Heartbeats

Dear Ruby,

As if losing you wasn’t enough, we got home from the hospital and realized that we had to plan a funeral. Saying goodbye is not easy, but when the person you’re saying goodbye to is as tiny as you are, there are no words. I was not prepared for how small the casket was going to be. Parents shouldn’t have to bury their children.

There were about 50 people at your burial service – immediate family, friends, and co-workers from San Diego. While there was nothing that would have made today any easier, it was incredibly humbling to have so much support.

Your Dad and I spoke. You know I hate speaking in front of people, but nobody knew you like I did. We read excerpts from Tuesday’s with Morrie. My favorite part though was when your Dad talked about heartbeats.

I’ve included his words and mine below, as well as some of the highlights from the book.

Rest in peace my love,
Mom

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DADDY’S WORDS

You and I are here. You and I are here.

These were the only words I could get out to Julie when the doctor told us Ruby’s heart had stopped. We take heartbeats for granted. They can stop at any second…and will stop at some point.

Although our heart beats involuntarily, we do have a choice. We can choose to awaken to the present moment with the understanding of how fragile life is. We can choose to tell those around us we love them each day not just by saying those words but through acts of kindness. We can choose to appreciate what material items we posses.

Ruby's Tree

Ruby’s Tree

We can choose to smile as nature teaches us about true beauty – the breeze the trees the ocean the sun the stars. Loving and appreciating others is loving and appreciating Ruby.

We are honoring her physical form today but we will honor her spirit everyday. I am not a physicist and I know that may come as a surprise….but when Ruby’s heart stopped, her spirit was transmuted to other forms – the three nurses who carried us through the worst 48 hours of horror with warmth and grace, our otherwise stoic physician weeping after delivery, our family who refused to leave the hospital – sleeping on the floor if they had to, our friends who have connected with us in person and through beautiful thoughtful messages, the Ruby red sunsets we see and the love we feel today.

Weeks ago I kept hearing the same question over and over – are you ready to be a dad? The real answer at that time is the same answer as today. I have the strongest most loving beautiful life partner – with J we can get through anything as a team. The only thing that provides the slightest relief is being around her and holding her hand.

The loss of this magnitude has taught me so many lessons. It has let value surface and nonsense subside. What is important? A heartbeat.

A hug from a friend. A look into my wife’s eyes in which she AND Ruby look back at me. In the next days months years, when you inevitably fall into frustration over a trivial manner, try to remember your heart is beating and you are here now. We love you, Ruby.

MY WORDS

Back in January of 2006, Andrew and I decided to read Tuesday’s with Morrie. aloud together. We were in college, had only been dating a few months, but thought it would be a cute thing for us to do as a couple.

The memoir follows Morrie, a professor in the last days of his life and one of his former students, Mitch. Tuesdays_with_Morrie_book_coverKnowing he was dying, Morrie visited with Mitch in his study every Tuesday, just as they used to back in college. Their rekindled relationship turned into one final “class”: lessons in how to live. These lessons really hit home for Andrew and I then, and even more so as we stand before you today.

For 38 Tuesdays, I counted down the weeks until Ruby’s due date. She was born Tuesday of last week. As Morrie would say, “We are Tuesday people,” so we felt like it would be fitting to share some of his lessons in Ruby’s honor today.

TUESDAY’S WITH MORRIE

The Fourth Tuesday – We Talk About Death

“Everyone knows they’re going to die,” he said again, “but nobody believes it. If we did, we would do things differently.”

But everyone knows someone who has died, I said. Why is it so hard to think about dying?
“Because,” Morrie continued, “most of us all walk around as if we’re sleepwalking. We really don’t experience the world fully, because we’re half-asleep, doing things we automatically think we have to do.”
And facing death changes all that?
“Oh, yes. You strip away all that stuff and you focus on the essentials. When you realize you’re doing to die, you see everything much differently.
He sighed. “Learn how to die, and you learn how to live.”

“Well, the truth is, if you really listen to that bird on your shoulder, if you accept that you can die at any time – then you might not be as ambitious as you are.”
I forced a small grin.
“The things you spend so much time on – all this work you do – might not seem as important. You might have to make room for some more spiritual things.”

