On Tuesday, David and I got to the hospital around noon again. This time there was no meeting.
It was Jane’s last day.
As I had the day before, as soon as I saw her lying in her bed, I started to cry, and, as soon as I could, I sat down to hold her. After a short time the nurse asked if I wanted to be skin-to-skin again.
“There are visitors,” I said, but she told me she could pin some blankets over my shoulders, so I said yes. She called in another nurse to help and they put Jane’s body on mine and I placed each of her arms on my breasts and wrapped her legs around my waist, then leaned back in the chair.
After a while, there was a call on the room’s intercom.
“David’s boss is here with his family,” the receptionist told us. “Can they come in?”
I smiled. “Yes,” I said. “Let them in.”
He and his wife and daughter came in the room and saw my bare arms and saw my tears and they were very nice and they understood.
A few hours went by and more visitors came. Eventually, I had to use the bathroom so I got dressed and gave the baby to David. He took off his shirt and held Jane skin-to-skin, too, and, as he did so, his face was very happy and very sweet. Then David’s sister held her for a while, and, after that, Andrea.
When Andrea held her, David and his family were already out of the room, so I decided to leave, too, and give them some time alone. I went to the waiting room for a while, then went back inside.
Andrea was still holding Jane and she looked very happy and very sad at the same time.
We sat quietly for a while. Then we started talking about the meaning of Jane’s life.
“Do you think she knows we’re here?” I asked.
“Yes,” Andrea said. “I think that the important part of her is still here, even though her mind is gone; who she really is is here.”
We were quiet again. Then, after a while, I said, “I used to be religious.” I didn’t just say it for no reason; I wanted to find out what she believed about such things. “Anyone this good and this kind,” I thought, “Must know something I don’t.”
“You were?” she said.
“Yeah,” I said. “It was nice.”
“What do you think about religion?” I asked.
She paused and looked away. Then, slowly and carefully, she gave me her answer.
“I am a very spiritual person,” she said. “I read about it and I meditate and it is important to me, but I am not religious in the typical sense of the word.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I like that.”
And, right then—right at that moment—I think I came back to God.
I have always believed in God. Ever since I was old enough to believe anything, I’ve believed in something beyond this great green place. When I was maybe six years old, in fact, I spoke in tongues for the first time. If you don’t already know about speaking in tongues, I’ll just mention that it is believed to be a way to communicate with God in words that you yourself may not be able to interpret.
When I spoke in tongues for the first time, I was not thinking. I was not speaking on my own. The words just came out without me even knowing what had happened.
I guess that’s what is so great about being a child.
My sister was sitting next to me and after I was done, she asked my mother if she could do it, too. So, my mom prayed for her and the same thing happened to her that happened to me and I saw it happen, and it was amazing.
And nothing like it has ever happened to me since.
But I kept believing. And I’ve never stopped. Not because I spoke in tongues, though.
Because I think that belief makes sense.
Now, I won’t start preaching to you—after all, it won’t change your mind about anything and anyway I like you just the way you are, I really do. But I do want to tell you a little more about this because after all, this is a story about what happened to my baby and what happened to me after that.
As I said, I’ve always believed in God and I’ve always been a spiritual person. But when I was in high school and for my first few years of college, I was really spiritual. I wasn’t just inclined to believe a certain way; I was actually trying really hard to change myself and to be a better person.
And, as I said to Andrea, it was nice.
No matter what I was doing, there was always a purpose to it—a real purpose, not just a love-others-and-be-kind kind of purpose. Everything I did meant something—or seemed to, anyway.
Then things happened. I won’t go into the details here as they are unimportant, but I will just say that as a result of these things, I could no longer believe the same things I used to believe and, as is so common among college students, I lost my faith. Not all of it—but all of the part that, at the time, made it meaningful.
And then, I graduated. And then, I did the usual things and learned how to be happy without the help of religion.
I became like everybody else.
I got married, which made me happy for a while. I got divorced, which also made me happy. I went onto the internet and found a very good man, David, who is either an atheist or an agnostic depending on how you phrase the question, and soon after that I knew that no matter what, I would never let him get away from me, even if it meant losing my religion entirely.
And then, at some point—maybe a while into the relationship or maybe at the very beginning, when I first fell in love with him, long before I knew for sure we’d be together for good, but just knew I wanted to be—David became my religion.
Not literally, of course. He was still just David.
But I lived for him. He did not ever hurt me, and our love was as real as I’ve ever known love could be, and I am an old-fashioned girl anyway who likes looking up to someone I think is better than me and so, I let my love for him take over a great part of the meaning of my life.
In other words, I lived to be happy.
By that time I had learned a lot about the subject of happiness. I had made a lot of mistakes and assumed a lot of things that weren’t true. For instance, I used to believe that if you were very good, and very spiritual, happiness would just come to you as a matter of course. As it turned out, though, life isn’t like that; if I wanted to be happy, I realized, I’d have to make myself that way.
And I did. I looked for a good partner, which, fortunately, I found. I looked for a good city and I moved there. I started doing the kind of work I loved—all in the same year.
