We live about three blocks from a major hospital here in DC. As a result, ambulances and fire trucks speed down the street pretty regularly. When Hudson was alive, she had bat-like ears—she could hear an ambulance WAY up the street, definitely before I heard it, and say, “Am-lance!” Sometimes we’d go open the door and watch it race by. This happened so often that it became routine. I did not think much about why ambulances exist or the fact that it might be sad that so many pass by our house every day. I did not think about ambulances much at all, except when my little girl would say the word that sounded so smart and so precious to me.
That is, until she died. Now, when I see ambulances, I think about how paramedics so often see people at their worst moments. The very sick or the critically injured, and maybe their loved ones, possibly in a fight for life right there in that little truck racing down the street, sirens blaring. And then I think about how angry I get sometimes that we never got to fight for Hudson’s life that way. It was over almost before the battle even began. We never even got a chance to fight for her.
But yesterday, I read about another family in their worst moment. The parents of a one-year-old little boy in Northern Virginia just got the news that their son’s cancer had spread and that there was no further treatment they could pursue. The entry on their blog said that they were watching him sleep for possibly the last time. (When I read that, I got my first real sense of what it must have been like for all of our friends and family when they read my Facebook post from the morning of May 13 announcing that Hudson would be declared brain dead that night—I can’t even describe how it felt to be an onlooker in that situation, even after I’ve been on the other side). There were pictures of this sweet, precious boy in a hospital room, roped up and tubed up and hooked up to every kind of machine possible, eyes sunken, head bandaged from brain surgery, but still fully conscious, smiling and interacting with his mommy and daddy. I could not read past the first page.
For that instant, I felt bizarrely blessed that Hudson’s illness was quick. Part of me feels awful even saying this, for fear it will be misunderstood. If we’d had the chance, we would have fought tooth and nail to keep our girl here with us, no matter what it took. But if the outcome would ultimately be the same, if we had no chance of fighting for her other than the small 12-14 hour window during which the antibiotics might have worked and during which they gave her drugs to try to reduce the swelling in her brain, then I am grateful that it was not prolonged. As inconsolable as I remain every single day that our precious Hudson died, I cannot even fathom the pain of those parents, who have had to watch their little boy endure the unimaginable for 6 months—major surgeries and presumably chemotherapy and radiation (I couldn’t read any further to see). Especially when that sweet little soul could not understand why he had to suffer so much. Especially when they fought so hard for him, only for the outcome to be the same. I think about how horrible it feels to remember Hudson reaching for me and me being unable to scoop her up and hold her close because she was all wired up, how awful it is to wonder now whether she was in any pain before they sedated her (with the infection and swelling in her brain, she must have had at the least a very severe headache, and I don’t think they were giving her anything for pain). And I take that feeling and multiply it by a million. And that’s what I imagine that little boy’s parents must feel every day.
So today, in spite of my unending heartbreak over the loss of my little girl, I thought about that little boy, and his mommy and daddy, and felt fortunate, if that is possible in these terrible situations, that my Hudson did not suffer long, if she suffered at all. My heart just aches for that family. I imagine that the only thing worse than watching your child die right in front of you is watching your child endure that kind of suffering. I guess I just feel lucky (somehow?) that we did not have to do both.