Featured Post

Warcraft Resources for D&D 5e

Man, this is one of those projects I just look at and think "Did I really do all of this?" I've definitely got lost in this do...

Monday, May 12, 2014

Farewell


Today marks three weeks that my son, Carver, died. I had never had someone that close to me die before. I've lost both of my paternal grandparents, but I was a na├»ve teenager when my grandma passed away, and my grandpa had basically been gone due to Alzheimer's for years. A couple of classmates also died in high school, but I didn't know them that well. But this... not only was I present during his first and last minutes of his life, but he was my offspring—my very flesh and blood. I learned a lot from this ordeal. I would never wish the emotions of loss and sadness I experienced on April 21, 2014 on anyone, but since I was chosen to experience it, I figured you may as well benefit from hearing Carver's story, and the things I learned about life, family, and God.


The Human Body is so Precise and Delicate
When Karen and I went into the doctor's office in December to find out the gender of our baby, we didn't expect to find out the worrisome (to say the least) news that our boy had a diaphragmatic hernia. You can look it up for more details, but suffice it to say for simplicity's sake that he had a hole in his diaphragm and he was in danger of having his organs and bowels float up and crowd his heart and lungs. It was a complete wild-card sort of birth defect—no genetic cause, no relevant statistics of survival... we were basically in the dark for the rest of the pregnancy. Even when MRI results showed things were getting worse we just pulled the "wild card" and said they could be wrong, and his lungs would probably be fine. We mustered all the hope and optimism we had for the remaining four months till he would be born.

Hope and Optimism Keep You Going
The day finally came when we could stop worrying and finally just see what would happen. After a much harder pregnancy than Karen had had with our first daughter, Arlee, Carver came into the world. He looked just like his older sister had when she was born. They cut his cord and whisked his tiny form through a window in the wall to the NICU, where they could stabilize him and prepare him for surgery in a day or two, all the while Carver having a typical angry newborn expression on his face, not making a sound. They let us know soon afterward that he had been successfully stabilized, and we breathed yet another sigh of relief. We felt, as we had for months, that he would be a fighter and would get through this. My family came in to congratulate and combine their hope with ours. After a time, the NICU doctor came in and told us things did not look good. They had Carver on a breathing machine that was giving him 100% oxygen (we only need 20%), and he was still not getting enough and getting too much carbon dioxide. In so many words, the doctor said that Carver just didn't have a chance of survival, even if they put him on ECMO, the lung and heart bypass machine that was usually a last resort for diaphragmatic hernia babies. Our little boy was perfect—he just didn't have any lungs at all.

Miracles Don't Always Happen
We told the doctor that we were Latter-day Saints, and asked if we could give our boy a blessing. He told us we absolutely could, and in a blur that was the longest walk of my life, we were all there in the NICU together. On a little bed, hooked up to IVs and tubes and hoses, was our little baby son. He was unconscious with relaxing morphine, his stomach was vibrating with rapid breaths of pure oxygen from the machine, and his chest was swollen with all of the organs that shouldn't be up there, above his tiny belly. He looked like a miniature body builder. My wife had done her job as a mom, had suffered so that this bundle of joy could come into the world, and now it was my turn as the father to give him a priesthood blessing. What would I say? Would I rebuke his hernia and command him to be healed in the name of Jesus Christ? Would he gasp and suddenly start breathing on his own, to the amazement of everyone around? Carver's two grandfathers, my dad and father-in-law, stood with me as we placed our fingers on Carver's head. I began the blessing, giving him a name, and then blessing him. As tears streamed down my face I proclaimed him too pure to live in this horrible world, and blessed him to be safe and warm in his final hours on earth, to know how much we loved him and would miss him. The nurses tried one more medication on him to try and get his lungs to expand, but it didn't do anything. The doctor showed me an X-ray, pointing out the positions of various organs and whatnot, but all I saw was an image of ribs and a breathing tube.

The Spirit is Distinctly Separate from the Body
For the next three hours, we got to hold Carver while he was still hooked up to his tubes, and let Carver's grandparents and uncles and aunt say goodbye. We sang to him, telling him how much we would miss doing things with him and showing him all the beautiful things on earth. Karen talked to him a lot, but I said little. I just couldn't stop looking at his ears—they were pointy, just like mine. It was a stark and painful reminder that he was my literal son. He even opened his eyes for us a couple of times, and held our fingers. It was incredible how just one tiny error, one miniscule miscalculation in his genetic code had caused such a fatal state in such a handsome, perfect little baby. We wanted to hold his little body forever, but our own mortal bodies were backed up on sleep, exhausted and hungry, and soon it was time to say our final goodbye. The nurses gave him one last dose of morphine to ease his nerves and body, we took his tubes and hoses out, and held him in our arms as the life and warmth slowly faded from his little frame. He looked so handsome, so perfect without the bothersome tube down his throat. His face looked like an angel's, deep in sleep. We promised him we would do whatever it took to be with him again someday, and raise him as our own when his body and spirit were reunited. I have never wept so freely in my entire life.
In time, it didn't feel like we were holding a human being anymore. His skin looked different. It was as if a glow had faded from his body. His spirit had moved on, leaving behind this little mortal body. The doctor measured his heartbeat with a stethoscope and said his heartbeat was still there but faint, but I think in a spiritual sense he was already gone.