And, finally, I was happy.
And happiness—living the good life, as I called it—became everything to me.
Then came Jane.
And somehow, in the time that I knew her, I realized something: I wanted to be spiritual again.
I wanted to believe in something higher than myself.
I wanted to believe in miracles.
And that is why spirituality, to me, is relevant again. It’s not just something I think about or an interesting topic of conversation; right now, it feels like a lifeline, like a rope thrown out to a drowning person.
I don’t know where the rope came from. I don’t know where it will lead me.
But now isn’t the time to question all that.
Now is the time to just grab onto the rope.
I’ll figure the rest out later.
Andrea and I talked for a while longer. Then, she went back to the waiting room and I undressed and took Jane again.
It was the last time we would be able to sit like that together. We were there for about an hour and a half, but it seemed much, much shorter.
I cried a lot. I sang to Jane in a cracked and terrible voice. I told her I loved her and tried to do all of the last things.
I asked her why she didn’t want to stay.
When David came back, he told me that it was almost time. Since we didn’t have any baby girl clothes, some of our visitors had given us some nice things for her to wear for her last moments. Before we put them on, though, the nurse asked us if we wanted to give her a sponge bath. We said we did.
We washed her whole body, one part at a time. David changed her diaper and we both washed and combed her hair. Her hair was so long and so soft and so beautiful.
She would have been so beautiful.
After that, David left the room and I put on her clothes while he waited with the others in the lobby. When I was done she looked very fat and very healthy and she looked like the perfect baby girl. David came in.
“Are you ready?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said.
It was about nine thirty.
The visitors came in and we took turns standing by the bedside with the baby, looking at her and touching her for the last time. All of the women cried and maybe both of the men, too. Someone brought her a stuffed dog and I said, “She must like dogs because that’s the second one she’s gotten.” We all talked about how pretty and healthy she looked and how the nurses had told us that her feet were big for a newborn.
“Maybe she would’ve been tall,” David said.
“She probably would’ve been,” I said. Then we were quiet.
After about half an hour everyone left the room except me.
It was now the end.
The nurses moved some chairs to the balcony where I told them I wanted to be and, saying it was cold outside, wrapped Jane and I in blankets. They undid most of her tubes so just the respirator was left. Then they brought in a mobile oxygen tank and attached her to it. One of the nurses showed me how to open the little iodine tubes and rub it on the tape before removing the respirator.
After that they put Jane in my arms and we all walked out of the room, down the hallway and onto the balcony. We walked very slowly. To my surprise, I was not crying yet.
I sat in the chair that faced the city. One of the nurses asked me if I was ready for them to take the oxygen tank away, and I said yes. She did so, then both of the nurses left, saying they would be right inside the door if I needed anything.
And then, for the last time, we were alone.
Next to me there was a railing and on top of it there were the iodine tubes and a wet nap to wipe her face with. I picked up one of the tubes but I couldn’t make it work so I put it back down and began to pull the tape off Jane’s mouth without it. It came off easily and, in a way, I was relieved.
Then I took the respirator out of her mouth.
The nurses told me later it would’ve happened a few seconds after that but at the time I couldn’t tell; there was no change.
I looked at Jane’s face without the respirator.
It was beautiful.
It was perfect.
It had depth.
It said something to me that I don’t think that any other face could say so well.
It said, “I know you. I understand you. I love you. “You’re my mother.”
After a while, I opened the wet wipe and began to wash Jane’s face. Her lips were still pinched in a little from the respirator and I wanted to smooth them out so I rubbed the cloth over them again and again.
It didn’t work; they would not go back to the way they were when she was born. Still, I kept wiping them and the rest of her face, over and over and over. At the time I didn’t know why I was doing it—it just felt right. Later, though, as I was telling someone about that moment I said, “It felt like it was the last thing I could do for her as her mother.”
After a half hour or so the nurse came out with a wet wash cloth and exchanged it for the wet nap and went back inside.
I wiped her face some more.
After a while, I pulled Jane close to my chest for the last time. Then I kissed her.
My last words to her were, “Please don’t leave me.”
I said it many, many times.
It was all I said.
Another half hour or so went by. Finally, I decided I was ready, and shortly after that it started to rain, so I gathered Jane’s blanket around her head and mine around my shoulders and we went inside.
I took Jane back to her room and put her on the bed. By this time her face was very yellow. The nurse that was there said that I could undress her, so I did. Then a doctor came in and looked for a heartbeat. There was none, she said.
It was over.
We looked at the clock. It was ten forty-five.
I started gathering Jane’s things and mine. The nurse offered me her comb and the clothes they had given her to wear during her first days in the hospital and some other things, too. I took them all and put them in my purse. Then I put her blanket around my shoulders.
After that, Jane was naked again on the bed with just a hospital blanket over her lower half.
I kissed her goodbye and walked to the door. At the door I turned around and looked at her for the last time.
Then, I left.
In the lobby, the visitors were still waiting with David. I hugged everyone and they had some food for me so I ate some food and drank some water and soon after that we went home.
