By Heather Hamilton (@TZJMommy)
I was on Twitter the other day, when Jen Maier tweeted about her son and his questions regarding death. Since this is a huge discussion in our house, I jumped in with my thoughts and advice about how I have spoken to my sons about their brother’s death. I was so honoured when she asked me about the possibility of exploring this topic in a series of posts on UrbanMoms.ca. I knew that I was willing to talk about my experiences and how our family is working through our questions and feelings regarding the loss of our sweet Zack. This is the first post in a series ‘Our Family’s Journey through Grief’.
I was meant to be Zack’s mother, of that I am sure.
But all I had ever known, imagined or expected of motherhood changed the instant my Zack and his twin brother Jayden were born in September of 2007.
Moments after he was born our littlest son Zack was suspected of having an undetermined “syndrome” and was immediately taken to the NICU. While I nursed my other newborn son, Jayden, Zack was in another room fighting to breathe. At 5am, we got the call he could be transported to Sick Kids. While I stared out the window holding my day old son, Jayden, my husband was driving behind the ambulance carrying his twin. What happened with Zack in the Cardiac Critical Care Unit that night was unthinkable, he suffered a cardiac arrest while his daddy watched. What came out of that horrifying night of ‘close calls’ was our first miracle with Zack and an unbreakable bond between a father and his fragile son.
For three years of my life, I rode the roller coaster of immense joy and devastating pain beyond anything I could have ever imagined. Each day I lived for Zack. He, in turn, depended on me – his partner, his cheerleader, his nurse, his advocate, his biggest fan – his Mommy. Although his genetics caused many ‘imperfections’, in my eyes he was truly perfect. Zack lived each day with obstacles that made even basic functions like eating and walking difficult yet he lived his life without knowing he had limitations. He tackled every therapy as merely a stepping stone to accomplish what he was after. When one goal was reached, he found a new one. When I learned he may not walk, I got therapists to help him. When I was told that he needed hearing aids, I found someone to help him communicate. When he was hospitalized frequently for pneumonia, it was me who sang to him so that he would not be afraid.
We were a team. Our lives were intertwined by the deepest unconditional love I have ever known or will ever know.
On February 28th, Zack was once again hospitalized for pneumonia, a stay I assumed would be like the others. I was very wrong. Zack was also diagnosed with Influenza B and declined every day before my eyes. I continued to do as I always had…care for my son. I would assist the nurses doing his GTube feeds and meds, checking his temperature regularly and running to get more Tylenol when his fever returned. This week together was one I will never forget. We only had each other. When he didn’t have enough strength to play, we just watched Elmo videos together. When breathing became too hard, he would curl into me for comfort and listen to me sing a sweet song in his ear so he wasn’t scared.
As I got increasingly worried about Zack’s inability to stay awake, the Critical Care team was called to assess his need for a breathing tube. After an emergency intubation, he suffered a cardiac arrest. Our son began to slip away. We lived moment to moment for three days, alternating sobs with smiles as Zack continued to show us he was still fighting. Heroic steps were taken for our hero and we continued to help him fight. The nurses were caring and gentle allowing me to do what I could to be the mom I had always been to Zack. I asked to help change his diaper, lift him to change the bed sheets and put cream on his lips. When it became clear that Zack’s brain had not withstood the 40 minutes of CPR, we knew our amazing son was unable to fight anymore. We knew he was telling us he did not have any more strength to give…we had to let him go.
When it came time to say goodbye to my sweet Zackie, the words flowed. I thanked my incredible son for all he had given to me and to our family. I told him how I loved him for making me the mother I had become. I asked for his strength to continue to guide me to find ways to help others. Our incredible nurse asked us if we would like to cut some of Zack’s hair, give him a bath, wash his hair and do moulds of his hands and foot. I asked them to move Zack over and remove the tubes so I could just lie in bed with him, as I had many nights throughout his short life. With my arms wrapped around him, the light down low and only his mommy and daddy in the room, we lay for a while and snuggled for the last time. When we were ready, we called the doctors to let our son give up the fight. In our arms, our son was safe, loved and allowed to take his last breath.
Leaving that room was the hardest moment I’ve ever had in my life, or will ever have. It was the last time I would see my son. We were given moulds to take home and workbooks for Ty and Jayden to work through the death of their brother. Social Workers spoke to us and answered our questions about the best ways to discuss Zack’s death with our other sons. We found comfort in knowing that Zack would be remembered by the doctors and nurses for being an incredible fighter in the last days of his life. Even in his last days, we were proud of how our son continued to inspire those around him.
Most of all, my beautiful son will be remembered by all who knew him for his infectious smile and “walnut cheeks”. Zack always showed me that regardless of what the doctors recorded about his challenges, he lived his life enjoying each moment he could. He found joy watching Elmo, playing drums, jumping on his trampoline, watching sports with Daddy, riding his red car down the sidewalk, eating Froot Loops and walking around the house after his brothers.
When I needed to be strong, he showed me his strength. When I needed to fight, he taught me to never give up. I admired Zack so much for his courage and determination. I saw these traits every day in my beautiful son. While the pain in unbearable, I would never have given up the time we had together; to live with our miracle on earth.
I am a mother who was inspired by her son and even now that he is gone, I am forever changed by his impact on my life.
After the loss of my little Zack, I’m f
inding inspiration in giving back to the community that supported him and us. Raising money for Zack’s Dream Room, writing my blog and spending time with my two boys is where I’m finding joy in every day. Follow me on Twitter @tjzmommy and @zacksdream and http://www.tjzmommy.blogspot.com/