“Mitch,” he said, laughing along, “even I don’t know what ‘spiritual development’ really means. But I do know we’re deficient in some way. We are too involved in materialistic things, and they don’t satisfy us. The loving relationships we have, the universe around us, we take these things for granted.”

The Fifth Tuesday – We Talk About Family

“The fact is, there is no foundation, no secure ground, upon which people stand today if it isn’t the family. It’s become quite clear to me as I’ve been sick. If you don’t have the support and love and caring and concern that you get from a family, you don’t have much at all. Love is so supremely important. As our great poet Auden said, ‘Love each other or perish.’”

“Without love, we are birds with broken wings.”

“Don’t stop your lives,” he told them. “Otherwise, this disease will have ruined three of us instead of one.”

“Whenever people ask me about having children or not having children, I never tell tem what to do,” Morrie said now, looking at a photo of his oldest son. “I simply say, ‘There is no experience like having children.’ That’s all. There is no substitute for it. You cannot do it with a friend. You cannot do it with a lover. If you want the experience of having complete responsibility or another human being, and to learn how to love and bond in the deepest way, then you should have children.”
So you would do it again? I asked.
I glanced at the photo. Rob was kissing Morrie on the forehead, and Morrie was laughing with his eyes closed.
“Would I do it again?” he said to me, looking surprised. “Mitch, I would not have missed that experience for anything.”

The Sixth Tuesday – We Talk About Emotions

“Take any emotion – love for a woman, or grief for a loved one, or what I’m going though, fear and pain from a deadly illness. If you hold back on the emotions – if you don’t allow yourself to go all the way through them – you can never get to being detached; you’re too busy being afraid. You’re afraid of the pain, you’re afraid of the grief. You’re afraid of the vulnerability that loving entails…But by throwing yourself into these emotions, by allowing yourself to dive in, all he way, over your head even, you experience them fully and completely. You know what pain is. You know what love is. You know what grief is. And only then you can say, ‘All right. I have experienced that emotion. I recognize that emotion. Now I need to detach from that emotion for a moment.’”

“I thought about how often this was needed in everyday life. How we feel lonely, sometimes to the point of tears, but we don’t let those tears come because we are not supposed to cry. Or how we feel a surge of love for a partner but we don’t say anything because we’re frozen with fear of what those words might do to the relationship. Morrie’s approach was exactly the opposite. Turn on the faucet. Wash yourself with the emotion. It won’t hurt you. It will only help. If you let the fear inside, if you pull it on like a familiar shirt, then you can say to yourself, “All right, it’s just fear, I don’t have to let it control me. I see it for what it is.”
Same for loneliness: you let go, let the tears flow, feel it completely – but eventually be able to say, “All right, that was my moment with loneliness. I’m not afraid of feeling lonely, but now I’m going to put that loneliness aside and know that there are other emotions in the world, and I’m going to experience them as well.”
“Detach,” Morrie said again.

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Everything Will Be Ok

Dear Ruby,

Today, I had to find the strength to let family and friends know that you’re an angel. This was one of the hardest letters I’ve ever written, but also a helpful way for me to sort through my emotions.

There are so many people who love you. It’s comforting to know that you’ll live on in the hearts of many.

I love you,
Mom

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Friends and Family,

For many years, I have turned to writing as a form of therapy. It is with the heaviest heart that I write you this email today.

On Tuesday, May 13th at 4:10pm, our beautiful daughter, Ruby Mae, was born. She was 6 lbs, 5 oz and 19 inches of tiny perfection and just as adorable as I pictured her in my dreams. Ruby had my nose, A’s face shape, a head full of brown hair, 10 fingers, 10 toes and the softest baby skin.

I cannot tell you how much I wish our story began and ended there. I wish I could tell you that I’ve been up all night tending to the needs of a restless newborn. I wish I could tell you I’ve already changed dozens of smelly diapers. I wish I could tell you that Ruby was sleeping soundly next to me as I type this.

