. I kissed her and cried and then they had to take her quick.
We said thanks to the team for all they had done, the nurses and doctors crying with us, and then we went back to a now-empty ICU room to take down her drawings, take the flowers and balloons, and go. Dr. C and Dr. K stayed with us, down the lobby where it was clear to the front desk staff without words that parents were leaving the children’s hospital without their child.
That night, Bill held onto each other and cried and the peace was all gone. At least for a long while. There was only the yawning absence that, to this day, is still hard to fathom and whacks me with its enormity from time to time. Like staring down into a deep chasm that you cannot comprehend could be that deep. Bottomless.
But the peace does come back. Slowly. In bits and pieces. Here and there, punctuated by large swaths of terrible grief. But time does help and remembering and honoring the clues and serendipities that she left us. The little miracles. They are there in every instance, every departure. Some are harder to spot but if you open your heart, you can see them. And they will help, because even when the grief hits hardest, I think to those moments and signs and I know that we made this pact, she and I. That the signs are to remind me of it, since we have all forgotten from where we came.
And I know that I’ll see her again.