The next few days were busy. I was still in some pain from the episiotomy but I didn’t want to rest. On Wednesday we went to the funeral home to make arrangements and I cried in front of the lady we talked to there. Then David and I got a massage and I cried while lying on the table. The next day I cried at the dentist, and the day after that in the bank lobby while waiting for someone to help us.
And every single day for that first week, I wondered: If I stop crying, will I lose her?
I don’t want to stop crying for my little girl, I thought. Not even when it seems like the right time.
I want to bleed forever.
Besides the pictures, and her clothing, and two locks of hair, the tears are all I have left.
The day after Jane died, a Wednesday, I talked to my sister on the phone. I told her about Jane’s last day and I sobbed and after a while I said, “I know it sounds crazy because she never spoke and I don’t know if she ever heard me speak except in the womb but looking at her, especially those last two days, it felt like her soul was there and it spoke to me instead.
“It felt like she was my soul mate, someone who understood me better than I even understand myself,” I said. “It was like she came for a reason and she knew exactly what I needed—something I maybe used to have but somehow didn’t anymore—and she knew exactly how much time I needed with her to get it back. So she decided to come for just that reason and nothing else, to give me a gift I couldn’t have received in any other way, and now she’s gone.”
I could not accept that her death was a result of random chance—and her life, too. It had to mean something.
There had to be a reason.
And I still believe that.
It’s unspecific, I know. It’s not a perfect philosophy or explanation. But, so far, it’s as close to a theology as I have come in a long time.
And I think it makes sense.
I think it really makes sense.
That night was hard, but Friday night, two nights later, was even harder. I could not sleep and as I lay in bed I thought about all of the things I didn’t do that I should have done.
I should have held her more, I thought. I should have stayed with her at the hospital every night.
“It was too short,” I kept saying to David as I cried. “It was too short.”
The following Sunday, I went to church for the first time in a long time. It was a non-traditional church where people believe things like karma and reincarnation—and Jesus, too.
I liked it a lot.
During the service, I cried a little. Then, after the service, I prayed with someone and cried a lot more. The minister saw me and came over to talk. I told her what happened and said through my tears, “I want to know where she is.”
“Why do you ask that?” she said. “Why is it so important for you to know?”
“I don’t want to believe she’s in heaven,” I said. “I don’t think she is. I think she is still with me.”
The minister said that she believed I could be right; Jane could still be here.
“I don’t believe in heaven,” she said. “I believe that those that pass on are still with us, but they’re on a different level, one that we can’t see right now.”
“Can I talk to her?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said. “You can talk to her, even out loud, and I think she will hear you.”
The next day was a Monday. That night, as David and I were sitting next to each other on the living room floor, warming up by the heater, it suddenly occurred to me that he probably didn’t know how much I loved him.
I looked at him. My face softened into that right-before-crying look and I said, “I love you, David. Do you know how much I love you? I love you so much. I love you so, so much.”
I cried for a long time as he held me.
And that, my friend, is the story of what I learned from Jane.
Now, I still don’t have a religion. I probably never will again. But I have something else, and it is, as I said before, something big.
Something much bigger than any one thing can be on its own.
I feel more now. I love people more. But more important than all that: I have, once again, learned to expect miracles.
I don’t know what the miracles will be, of course. Right now, I don’t even have a guess. But I am going somewhere that I wasn’t going before, and my life is larger than it used to be: larger than my own happiness and larger, even, than the happiness I can bring to others.
It is as large as my soul.
Of course, I am not always full of faith, even now.
The truth is, I only have this kind of faith part of the time. The rest of the time, there is nothing—only emptiness, and when I see Jane’s picture, I just see what could have been, not what is, still, somewhere, wanting me and waiting for me to be with her again.
The truth is, most of the time I have very little faith or none at all.
But I want more.
Maybe someday I will have it.
Maybe that will be my miracle.
Oh, I hope so.
Oh, God, I hope so.
Please, Jane, please let it be. I want to talk to you and believe that you can hear me. I want to have something more to live for again.
Please, Jane, if you are reading this, please give me that faith.
And with that, this story is almost done. Before I end, though, I should add one more thing. It isn’t something Jane taught me, but it is something she gave to me, something very simple and yet very beautiful and, I think, important:
She made me a mother.
And for that, I am grateful.
Even if it had to be for only four days, I am grateful.
And I have no other explanation for how it feels to have given birth to a person and then spent a few days with them before letting them go other than that:
It feels like being a mother probably feels every day.
It felt like being a mother.
And so. This is the end of the story. But only technically. Only in the literary sense of the word “end,” as in, “And they all lived happily ever after. The end.”
But actually, I don’t think this is the end, not really. Maybe it is for you—if you want it to be, that is.
But not for me.
Because there is something that I have now that I didn’t have before—not enough, anyway.
I have purpose. I have emotions. I have love.
And I know what it feels like to be a mother.
I am changed.
And that is all I have to say. For now. Except: Thank you for reading, dear reader. And thank you for being my friend. You have been kind to me, and I want you to know that I’ve noticed, and that I’m grateful.
You are dear.
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