May 13, 2010, the day Hudson died, has permanently divided our lives into very distinct halves. There are now the days before and the days after. What’s really striking to me about this is how much her death completely changes my perspective about the days before. I have been thinking lately about several unpleasant events that occurred before, and I am surprised to find that I look upon them with the strangest sense of nostalgia and fondness.
In December 2009, a few weeks after Hudson’s first birthday, we drove down to North Carolina to spend the week before Christmas with Hudson’s grandparents. On the way down there, both Ed and I were stricken with a very nasty case of what we can only guess was food poisoning. Ugh. I mean, we were sick, both of us up most of the night after we finally rolled in very late. Fortunately, Hudson did not seem to be affected, and I was mostly better by the morning, while Ed stayed a bit puny for most of the rest of that day (and you know he didn’t feel well, because he skipped an opportunity to go see the Heels play in the Dean Dome that night). Nausea and vomiting are two of my worst enemies—I can count on one hand the number of times I have thrown up since I was seven years old, so I desperately fear and dread any kind of stomach bug. I am the bad girlfriend who would probably never have held your hair back if you’d been sick from drinking in college, because I would have been afraid it would make me sick, too. More likely I would have turned the other way and thought you were just getting what was coming to you (luckily, I was never in this situation to show what a bad friend I could be). Needless to say, this case of food poisoning is up there among the worst memories of my life (well, at least from before). And yet, when I think back on this time, I barely remember the bad parts. I mean, I remember them, but they are all swallowed up in the overwhelming feeling that Hudson was there. I remember how awful it was to be sick, but even more, I remember our stop at IHOP on the way down in the car where Hudson gobbled up the pancakes. I remember being up all night, but even more, I remember her sleeping quietly in the next room while we hoped we wouldn’t wake her up. I remember feeling really weak in the morning, but even more, I remember Ed bringing her into the bed so I could nurse her, the very last conscious memory I have of her nursing, for she stopped sometime in that next week. I remember being so tired that day, but even more, I remember taking her shopping with her Grandma—it’s the day Grandma bought her the iconic turtle shirt that practically has a life of its own in our photos and now in our minds. We were really sick, but we had our little girl.
A few months later, in March, I went back to the dentist for the first time in a very long time. Too long, since I used to be a girl who went regularly every six months. Needless to say, they had to do a LOT of scraping to get my teeth clean and then I had to get a cavity filled (I hadn’t had a cavity since I was a kid) and get several very old fillings redone. It took multiple trips to the dentist’s office and a lot of nasty shots of Novocain, and for months afterwards, I had terrible sensitivity in my back teeth whenever I bit down or ate something cold. It was awful. And yet, I look back on that time and all I can think about is that Hudson was there. Those were terrible visits to the dentist, but at the end of those days, I left work and went and picked her up from school, and nothing else mattered. The dentist’s office is about a block down the street from my old office, another place I associate overwhelmingly with Hudson, since it was where I worked during the last five months she was alive, the time we made our best memories with her. That I associated my office with her so much was one of the reasons I ultimately couldn’t go back to that job. The very idea of leaving the parking garage every day and just going home, instead of making my usual drive to pick her up from school, just brought me to my knees. Now, every time I drive by the dentist’s office (which I loathed) or my office right next to it (which I was pretty lukewarm about), I am awash with that same sense that Hudson was there. The dentist was awful and my work was so-so, but I had my little girl.
And of course, I think about the blowout diapers, the runny noses, the refusal to eat certain foods, the mini-tantrums when she was getting buckled into the car seat, the vomiting episode in the car, the biting problem, the budding willfulness, the rare night-wakings—I think about all of these things with nothing but pure fondness and longing. I hear babies crying and screaming in restaurants or stores or airplanes, and all I can think is “I wish that were Hudson. I wish she were here right now screaming her head off so that I could comfort her and quiet her down.”
On the flip side, when I look at the photos of our memories with her in March, and especially in April (which are so numerous and so wonderful, and for which I am most grateful—I can’t wait to share them here), I get such a feeling of being haunted. It’s not that the memories themselves have any negative feelings associated with them, not at all. They were the happiest times of our lives, without a doubt. We were raising a wonderful child who brought us nothing but joy, we had all the material comforts we could ever ask for, we lived in a beautiful city with so many wonderful things to explore with a child, and we looked ahead to a bright future with her and her little siblings, who were already ideas in the making. And yet, when I look at these photos and think back on those times, I am not only terribly saddened thinking about how those were our last memories with her, but I also get this awful sense of somehow wishing we had known those were our last memories with her. Of course, I don’t really wish that—who would ever want to know that their child was going to die sometime in the next several weeks? What an awful existence that would be. I feel nothing but sorrow for families who have to go through that. We lived with that knowledge for two days and it was the most horrible thing I can ever imagine, with the exception of her actual death. But still, I look at those photos and think, “How did we not know?” We were so incredibly happy and so naïve, having no idea of the nightmarish storm that was barreling towards us, a storm against which we had no defenses, a storm we could not flee. We had no idea, as we enjoyed the beautiful blue skies and the sunny days and our little girl’s impish smiles and the new words she learned every day, how dark everything could be, how dark it would actually get, in just a short time. In a way, I’m certainly glad we didn’t know. I’m glad those times were full of pure unadulterated joy with her, where our biggest concerns were when we should start thinking seriously about potty training and where Hudson would sleep once we had another baby. But part of me also wishes we had known, or had some sixth sense about it, so that we could have squeezed every single bit of life out of those last months, made every possible memory we could have, spent every extra second hugging on and loving our girl (as I’m sure you know, we did this a lot, but I’m not sure I would have ever put her down if I’d known I would never get to hold her again). I think back to the first weekend in May, when we spent almost a whole day driving out to Virginia to look at a used bike trailer for her that we could use the rest of the summer. I think, “Why did we spend that whole day in the car, which she hated, when we could have spent it outside doing something fun?” Yesterday, I remarked to Ed that I wished we had taken her to the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Alexandria last year—I have a vague recollection of not wanting to get up early enough to get out there for it, but that ultimately meant that she never got to go to a parade of any kind.
Both of these changed perspectives on before are good lessons for me to remember here in the after. When I think about how nostalgic I am even for the worst of times before, all I can do is be hopeful that over time, the sweetness of our memories with Hudson will somehow begin to drown out the horror of those last four days with her in the hospital, moments that have been rearing their ugly heads with more frequency for me in the last several days.
And when I think about those last two months, months I wish I could have filled with even more joy and more love than we already did, I just hope that I will remember to live every moment with our future kids as if we didn’t have a lot of time left. Not to live with the specter of death hanging over us, but just to cherish and make the most out of every single solitary second we have with each other, because we have learned in the hardest of ways that we just aren’t promised any more.