When I decide that I want to see my daughter, I wish that didn’t mean I had to get in the car and drive 20 minutes to a cemetery to see her. That’s the truth. I want to be able to get up, walk into the nursery and find her asleep. But instead, the drive to Riverside is the best that I can ever get. I can never be closer than three feet to her. That can do a lot to my thoughts. The reason I say “tomorrow is promised to no one” is because it applies but not just in the sense that most people understand the statement. Living life as though today is your last day on earth is one thing, but there is also the version that I feel that I face on a daily basis. You have this cautious hope, if not a blind one, that every day will be better than the day before. As I get further and further away from the date we lost Ava, days will just get better. It’s a guarantee provided by time. I wish this were true but it is not.
After we lost Ava, the hospital let us spend as much time as we wanted with her. I don’t know that anyone will truly understand this unless you went through it, but even though she was gone and there was no coming back, I considered that time to bond with her. Up until the moment she was passing, we had not been able to come near her like normal parents can. Every time we wanted to touch her or comfort her we had to reach through plexiglass holes in her incubator. It wasn’t supposed to be that way but then again none of this was supposed to be this way. From the moment she passed through Monday morning, all of our time was spent with Ava. There was not a moment we weren’t with her.
We held her constantly and Leah slept with her in her arms. I talked to Ava like she was there listening. I emphatically apologized over and over again that this happened. I talked to her about what my dreams were with her. I promised her that I would be the best person and best father that I could be. I would have given anything for her to just respond somehow. There were a few times where you just believe this isn’t real and she is just going to wake up. She looks to perfect and too innocent to really be gone. The constant back and forth between reality and not was torture. When we finally left the hospital there was no turning back. We would see her only one more time and that was the funeral. And even at that time we didn’t think we could see her. We were under the impression from the hospital that infants were not typically embalmed which meant Ava probably would not be in the physical condition where seeing her would be a good idea. Once we were at the funeral home we were told the exact opposite. This meant we had only one other chance to see her and that was it. I already talked about that before though.
I can remember the many prayers I said over Ava when she was in her incubator. I prayed constantly that she would fight and that she would be saved. The hospital staff referenced a period for NICU babies called the honeymoon phase. I don’t know if I mentioned this yet or not. There are quite a few cases where NICU babies are delivered and then they do remarkably well for a couple of days and then their health declines rapidly. During our honeymoon phase, Leah and I both really believed she would make it. We talked like she would make it. We were already trying to figure out how we would see her every possible minute over the following two or three months. There just wasn’t any doubt in our minds. This is the tragedy of NICU births. Tomorrow really is promised to no one. No matter how much you pray, no matter how much you hope. You never, ever get the gift of certainty. You don’t even get close to certainty like other people. It stinks.
After all the chaos settled the day that Ava was delivered, I remember seeing her the first time with Leah. It was at that time and the subsequent visits to her that followed where I knew how I would struggle in the hospital. I was completely divided with this painful tension every time we saw her. On the one side were my instincts as a father to always see her and pray for her and to comfort her when I could. I had a very hard time with this because of the other side of me that couldn’t bear to see Ava this way. She looked so fragile and so delicate but what made it the worst was she was so perfect. I know ever parent thinks their child is perfect but Ava really was. She had her cute brown hair, her eyebrows, her eyelashes, her mother’s nose, these perfect hands and feet. She even had tiny little fingernails. I just couldn’t handle seeing my daughter so perfect yet in such grave danger, with a sheet of plexiglass between me and her. And even if it wasn’t there, I couldn’t do anything.
Every trip we took between Leah’s room and hers ended up the same way for me. We would draw closer to the elevator, go one floor down and there would be the sign saying NICU with double-doors just beneath it. Through the double doors was a hand-washing station you had to use every time you entered. Through another set of doors was the NICU. That long walk always involved the same thoughts. I would just picture seeing Ava laying there as we approached her room. My heart would break every time. And then there was the walk through the NICU to reach Ava. I would look at every monitor and listen for every baby. I would see heart rates well above 100 where they were supposed to be. I would hear cries. I would see babies being held. Why couldn’t it work out that way for Ava? A question I don’t know that I will ever get the answer to.
Almost without question, each time I saw Ava I got upset. Any time I touched her I just couldn’t handle it. I was a joyous pain. It would tear my heart out every time, but it would bring me such joy to feel her touch. We have a picture of the first time Ava took my hand. I stuck my right pinky finger through the glass and just little snuggled up to her left hand. She grabbed it and held on. She was actually holding on to my finger with strength. I crumbled. Of the few moments we had with Ava given her short time with us, that may be my favorite even if it”s one of the hardest to revisit when I want to remember what it felt to feel my daughter’s touch. I can say with almost complete clarity that I would live the pain over and over again if it meant I had more time. Time is not always your companion. It can also be your biggest predator.
Time is what brings me back to today. Yesterday was a good day. It created memories for me and I had this attitude of gratitude. I still do, but today I felt less than privileged to be here. The notion that my tomorrows will always be better than my yesterdays is just not a promise granted to me by anyone, God included. The only way that I survive days where I feel despair is knowing that I can at least be near Ava at Riverside whenever I want to, which is where I am right now. I was given some time with her which I wouldn’t trade for anything. My daughter held my finger. My daughter enlightened me when she was here. In many ways.
Even if you are not here Ava, it is my hope that you sometimes get the messages that I send your way. I don’t know if you can ever look down or have an awareness of what I do. There are definitely days when I believe you can. Either way, I just hope that you know I miss you and I love you. I hope you are at peace. I hope you understand that although every day will not always be a day that I would call good, I at least can revert back to the amazing daughter you are. You will always be my little girl. Talk to you tomorrow.