Saturday, June 20, 2009

Fathers: Shaping Life and Death

This post was originally published on Sunday, June 15, 2008. Father's Day. I wrote it when my blog was fairly new and my readership was small, but it is still one of my very favorites, so I'm putting it back up today. Brillig's comment from a year ago makes a perfect introduction: "I could say that it's beautifully written. But it's so much more than that. It stirs something deep in the soul, something intangible and yet completely real..."

* * *

Not surprisingly, my most salient memories of Fatherhood have to do with giving birth. Mine also have to do with death. One is poignantly heartbreaking. The other is filled with surprise and delight. Both are swimming rapturously in love and admiration.

* * *

My mom passed away from cancer when my oldest was still a baby. We shared so much throughout that pregnancy. We were both violently ill -- she with cancer and chemotherapy, and I with morning sickness that lasted the entire nine months. We talked every day, laughing and commiserating as we compared notes on who threw up more, who ached the most, and marveling at the similarities between birthing and dying. She was present at his birth, a miracle for both of us. My dad flew down to be there too – I think mostly to be with her.

She died six months later. And I remember stepping from her hospital room into the hallway with my dad, and catching sight of my white-haired 87-year-old Grandpa making his way down the hall, dressed in a suit. This look of total relief came over my dad, and tears came to his eyes. "That's my dad," he tried to explain. "After all these years, I still need him; he's my hero."

When I became pregnant with our second child, a daughter, I missed my mom like never before. The nausea and vomiting seemed so much worse because I was suffering through it alone. I couldn’t call my mom and commiserate about any of it. And I couldn’t imagine having another baby without her there. (Although I frequently dreamed about her during the most trying times.) The pregnancy seemed endless. In fact, it kind of was. She was due November 17th, and wasn’t born until December 3rd.

My water broke around midnight. Knowing I was in labor for 23 1/2 hours with our firstborn, I didn't bother calling anyone in the middle of the night to let them know...there was still plenty of time for that. The doctor said to wait until I was “really uncomfortable” before we went to the hospital, so I hung out at home, doubling over the kitchen counter when the contractions got fierce. All of a sudden, around 2 a.m. I declared that I was, indeed, “really uncomfortable” and we went to the hospital. By the time they checked me in, it turns out I was already dilated to an 8. They gave me an epidural to help me sleep -- and I think so the doctor wouldn’t have to come down in the middle of the night.

Our little daughter popped out in just two pushes at about 9:50 the next morning. We called our families to announce that we had the first girl, and wheeled her off to the nursery and me into the recovery room, where I settled in for a long winter’s nap! Jeff went home to gather a few things, and as I was just waking up, still groggy, I remember hearing the hospital room door squeak open. I slowly turned to see who it was, and there stood my Dad! (He said he knew where my mom was going to be this morning, and he wanted to be there too.) I have no idea how he managed to get there so fast, how many people he had to pay off at the airport to get him on the first flight out, but at a time when I was missing Mom and feeling very much alone, to have my Dad just magically appear at the hospital was about my favorite surprise ever. "That's my dad," I wanted to say. "After all these years, I still need him; he's my hero."

Amazingly, too, he stayed and helped. Like Mom would have -- fixing breakfast for everybody, taking turns with the baby in the middle of the night. It endeared him to me like never before. And Dad STILL does an amazing job of filling in as both mother and father to us kids, staying involved in our lives, hosting family dinners, taking care of our kids, loving and nurturing us. A natural giver, he blesses us in extraordinary and unselfish ways.

* * *

In October 2000, my husband, Jeff, was away for the long weekend, picking up some heirloom furniture for our daughter’s room. I was home with the kids, nearly six months pregnant with baby number 4, unpacking boxes in the new dream house. When I first noticed the baby wasn’t moving, I phoned him immediately. I tried to reassure him: “The book says it’s normal not to feel any movement for a few days at this stage” but I could hear the deep concern in his voice. At his insistence, I called the doctor and ordered a follow-up ultrasound. Just to be safe.

My husband was late for the ultrasound appointment, so I sat there in horror, alone, as the doctor found no heartbeat and told us what the options were for delivering a lifeless baby. They asked me to wait, alone (in tears that bordered on convulsions) in a room-that-was-more-like- a-closet until he arrived, 40 minutes later. I then had to sit through the whole painful doctor spiel a second time, for Jeff’s benefit.

As we walked into the hospital delivery room a day and a half later, I was struggling with all kinds of emotions that kept bubbling to the surface. It was strange to walk into this familiar maternity ward that had, until that moment, been such a happy place and now wore a shroud of gloom, knowing that this time there would be no treasure to take home. I fought back feelings of anger and resentment toward my sweet, wonderful husband for being away when the baby stopped moving, being away when I threatened miscarriage and had to go to the emergency room passing clots, being away when the doctor delivered the unthinkable news. Part of me wanted to push him away forever, but a bigger part wanted to pull him infinitely closer. My steps were heavy, and my heart was heavier.

Once we were settled inside the delivery room, Jeff gave me an incredibly beautiful priesthood blessing. He summoned our Father and poured out peace, promised a deepened understanding of how it pained a Father to lose a Child, requested health and healing, and said my mother would be hovering nearby.

