It’s a muggy October afternoon in 2006. My phone rings and the voice on the other end is quiet, anxious even, as if the words themselves will cut like knives. Time will stand still. Words will come out. Words that will burn deep into my soul. Fear starts to flood through my body in gigantic waves, stripping away the ability to be rational…I’m lost in a blur of screams, of bewilderment, of disbelief…this can’t be happening.
Five hours later we’re in a room outside the doors of the ICU unit in Sydney…scared as all fuck of what lies behind them. We decide it’s better for him if our toddler is left behind with a friend nine hours away in an entirely different state from where I now stand. But I want to hug him. He should have come too. My head starts to question the choice to leave him. No. It’s too much, he’s too little.
More words fill the still air…cardiac arrest, spinal injury, critical care…
Even 10 years later I can still see the woman in the RPA Hospital, the one on TV with critical care patients being rushed out of an ambulance on a gurney down the corridors to intensive care. She’s hunched over, the heavy fear for what lies behind those doors dragging down on her shoulders. Fifteen years. That’s how long we’d been together before that long October day. Half our lives. Jesus Christ, we were only kids when we met. I don’t even recognise my own voice it’s filled with so much desperation pleading with them to please do all you can to save his life. I want the doctors to understand. I have a son, I tell them, he needs his daddy. You have to do everything you can, everything.
It’s three more hours before we’re let in to see him. Hours of twisting my hands inside out of fear painting all kinds of fucked up visuals in my head. Doctors say something about stabilising him…they’re doing all they can. You just need to wait…we’re sorry.
Each word spoken in quiet hushed tones.
Critical care. Nothing about those words is comforting. I’m aware there is very little possibility of a positive outcome and it becomes a one-sided waiting game and we’re stuck staring down the barrel of all the ammunition facing us at once. It’s a time suspension, the outcome in the hands of the doctors doing every fucking thing they can, they put tubes into him, monitors are hooked up, a tiny patch is shaved into the side of his head, some of the nation’s best specialists gathered shoulder-to-shoulder in that unit fighting for him…we’re all fighting for him but only fate will decide what happens next.
Seventy-two hours in ICU will pass like mother fucking weeks.
Sitting beside his hospital bed, my own needs pale into insignificance. I won’t eat. I don’t want to sleep, I can’t leave him alone in that ward, my hands tightly wrapped around his reminding him of everything we’d been through and all we had ahead of us. Hoping beyond hope his eyelids would flicker and beautiful blue eyes would open and look at me. Please don’t go. Don’t leave us.
For three days doctors will come and go from the room, mostly looking down when they exit as if making eye contact will make it all the more real. A group of our closest friends and family have flown in and we’re all holding each other helplessly in a room just outside the ward. I’m not sure I knew the true purpose of friendship before that day when each of them dropped everything in their own lives and flew to be by his side, by my side, trying to hold me together as the seams began to split. They did it then and for all the years after. The very same friends who, to this day, keep true to their promise made to his dad as he lay silent on a gurney to keep watch over his boy. No gesture can ever repay them for our survival.
How can life be so fucking cruel…? One minute he’s there laughing with your son, standing right in front of you living, laughing, breathing…the next they’re telling you he can no longer breathe on his own, his heart no longer beats by itself. There is nothing more they can do.
It’s Sunday, 5.45pm…the last time I’ll ever see his face, touch his skin. We’re sorry. We’ve done all we can…
Before then October 8 was like any other day. It was a Monday, a Tuesday, a sunny day, a cloudy day, a shitty day, a fucking fantastic day…a normal day. Now it’s a reminder of loss and grief and just how fragile life is. The day my life and that of all our family, friends and so very devastatingly my boy, changed forever. Grief doesn’t let go when you lose someone you love so tragically, you’ll carry it around with you in a pocket inside your heart and even though you want to so bad, you can’t seem to let it go. A stray dog that keeps coming back scrounging around for a little bit more of you, your heart, your head always hiding in the shadows.
There will never be normal again. Before I could control my fear, with no more fear than a mum would for her son, or any person would have for their partner. Now it’s impossible to let go of the cloud of fear over my heart when The Vet is late home from a ride, or work. When the 12 y o travels on his own. When he tells me he wants to do exactly what his dad did. Fear’s a constant companion all because of that day. The day that not only took my husband, his daddy, but the day that took my normal.
If I could go back to the doors of the Intensive Care Unit and talk to the broken woman standing before the greatest fear of her life, gently slip my hand inside hers and tell her it’s all beyond her control, nothing she can do will change what’s about to happen. The decisions she’s about to make will rock her to the core and haunt her until her own very last breath, that everything she’s about to do, every choice she makes will shape the lives of everyone she holds close…but they will all be the right one. It’s out of your control.
The weeks and months after that day were the loneliest of my life. A shitload of firsts were about to hit us. Telling your son his dad has gone forever. Burying the person you were meant to grow old with. Keeping all his clothes in the wardrobe just so you can remind yourself of what he smelled like. Sneaking your sleeping toddler into bed with you because the cold side of the bed is too much loneliness to cope with. Saving his voicemail message just so you can pretend he’s still there. Rebuilding your life. Selling your house and letting go of dreams. Opening mail that’s still addressed to him two years later.
Time has given way to pain and hurt leaving space to learn from loss. Keeping the people I love close and thanking them every day for being the blood pumping through my veins. It’s shown me everything eventually does get better and we all can heal with time…but mostly, with love. That someone can come and pick your life up and put it back together, show you it’s possible to heal, to love again. Who has the biggest heart of anyone you’ve ever met but who has an incredible humility to still let you honour someone who had been in your heart before him. A man who not just loves you but loves your baby like his own, who will make your heart burst when he tells him he loves him and never differentiates between blood and heart.
A decade on and the same tiny whispy-haired boy who climbed up and lovingly placed a hand on his daddy’s casket as it was loaded into the hearse is two just months away from being a teenager. He never got the chance to know his daddy who adored his tiny boy in every way possible, who said nothing would ever take him away from the best thing that ever happened to us. Next weekend the 12 y o will travel to the place I never can. He’ll visit the mountain, smell the octane, feel the throat of engines reverberate through his little frame. He’ll watch as the cars crest the hill where tragedy struck but without the fear in the pit of his stomach I have. It will be about tracing his steps, loving what he loved and living what he lived.
I can’t change this past decade but it has taught me about love, completely emptied my life with loss but it’s reminded me about the importance of living too. In a few days, his closest mates will come together to celebrate a man who left our lives too soon. The same group of guys who sank beers at his 21st, our wedding and his 30th. Who were there by his side as he took his last breath. Who have kept the memories alive for me and for the 12 y o. Who will honour a mate, a brother, uncle, son and husband…a man who still leaves a gaping hole in our lives, on October 8, and every other day after it too, I Will Remember You…forever and always. God Speed, good man, god speed. #10yearsinmyheart Lov n’hugs, Lady MamaG xox