I wrote about my mother-in-law's accident here for the first time, if there are any new readers that need to catch up. Since then though, I've tried to avoid it because it's hard to think about and even harder to write about. Writing makes things concrete somehow. And I don't want this to be. I thought I should write all of these memories down to remember them better but a part of me doesn't want to remember them. Still, the feeling that I should do it anyway keeps coming back to me, so here it is.
The first couple weeks were this tug-of-war between hope and grief. We would be given hope, which filled our hollow insides and made us tilt forward a little more on the edge of our chairs, waiting for news that would erase all of this. Later we would laugh about it maybe, with Cindy next to us. I pictured Christmas and the Fourth of July and Sunday evenings with her like we had. We could have that still, we told ourselves. We would have it.
Grief tugged back though, just as hard, and sometimes we all toppled into the mud. We were given statistics and odds and through it all we pulled back with hope, believing that she would beat those. She would be the one in a million. She would come back and sing for us and laugh with us. It was a terrible dichotomy, the knowledge that we would never and could never be the same.
It wasn't just her, it was all of us that would change in the weeks and months ahead.
People were kind in the best way they knew how to be. So much food was brought to the hospital. Donuts and burritos and hamburgers. We stared at the accumulating meals in the waiting room and occasionally one of us would obligatorily unwrap something, only to put it down minutes later. One woman who knew Cindy packed a cooler full of grapes and cheese and crackers though, and I bless that woman because I had a 20 week baby inside of me then, and I'm not sure I've ever had anything that tasted so good. Since then, I have been trying to find the Tilamook slices she brought and buying grapes every time I go to the store. It's like I'm trying to recreate this experience that seemed so silly but meant so much at the time.
The day after the accident I was in the hospital with Cindy and Julie - walking back and forth between floors. I was tired, up all night waiting by the phone for any news and took the first flight out of Phoenix that morning. I hadn't eaten much, and I felt pangs of anxiety shooting through me. I was worried about the baby, so I went to the maternity floor and checked myself in.
They had me undress and put on a hospital gown in this huge, empty delivery room with all of Provo sprawled below me. I put on the gown and sobbed. It was the first time I really cried. I cried for Cindy and her suffering. I cried for Julie and her brand new baby boy - for the induction into motherhood she had. I cried for Kevin and the fact that he was alone in Arizona while I was here. I felt so guilty for abandoning him, even though it's what he said he wanted. I cried for myself, selfishly, because I knew that this would be a long road of grief and struggle no matter the outcome.
The nurse came in to monitor the fetal heartbeat while I continued to sob. She knew. Somehow it seemed that word spread through the hospital about the mother and daughter whose time just missed each other. She didn't ask me if I was okay, which I appreciated. She knew I wasn't. That we weren't. But she did rub my back, and left me alone for several minutes so I could stare at the doppler machine.
My baby's heartbeat pounded while I sobbed. Our rhythms matched.
"She's a fighter," the nurse said when she came back in. "Look at that heartbeat. I never see them that strong."
Right then I knew she wasn't just talking about her.
We are back in Arizona now, and Kevin is rotating at the hospital in cardiology. He came home one day and told me he met with a patient whose mother had a stroke which caused her to enter a persistent vegetative state. (Which is what Cindy is considered being in now.) She cried and cried to Kevin, mourning the loss of her mother and the fact that she will never be the same again.
"So do you feel like your experience with your mom made you more empathetic to her?" I asked, hope tugging at me like a child on his mother's hem.
"No." He said, but I could see that his eyes were welling up. "Her mom is 93."
Cindy is 49.
Grief swallows us up sometimes.
I asked my doctor upon my return to Arizona how all of this grief and sadness is affecting my baby. I have felt guilty that she is developing and growing during such a hard time.
"Can she feel my sadness?" I asked. "What do I do with all of this stress?"
"She can't feel it," he said. "Unless you stop eating or sleeping it shouldn't affect her, so taking care of you is the best way to take care of her. Stress crying is okay."
But I didn't really believe him. So we have this lullaby we do, me and her, and I rub my belly and sing, "Safe inside, rockabye, baby girl you're safe inside."
It sounds contrived maybe, and a little cheesy. But it's our thing. And in reality, I know it's way more for me than it is for her.
A few months after the accident the entire extended family went to the temple and later went to view a movie that Kevin's uncle put together. All of the kids (and me and Dj) shared memories of her that were on it. Along with that were various pictures and videos of Cindy when she was healthy.
We sat in the basement of this room and I held Conner, Julie and Kevin on either side of me. One of Kevin's distant relatives asked Julie how old her baby Conner was now. "Ten weeks," she said, turning around.
"Ahh," the woman clucked sympathetically, "The same amount of time it's been since the accident. What a hard way for you to keep track of that day."
Julie nodded, pained but I turned around. "Actually, the accident happened on a Friday and Julie delivered on Saturday. So it wasn't the same day." I surprised myself with my candor. I am just tired of everyone associating this horrible accident and Julie's perfect baby boy as one event.
I expected Kevin to lean over and tell me that I was rude, that I should apologize to this aunt, or whoever she was, but instead he rubbed my back like he was proud of me.
Sometimes brutal honesty is the way we fight for the people we love.
I got a lot of texts and emails from well-meaning friends. Since I didn't make the treatment or the outcome very public though, it's been difficult when people ask. "So is your mother in law doing better?"
I wish so badly I could reply, "Yeah, she's great. Recovering and talking and walking." I ache to be able to offer that response to these well-meaning people.
Instead though, I shake my head. "No. She's not doing well. Thank you for asking though," I always reply curtly. I don't do it to be unkind. I know people ask out of concern. But some things are too hard to talk about at a barbecue, or a birthday party or church when we are trying so hard to just forget about it and be happy.
I wish I knew the right answer. What to do when someone's family goes through something like this. The truth is though, nothing works. No meals, no cards, no emails or texts. Nothing fixes it.
I wish I could accept the kindness of others with more grace. I wish it didn't pain me every time Cindy enters the conversation. I wish she would just wake up.
I was headed out the door a couple days ago for a church meeting and asked Kev if he was going to come.
"No I have to study for my cardio exam," he replied, his face buried in his book.
"The Lord will bless you if you come," I offered - teasing as much as I was serious.
Kevin looked up at me, "Will he?"
I decided to make a book with all of our wedding pictures for Kevin. (Still isn't finished). I sat at my parent's kitchen counter weeks after the accident and sorted all of these pictures, choosing my favorites. Cindy was in most of them, and I was holding it together. Kevin too.
Then I got to this picture of Cindy and my sister-in-law Kim. She looked so beautiful. I cried for the first time in a long time. So much of my own personal grief has been for my loss sure, but more for Kevin than anyone. Looking at this picture I felt the loss of Kevin's siblings - Kim and Julie specifically.
Life is hard enough. No one should have to do it without a mom.
We aren't sure what to pray for anymore. Sometimes we pray that she will recover fully. Sometimes we pray that she will feel loved. Sometimes we pray for the best possible outcome for her.
Lately I've been praying to know what I should pray for. Faith is easy to talk about when you get what you want. It becomes more real though, when the answer is no.
We always say that someday we'll understand why this happened. But in the off chance that we don't find out, I want to be able to say that I had faith anyway. That grief didn't win.
It's still a work in progress.