The delivery was a physical and emotional hell, nothing I’ve known the likes of. The only things that could calm me, emotionally or physically, were classical music and the memory of Jeff’s blessing. Somehow I stopped shaking and survived.

When the baby was born, so small I could cushion her whole head in the pillow of my palm (I still recall the weight of it there), they made prints of both her hands and her feet, and allowed me to hold her and cradle her and look at her and love her for as long as I liked. I touched each tiny finger, each tiny toe, and marveled at how complete she was, despite weighing less than a pound. She had our youngest’s perfect little button nose. Our daughter’s beautiful rosebud lips. There was no doubt she was ours. She belonged. But she’d already gone home.

When the nurse came to take her away, Jeff was holding her. I watched as he wrapped her so lovingly in her little blanket and said his last goodbyes before he kissed her tiny forehead and handed her to the nurse. I cannot describe the rush of love that I felt for that man at that moment. It was overwhelming to witness the immense tenderness he demonstrated for our little departed daughter. His sweet, intimate farewell to her is among the most priceless images I hold onto. I felt unspeakably grateful for him and his enormous heart.

I’m thankful there’s a day to celebrate fathers—My own father; my grandfathers; the father of my children; and by extension, our Heavenly Father—all of whom I love, admire, and aspire to emulate.

We'll be spending most of Father's Day weekend visiting our oldest son at boarding school, which should be another joyful reunion. I hope there are joyful reunions awaiting all of you this weekend.


Kristina P. said...

This almost made me cry! This was so beautiful. You have an amazing husband there.

Good luck this weekend! I remember those family visits.

Sandy M. said...

Your father sounds wonderful. I'm glad you have good men in your life.
Thank you for your story.

Eowyn said...

There's nothing adequate to say. I'm in tears. That was beautiful.

Tammy Lorna said...

This did make me cry. What beautiful tender demonstrations. It also made me think of my own dad and some of the tender experiences I've stored away in my memory over the years. Knowing my father has given me a better understanding of the type of love Heavenly Father has for me.
Thanks for sharing with us.
xo Tammy

Luisa Perkins said...

Charrette, you have GOT to stop making me bawl like a baby.

Gorgeous, and such piercing honesty.

Melanie J said...

My son thinks I'm even crazier than usual now because he's watching Dirty Jobs and I'm weeping. But I am happy for you that you're so blessed with such good fathers in your life.

Mrs4444 said...

Tears, tears, tears. Thanks so much for posting this, Charrette.

Heather of the EO said...

I did vote you the most likely to make me cry (in a good way) for GOOD reason.

You are lovely. So are the men of your life. What a beautiful post.

Kazzy said...

I am glad you reposted this. I love the way you convey your feelings for your dad and husband. So often there are jokes made about wives having to live up to MILs, but the way J has lived up to his FIL is inspiring. Good men make life so so good.

Mylestones said...

Beautiful and heartfelt. Thanks for sharing this again so new readers like me could partake!

Beth said...

Such a touching post. Wow.

L.T. Elliot said...

Words fail me. Nothing could be adequate to describe both the wealth of joy and sorrow I felt while reading this. God bless, Charrette. God Bless.
And happiest of father's day to both your husband and your father.

DeNae said...

Beautiful. I'm so happy to know that you have such a wonderful partner, and that your take on life is one of love and trust and joy. Thank you for sharing this story with all of us.

Jeni said...

Such love, tenderness and the comparison of husband, father, grandfather to Heavenly Father as being "heros" says it all. My condolences to you and your husband in the losses you dealt with and my congratulations at the same time for your having been fortunate enough to have had a father, grandfather, husband, who gave support, comfort and above all, the kind of love needed in times like those.

Steph @ Diapers and Divinity said...

This post made me admire the men in your life, but also you. I'm confident you have done your mother very proud. You've taught me many lessons as I watch you maintain strength and faith through some very real losses and struggles. So glad you reposted it.

Kimberly said...

I'm weeping unabashedly right now.

Brillig said...

Well, I bawled all over again. This is so exquisitely painful and beautiful all at once. Luisa emailed me over the weekend and said, "tell Charrette to stop making my cry with every ding-dang post. :-) I love her to bits." Me too. I love you to bits.

Mrs4444 said...

P.S. The video is back up!!!

val of the south said...

I don't know how I missed this post...what a beautiful, moving tribute to your wonderful mom and the amazing men in your life. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree - I see where you get your amazingness from!

I had a rocky relationship with my dad - but he was always there when I needed him and he loved my babies more than I thought possible. He would stop by my house on his way home from work almost everyday after #1 was born, just to hold him for a few minutes. Thanks for helping me remember the good times with my dad - I needed that.

Cookie said...

oh, the timing! I am remembering my own stillborn daughter because tomorrow would be her 14th birthday. thank you for your painstaking account of your experiences with wonderful people. I guess it's time for me to blog about my first daughter. Thank you so much!

Jessica said...

This is beautiful. Your father sounds like an amazing man.