Part 4 of life 34 years ago ~ if you are reading this and have not read the previous posts, please go back to here and begin reading if you want the whole story.
At times that week seemed to go by in a flash and at other times it went by very slow. As you can imagine our emotions were running high, anxiety climbing the walls and tears of joy and sorrow were shared with many. It is so hard to explain ~ on one hand we were young parents celebrating the birth of new babies and on the other hand we were grieving the loss of a precious baby boy.
When we were in the neonatal unit our focus was on Jamie – was he gaining or losing weight? Was he retaining his body heat? Was he in distress or pain? Was he tolerating the mother’s milk? And always Jamie seemed to grasp onto daddy’s finger…I so wish we had pictures of those days. We have a few pictures of those early days but not many ~ one of the times we were robbed boxes of things were stolen and a lot of our pictures were taken.
And then there were the trips to the mortuary ~ having to go sign papers. I remember the time I had to print Royce’s name on one of the forms I started to cry realizing he would never learn how to write his name, no teacher would ever call his name in a classroom and I would never swing him and say he was our happy boy!!
Saturday we went to the hospital four times to spend time with Jamie. Each time we would hold and rock him, look at his super tiny feet and fingers. And just watch him breathe. Even months later I would go in his room and watch him sleep in his crib just because I loved to watch his little heart beat in his chest.
In between visits to the hospital that day we went by the church to meet with Pastor Adrian to plan the service for Royce. One of the scriptures that was shared was John 14. And we picked out the music – Jesus Loves Me and Jesus Loves the Little Children. To this day when I hear either of these songs sung or played tears spring to my eyes. Yes, even after 34 years some days are harder than others.
Late in the afternoon on Saturday Ron & I went to the mortuary to see Royce. I wanted to see him before anyone else did. I wanted to make sure he looked perfect and that they had dressed him properly. I was so scared to go into the room where he was. They had set the room up very nice. There was a love seat and a couple of chairs that sort of made a semi-circle around one side of the room and then they had the little casket in the corner at an angle. It was open and we hesitantly made out way over to him. I had only seen one other person dead and that was my great-grandma. And all I remembered from seeing her was that my grandma leaned over and kissed her. And I had touched her hand and it was cold. I didn’t know if we could hold Royce or not. We just sort of stared down at him. He looked so peaceful. After we were in there a minute or two one of the men from the mortuary came in and told us we could hold him if we wanted. I immediately leaned down and picked him. He was so cold and heavy. I couldn’t believe how heavy he was. He was such a tiny baby ~ how could he be so heavy I wondered? I sat on the couch and rocked him in my arms. I pulled the little blanket from his head to see where they had shaved the hair behind his right ear to put in an IV. I looked at his chest. I had to see where they had cut him from the autopsy – it looked like a little cross with the line going down his chest about 2″ long and the cross line about 1″ and his skin was put back to make it look like he had a small cut there. It was hard to see but it was not as bad as I thought it would have been. After I held him for awhile, Ron held him. It was the only time he got to hold his little boy, his first born. There are times even now that we talk about that time and that is the one thing Ron says he misses the most – he didn’t ever get to cuddle Royce while he was alive. It is a sad memory for him. I think we stayed at the mortuary about 2 hours before returning to the hospital to see Jamie ~ that is what kept us going ~~ returning again and again to the hospital to see life in Jamie, to see his little chest rise and fall with each beat.
Saturday night my sister Kathy arrived from Sacramento. Looking back at her being there it must have been a hard weekend for her as I remember asking her over and over “why did you come?” and “why didn’t dad come, I asked him to come.” As I think about it now, she was probably very hurt that I was not appreciative of her coming for such a sad occasion. I remember that I just tolerated her being there. We didn’t talk much and I think we only shared two hugs – one when we walked in the house and she was there having just arrived from the airport and Monday morning when she gave us greetings after the service at the church. And now I will never have the chance to tell her I am sorry for not appreciating her for all the things she has done in my life as my big sister as she died unexpectedly on Sept. 12th, 2008.*
I don’t remember if we went to church Sunday morning or not. My mom did not attend church and with my sister there I am pretty sure we did not go. Sunday afternoon my little sister, Joanie ~ age 13, wanted to go the mortuary to see Royce. Ron said we would take her. And so the three of us went to the mortuary again. We tried to prepare her for what she would see. I don’t think we did a very good job but then again we were only 19 & 21 how good of a job could we be expected to do. We were all very quiet when we entered the little room. Royce looked just like we had left him ~ laying peacefully in his little bed – it was so hard for me to call it a casket, with the tip of the blanket folded over the right side of his head covering where he had been shaved and the little giraffe propped up looking down at him. Joanie walked hesitantly over to him for about 30 seconds and then she turned and rushed out of the room. We immediately followed her. She went right back to the car and said she had to see mom, see mom right now. So Ron drove us to the Silver Nugget as mom was working. When we walked into the restaurant Joanie ran right up to my mom and started crying and hugging my mom. And then she blurted out “please tell me they are going to bury you with your teeth. Royce’s mouth was all sunk in, please make them bury you with your teeth in.” My mom hugged her and reassured her that she would get buried with her teeth in. And after that Joanie was okay, well as okay as a 13 year old can be after just seeing a dead little baby.*
We stayed at the restaurant for a little while. I remember eating soup and rolls. Maybe that’s why soups and breads of all kinds are my comfort foods ~ whenever I feel stressed a good creamy soup and fresh rolls & butter always makes me feel better.
Sunday evening around 7:45 p.m. Ron’s brother, John called to say they were almost to Las Vegas. Since the mortuary closed at 9 p.m. we decided to just meet them there. We all arrived about 8:15 p.m. After hugs and tears were shared – we had not seen them since our wedding December 20th, 1975, we went into the mortuary and Royce’s room (at least if felt like it was his room and it was for those few days). After a few minutes Ron’s mom asked if she could take pictures of Royce. I was flabbergasted. I had never heard of such a thing. Take pictures of a dead person. My response “absolutely not!!!” and so no pictures were taken. About five years after Royce died I would have given anything to have at least one picture of that sweet baby boy. Because we did not have any pictures of Royce, one of the things Ron & I do when talking/sharing with parents who are going through the same/similar things as we did ~ we encourage them to get pictures, to hold their little one as long as possible and not rush through those last minutes ~ they cannot be redone.
Once we got back home we called and checked on Jamie. He had had a good evening and was sleeping well. We could sleep well now ourselves for we knew Monday was going to be a hard day ~ we just didn’t realize how hard it was going to be.
*Joanie and I have never talked about that day. I do hope the scene didn’t haunt her in her dreams. And knowing Joanie after my mom died, she probably put mom’s teeth in before they removed her from the house after she passed away on 10/31/2005.*
*One thing I have learned in my life is that there are no guarantees. That if something or someone comes to mind I need to act – write, call or do something – and I look at those moments as God reminders – He is reminding me to do or say something. Not that I follow this all the time, but it is one thing I strive to do whenever I can. I try to let my family and friends know that I care about them, when I think of them by calling or dropping them a note via email or a card.*