People Grieve in Different Ways
Carver only lived for six and a half hours. He only experienced life in two rooms. He never saw the outdoors, he never got to taste food or drink, or feel the wind or rain or sun on his face. As far as he knew, life was floating inside a womb, and then it was a moment of horrible, dry, bright coldness, and then it was a warm dream that lasted only a few hours more. That first day was the longest day of my life, but when it was finally over I felt peace. It wasn't hard for me to see Carver's body later at the mortuary, the viewing, and the funeral. To me, that wasn't him. He didn't look the same. His face wasn't how I remembered it during those heart-wrenching hours in the hospital. I knew Carver was in a better place, and I felt like I could move on. Karen, of course, had and is still having a much harder time. After all, she carried him for nine months, felt him kick her in the ribs and bladder, and gave birth to him. Such a tiny amount of time in the hospital was probably not long enough for me to properly bond with him. This is probably lucky, since Karen needs my support and love more than any other time. We both know that we'll have more children, and the odds that another child will have a diaphragmatic hernia are next to nil; but that doesn't make it easier for Karen, and I completely understand that. That's why, I think, God designed the family to have a nurturing mother and a supportive, protective father. We complete each other. We're opposite and equal, like two wings on a plane. It may take her years, or decades, to completely grieve for Carver, but that's all right. With something like this, that no one could ever prepare for in a million years, that seems a reasonable price to pay.

We Have So Much to Be Grateful For
We are so grateful that this did not happen to our first child. Our daughter Arlee was and is the biggest light in this dark time we could have asked for. Our heart reaches out to less fortunate couples who have lost their first child and now live in uncertainty. We are so grateful that we could have given birth to Carver in the most well-organized and professional children's hospital in the US. Carver couldn't have had a better chance anywhere else, and the nurses did absolutely everything to help us through it, from breaking the rules on how many family members are allowed in the NICU at a time to making prints of his hands and feet for us.
We are grateful that we no longer need to worry about Carver. Whereas every new step of life brings new worries to our mind concerning Arlee's safety, health, and well-being, Carver is safe. He is happy,
and will be forever. Yes, he never experienced life as we know it, but he never tasted temptation either, or pain, or sickness, or heartache.
We are grateful for the countless bouquets we recieved, the cards, the condolences, the money donations for Carver's headstone. We have been overwhelmed by the kindheartedness of our family and friends, and even people we do not know. It's times like this when you truly see the light side of humanity and are grateful for it.
We are grateful that we can now mourn with others who go through similar trials in days to come. Though we do not look forward to those times, we know that our experience can help others feel peace.
Things could be so much worse. They are worse for so many other parents out there, and we pray for them. Most of all, I'm grateful to know that, because Karen and I were sealed in the temple of God by one who has priesthood authority, we will see Carver again.

We Like to Talk about Carver!
Carver's Tree, planted three days after his funeral. It is a type of tree
that will blossom white every spring around his birthday.
This is perhaps the most interesting thing I learned: People who lose loved ones do not want to forget about them! Of course you must give families sufficient time to mourn, but after a reasonable time, bring up their loved one! Ask them how they are feeling. Don't just ignore the issue and pretend it didn't happen. It did happen, and it was hard at the time, but life moves on, and as it does we always want to remember the good things about the past. It was interesting to be on the other side of tragedy and learn this. It's something I may have never understood without experiencing something like this first-hand, but it's true. Bring up the ones who have been lost. The person may still be grieving. They may weep as they talk about who they miss so dearly. But they will also feel joy as they release feelings and feel your support.
I'll never forget Carver. As far as I'm concerned, I have two beautiful children. One of them is just somewhere else right now, but I can't wait till the day when I can introduce him to you and show you his little elf ears that are just like his dad's.

8 comments:

  1. Austin and Karen, we want you to know what a tremendous example you are to us! Carver was truly a valiant spirit! Thank you for sharing your feelings through this post. I cried not only due to the tender nature of what you shared, but also because of your gift of writing. May you be blessed in all you do and know that you are having an influence for good.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Austin, I loved reading this! I lost my family when I was eleven years so I can understand the grieving process, though I haven't lost a child quite like you have. Whenever I drive by your parents house, and I see the tree, I see life and hope springing forward and that y you will be able to have more children to bring into this world with your wonderful family. Please let me know if Brent or I could help you in any way!! Much love, the Sessions.

    ReplyDelete
  3. We love you guys! Thank you for your examples!!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hang in there. What a beautiful post. Thanks for your words of wisdom, and for passing them on to the world.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Beautiful! What a beautiful boy. Thanks for your testimony. I'm so grateful that we have this gospel and that we have this knowledge that you will be with your little boy again. What a beautiful day that will be.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Austin- this is beautiful beyond words, just like your beautiful little Carver and your beautiful family. We love you all so much and are blessed by your faith, example, and tears of love for your son. Thank you for sharing the feelings of your heart and these mortal and spiritual lessons with us.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Austin, thank you for your testimony--it has strengthened mine. Your words are beautiful and absolutely inspiring. I'll be praying for you and your sweet family. Carver is blessed to have such faithful parents. I'm so thankful families can be forever! Love to you all.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Thank you for this. As a father, I can finally understand (if not fully) just how heart-wrenching & difficult that must have been. Your faith & strength are admirable.

    ReplyDelete

I love feedback and suggestions. Please comment with your thoughts!