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Lions Roar : January 2009
SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2009 26 be saved. The physicians had just a short time, only a few chances to get it right. I could only sit in the afternoon light hold- ing my bright little baby and listen. When Jerry was getting ready to leave a few days later, I was in the other room chang- ing Liam’s diaper. I hurried and brought him out and asked Jerry if he wanted to hold Liam one last time before he left. He took Liam in his arms and cried. I’d never seen Jerry cry. When he was at his car door he turned back and said, through the wide- open space between us all, “I love you.” THE DECISIONS WE HAD TO make didn’t seem like decisions; they seemed like sentences. We had decided to sign the Do Not Re- suscitate papers a week after we brought Liam home. Chris and Liam and I sat with our hospice nurse in silence for a long time when I laid the paper down on the table after signing it. What else could we do? Hearts breaking are op- pressively silent. I felt literally shattered. Knowing our son could die at any moment, there was an ac- tual physical feeling that all the cells of my body were exploding and flying out from me. Every face and flower and song had more than one meaning; the universe was telling me a story, life had a narrative of its own. Every dream told me a new se- cret, and I was trying to take it all in to make sense of this catastrophe so utterly awful it was absurd. That obsession with interpreting the signs around me trans- formed everything I saw from then on; it still does. I guess I was desperate to find meaning and reason in that unreasonable situation; I sought it out and saw meaning and symbolism everywhere, obsessively. Ordinary things in an average day that summer were different too. I learned to make do. I had to make sure I had a blanket with me when I went to the grocery store not just to keep Liam warm, but because I might need it to cover him up if he died while I was in the store. I wanted people we knew to meet him, but made sure the visits were short. Only a few of our closest friends came to our house for longer than a half hour. When other people were around, I became more aware of how different Liam’s behavior was from a healthy baby’s, and it hurt too much to be aware of that for too long, and for anyone else to see it. The cards and flowers that arrived when we got home from the hospital said “think- ing of you” and offered condolences instead of congratulations for the birth of our son. Near the end, he’d grown so thin that strangers were surprised when I told them how old he was. Sometimes I lied and said yes, he was born premature. Sometimes I didn’t have the strength to lie, told them the truth, and felt bad for them when the shock of it registered on their faces. I learned ordinary days and average things were all impermanent illusions too. LIVING A LIFE, I LEARNED, while waiting for death was like living in the space where one breath ends and the other has not yet begun. It was like sleepwalking through my worst nightmare feeling more awake, and acutely aware, than I ever had been in my life; it was like drowning in thin air, like standing on a deserted shore in awe of a squall that was pulling back and gathering its force to crush me. I learned I could be, at the same time, overwhelmed with natural great love for my child who was teaching me more than I could have learned in thirty-three lifetimes without him, even though the one I gave him was rushing by quicker than most. Liam had an equanimous presence and was astonishingly beautiful, like a Tibetan blue poppy, a sublime and rare blossom once thought to be mythical. I am told still by the handful of people who met him that Liam’s eyes were sometimes the color of sapphires. Perhaps, if things were right, they’d be blue someday. But nothing was right. There wouldn’t be a someday.