Tragically, our precious baby girl was born an angel and an angel she will stay. After 38 weeks of perfect doctor’s appointments, Ruby’s spirit left us without explanation on Monday before she came into this world. As of today, we have no answers as to what may have happened, or why. The truth is, it’s possible we may never know, but we are taking steps to find out all we can in the weeks to come.

To say that A and I are devastated couldn’t begin to scratch the surface of the intolerable pain we are feeling. The loss is unimaginable, it is heartbreaking and it is forever.

And yet, through this unimaginable heartbreak, our eyes have been open to so much beauty over the last 72 hours.

We have never been alone in our grief. Our immediate families literally dropped everything to fly across the country to be at our sides within hours of hearing the news. We were cared for at Sharp Mary Birch hospital by the most compassionate and loving nurses who cried with us. We have been inundated with texts, voicemails, emails, flowers, food, hugs, and endless messages of love from friends and family near and far. When it comes to losing a child, everything else seems so small and the community of incredible people around us have reacted with overwhelming love, generosity, kindness and concern. We are so grateful to everyone for giving us strength to cry, talk and even laugh through the pain.

There have been so many little signs that Ruby’s spirit has been with us all along. One week ago, just days before we received the horrible news, we attended the wedding of two amazing friends in Palm Springs. At our hotel, there was a giant vintage sign and on it the words: “Everything will be ok.”

Ace Hotel - May 10, 2014

Ace Hotel – May 10, 2014

At the time, it was just a pleasant reminder. Today, we know it was Ruby’s message to us to help us stay strong. If nothing else, we have a newfound appreciation for the fragility of life. With that comes renewed energy and obligation to live as fully as possible. Andrew and I are committed to making sure we honor her by taking advantage of this precious time we’ve been given.

So many people have asked what they can do for us and we only ask two things. First, in this age of social media, one of the things A and I are dreading most is having to retell Ruby’s story over and over again to people who didn’t already hear through other networks. To help us avoid that burden, please feel free to forward this to any friends, family, acquaintances, clients or work colleagues you think might be interested. Second, please take a minute today to tell those you love how you feel. Life is so precious and tomorrow is not guaranteed.

Looking ahead, I know that the road will be rocky. But becoming a mom is, and has always been, my dream job. We will mourn the loss of our daughter for the rest of our lives, but carrying her for 9 months gave me the opportunity to realize this dream. We take solace in knowing that we will forever be Ruby’s parents and can’t wait to give her siblings who will do all the things she wasn’t able to.

Thank you for your love and support – we don’t know where we’d be without it.

Love,
J&A

Hello’s and Goodbye’s

Dear Ruby,

The last 48 hours are a blur. Minutes after the nightmare began, we needed to begin talking about delivery. The nurses said we could go home and “think about it” to which I replied,

“Think about WHAT?! GET HER OUT!”

Some families choose to wait for labor to begin naturally instead of inducing or having a c-section. For us, prolonging the inevitable would only delay our healing. You needed to come out so that your Daddy and I could hold you, tell you that we love you and then say goodbye.

I remember asking our doctor if I had to deliver you. A poor choice of words, but you have to understand, at the time I was mourning two losses: the loss of your life and the loss of our opportunity to watch you grow up. The thought of going through 24 hours of labor sounded like torture. Twenty-four hours of pain and sweat, all the while knowing that I would never get to hear you cry when it was all over.

I was expecting the doctor to answer my question with, “Of course not, we’ll prep you for surgery.” She never gave me that option and instead started explaining to me how induction would work: medicine every 4 hours to start the softening of my cervix, followed by pitocin to induce labor. I was surprised, but didn’t have the energy to ask questions or second guess. And so we began.

Over the next 24 hours, I received 3 doses of the softening medicine, plus pitocin through an IV, and an epidural. Violent shivering and a 102 fever were secondary physical ailments to my heartbreak. Your Dad just kept telling the nurses, “Please take care of my wife. Please make sure she’s ok.” He’s always been my protector.

