We knew this was the last 24 hours—or less—for dad. We were all gathered in the room at the Hospice where he had been transferred after a week at Royal Inland Hospital. Here at Hospice, he had a window-side bed which looked out over Kamloops. As a family, we spent time together with him in the evening. A sad time, but at the same time a relief knowing that he was beyond the pain at this point, and soon enough, he’d be beyond this world. We all stood in a circle around his bed. Mum said we should sing him a song, probably not a prayer though…not much his style. I said I’d had a Beatles song in my head all day. We sang.
Close your eyes and I’ll kiss you
Tomorrow I’ll miss you
Remember to always be true
And while I’m away
I’ll write home every day
And I’ll send all my loving
Just in case dad decided to leave in the night while we were sleeping, each of us before leaving sat close to the head of dad’s bed to share our thoughts with him, to wish him well and pay him thanks for all he was to us.
By 11:00 p.m. we had all headed out, except Mum, who was staying the night in the hospice.
The nurse said she’d call us at home if dad passed in the night, so we could gather once more, no matter the hour.
At one a.m., we were awakened from the few hours of sleep we’d had by the ringing of the phone.
At 6:30 a.m., Kate woke up and suspected that the flu I’d gotten had come her way.
By 7:30 a.m., Kate was worried this was affecting the baby, and we’d called the midwives. Given Kate’s track record thus far for early birth, the midwife presumed it was nothing, but said she’d meet us at B.C. Women’s and Children’s hospital at 9:00 a.m. to check and be sure.
By 8:30 a.m. we were out the door en route to the hospital, a little terrified that Kate—still eight weeks off of her due date—was maybe, perhaps, but hopefully not in labour.
By 9:35 a.m. the fear of uncertainty of a premature child’s birth was behind us, replaced by Heidi, our little 4 pound 13 ounce daughter.
And this, my dear little girl, is where I get in to my letter to you on the occasion of your first birthday. The event of your granddad’s passing was three years before you were born, and either by fate, fortune or folly the two instances happened to occur on the same day in the calendar.
As I said in my initial letter to you one year ago, the real significance of this is that your arrival on this day has helped the family redefine what April 14th means. I promise you, though, I’m not trying to turn you in to some sign from God that my father is up there watching us, and you were given to us on that particular day for just that purpose. That seems like too much weight for anyone to bear, and Lord knows you bore much weight in your early days. I will never stop recognizing April 14th as the day I lost my father, but I promise you I’ll not use your birth story from the same day in a way that makes you seem like a patch over a hurt, rather than the single, detached, stand-on-its-own amazing celebration of life that you are and deserve to be.
There was emotion in your birth like you would not believe, but as much as anything it was because we had to watch you in that incubator and isolette bed for weeks. It was because we could not hold you as much as we wanted and we couldn’t spend our nights with you. It was because doctors said you might be there until your supposed actual due date In June.
Let it not be said that you didn’t put all your might behind your four pounds. You were so excellent at hitting your milestones that you got to come home with us in 19 days. For a 32-weeker preemie, that’s tant amount to leaving burnt rubber on the floor of the intensive care unit as you peeled on outta there.
We held a little ceremony for you around the date of your originally assumed due date. We wrote down all the negative things we could think of about your birth that filled our heads and hearts, said them aloud and then threw them into a fire. It wasn’t only us who participated. Midwives, our doula, grandparents, aunts and uncles afar. They all sent in words even if they couldn’t join us in person, and we let those thoughts drift off entwined in the smoke from the fire.
We felt relief for ourselves, and for you. I think for the first time I really allowed myself to appreciate what a wonder you are; to see you clearly without bad memories clouding my thoughts.
I do have to apologize for our impatience in those early days, though, Heidi. Your mum and I, we wanted you to wake up, see some attention in your eyes, see you crack your first real smiles. Your state of 'newborness' went on for ages. Generally, that 'newborny' phase might go for three weeks and then babies start coming out of their sleepy little shell. But for you, it went on for months, and we really wanted to meet the 'real you'. You had enough going on though, and it wasn't fair of us to think like that.
But when you did come out of that shell, holy cow. You've come on like gangbusters. Now, you're a fantastic size. Not just for a preemie but for any baby. Enormity doesn’t begin to describe how adorable you are, though.
The way you chuckle: not an outward guffaw, but just a chuckle that shows how tickled you are—this is you. The way your face crumples completely and you wail in despair if not picked up post-haste by either your mum or I when we get home from work—this is you. The way you’ve learned to scoot across the floor, head down and cruising forward, after one of your brother’s toys, which you’ll try to rip from his hands unapologetically—this is you. That you tend to pet the dog’s fur rather than rip it out—this is you (and Nellie thanks you for it). That you not only play, but initiate, peekabo games with those around you. That you babble happily almost non-stop, though unfortunately sometimes at 4:30 in the morning—this is you. Along those lines, you’ve no idea what a light in the world you are when wake up happy every morning or after a good nap—your pleased little gurgles and coos are music to the world.
Cognitively, Heidi, “they “ say you’ll be a bit behind for a while due to your early arrival. But after 365 days of watching you not just grow, but excel and shine and turn into such a gorgeous little creature, I’ll be darned if you aren’t perfect right now. I can’t wait to watch what happens tomorrow and every day thereafter. I just know that Granddad Jim, from somewhere, like the rest of us, is just beaming at the sight of you.
Happy birthday, Heidi. Thank you for coming to us when you did, and for being who you are.