Your Uncle Mike, Uncle Jeff, Poppy and Grandma slept in the hospital all night waiting for you to come. Between the 4 of them, they split two blankets and had no pillows. How a hospital “runs out” of blankets and pillows is beyond me, but they weren’t going anywhere. That’s how much you’re loved.

When it came time to push, the anticipation of seeing your face kept me going. I would tell myself that each push was one closer to holding you. In the midst of it all, your Daddy kept telling the nurses and doctor that I was doing such a good job because I “played all-state lacrosse in high school” and that “my personal trainer would be so proud of me.” Leave it to him for comedic relief.

Thirty minutes after that first push, you were here. I have never felt such overwhelming love and despair. You were beautiful. I will never forget the way you fit into my arms – like you were meant to be there always. So tiny, so feminine. A true angel on earth. I am so proud to be your mom.

For 38 weeks, your Daddy and I joked about how you were so sassy. You would constantly be moving around, kicking me in the ribs. Then, when he would put his hand on my belly to feel you, you’d stop moving, almost as if you were teasing him. It was so funny. Your sassiness was confirmed when you were born with Ruby red lips, looking as if you were wearing lipstick and ready for a night on the town.

We kept you in our room overnight. One at a time, everyone took turns holding you: Uncle Mike, Aunt Amanda, Uncle Jeff, Poppy and Grandma were first. Later that night, Bubba, Grampa Dave, Uncle Ricky and Uncle Chris were there too. You were surrounded by those that loved you the most and I’m so thankful that they all got to say hello and goodbye.

After enduring the news that your heart wasn’t beating, followed by 24 hours of labor, we didn’t know how much more traumatic it could get. Then, the realization set in that we would be leaving the hospital without you. I touched your soft cheek once more, but couldn’t bear to watch you wheeled out of our room.

Shortly after, Uncle Jeff, Poppy and Grandma picked your Dad and I up in my car. The carseat had been removed; a necessary, but painful reminder that we were leaving you behind. As I get into the car, I keep thinking back to when I asked the doctor if I had to deliver you. I should have said, “Do I GET to deliver her?” The truth is, going through labor makes me feel more like a mom. I may never get to hold you again or see the color of your eyes or hear you cry, but I GOT to bring you into this world and that is a gift.

We drove away from the hospital and the only thing I knew for sure was that I had to be strong for you. I owed it to you to LIVE fully. I promise I will.

One day at a time – I love you,
Mom

The Worst Day

Dear Ruby,

When I woke up this morning, I had no idea that I was beginning the worst day of my life.

I got up at 6am to go to the bathroom and didn’t know it would be the last time I’d feel you move. If I had known, I would have told you that I love you instead of grunting about how difficult it was to get out of bed. I’m so sorry.

We used to joke on my commute to work that you were not a morning person, a trait you most definitely got from me. It wasn’t until the first cold sips of green smoothie were in my belly that you’d stir out of sleep and begin your daily tumbling routine. If I had known that your stillness while I was in the shower at 8am, or on my walk to Starbucks at 9am or answering emails at 10am did not mean that you were ‘just sleeping’, I would have called the doctor much sooner. I’m so sorry.

19 Weeks

19 Weeks

The triage nurses couldn’t find your heartbeat at 2pm. They called in the doctor and I will never forget the image that appeared on the ultrasound monitor. A tiny black mass that should have been moving, but wasn’t. I knew what it was even before the doctor turned and said the most devastating words.

“This is your baby’s heart and it’s not beating. I’m so sorry.”

Your Daddy was so strong, so reassuring. I was a mess. How could this happen? Hours ago you were hiccuping. Last night, you were doing flip flops as a I sipped my milkshake. Hearts don’t just stop beating for no reason.

Everyone keeps telling me that this is not my fault. There was nothing I could have done. It is nearly impossible not to feel like this nightmare is my personal failure. As your mom, it is my job to protect you and I failed. I’m so sorry.

Today is the worst day of my life, but it is also a defining day. I will never be, could never be, the same after this. My heart now beats for you. Each breath I take is for you. The beauty my eyes see in this world will be because of you.

I love you and I’m so sorry,
Mom