I’ve never had a fantastic memory. Even way back when – before marriage, before kids, before Ella – my memory was average at best, and then after kids came into the picture, I just started blaming my bad memory on them! When I try to recall life events, I have to first remember where I lived when the event took place and then figure out the year and/or grade I was in to help connect the dots and fill in the blanks. Maybe this is a problem all military brats deal with – having to catalog memories by which duty station or state you lived in at the time? Anyway, for childhood memories, I can at least rely on my sister’s excellent memory to help me out. My sister can very clearly and specifically remember events from when she was a toddler. She even remembers when I was an infant, and she was only two and a half years old at the time! I, on the other hand, can barely remember last week…or yesterday, if I’m going to be honest.
I can’t remember to buy the apples my son asks for. In the time it takes me to walk the 17 steps from the first floor of our home to the second, I forget why I’m making the trip. As soon as I step away from the computer, I can’t remember to respond to emails or messages. If I don’t write it down, type it as a note on my cell phone, or make a list and then make another list that I’ll actually read, then I just plain don’t remember anything anymore. My memory has always been just slightly less than good. On a scale of one to ten, my memory was meh. But since Ella died, it’s gone from bad to wait….what was I talking about?
My memory is shot to hell, yet I can remember every blasted detail of Ella’s last days and of the weeks that preceded and followed her death. It’s a slightly cruel twist of fate that those memories are the ones in the forefront of my mind and in such bright and vivid Technicolor. It’s unfair that all of the good memories of her short life are overshadowed by the overwhelmingly bad memories, the painful memories, the whyGodwhy? memories. It’s just crap that so many tears follow so closely on the heels of such fleeting smiles when I do try to recall some good times. It breaks my heart that, though I can’t quit staring at her pictures on the fridge, in the bedroom, on the computer, or on the visor in the car, I feel guilty for wondering if my trying to remember the good times does more harm than good, and if all of the reminders – the sweet, gorgeous, beautiful reminders – just amplify and intensify the pain that would be there anyway.
My day-to-day memory is shot all to hell, but my Ella-centric memories are beyond intact. I remember the specific names of the eight different things that were wrong with her heart, and I could point out or even sketch where they would be on a diagram of a heart. I remember all of the medicines that Ella was on throughout the months of her care, and I even remember some of the dosages. I remember the room numbers of all of the rooms Ella was in for the 5+ months she was hospitalized, and I remember the patient code I had to use to get into the PICU. I remember the names of all of the doctors, nurses, therapists and support techs that took care of Ella.
I remember the not-so-calm before the storm, the time before it really hit the fan. I remember when the decision was made to try intubating and sedating my Ella. I remember trying to catch my breath while crying and telling a doctor to not leave Ella’s side while I quickly took a restroom break. I remember the look on one particular nurse’s face when she and I made eye contact in the hall as she hurriedly grabbed something from (what I guess was) the crash cart, the strained, shocked look of holy shit - NOT this, not now, not her! I remember looking into the doctor’s eyes when she said that the medical team was doing compressions and that though the doctor wasn’t crying, her eyes were moist and red-rimmed. I remember the crowd of doctors and nurses in the hall because there was only so much space in Ella’s room. I remember walking into her room and seeing that she was surrounded by so many doctors and nurses. I remember hearing someone say loudly, “It’s the mom! Mom’s here!” and sensing that they were making way for me while I focused on getting to Ella. I remember the weight of her when I scooped her up into my arms, not waiting for anyone to clear lines or clean up. I remember that in the middle of Last Rites during the Litany of Saints, the doctor who had placed his stethoscope on Ella’s chest looked up and shook his head. I remember just kissing her sweet head over and over and over again and feeling her temperature slowly slowly slowly cool.
I remember so much. I remember it as though it were yesterday, as though I just left the hospital a moment ago, as though I just buried my sweet baby girl. I remember every moment, but I can’t remember to buy a bag of damned freaking apples.
Earlier this year I read a couple of posts by Catholic blogger Jennifer Fulwiler. She wrote about witnessing her neighbor’s grisly and fatal motorcycle accident and about learning how to handle and process that incident. In her piece Therapy and the Spiritual Life, Fulwiler explained why she chose to go to therapy. She had been against the general idea of therapy for a long time but had gotten to a point in the post-trauma grieving process when something had to give. I read the blog post with great interest because I could relate to the information she presented about how the brain actually changes due to trauma. It just made sense that the brain would store traumatic memories differently and process them differently than it does the “normal”, non-traumatic memories. The information that Ms. Fulwiler provided shed some much appreciated light on why my memories of everything involving Ella’s death have yet to make the leap from present tense to past. I haven’t made the decision to transition from cheap therapy to professional therapy for a variety of reasons, but my eyes and my mind have certainly been opened to the benefits offered by the latter.
I have a bad memory except with regard to the stranglehold my brain has on all of the bad memories. But for as wretchedly painful as it is to relive the events of Ella’s death, I’m not sure that I’m ready to let them go. I’m not sure I could let them go without feeling like I’m letting her go all over again. I will be ready one day, I think. I’ll be able to see pictures of her sweet face with a tear-free smile on my own. I’ll be able to watch the video of her saying “mama” without desperately keening for her. And instead of being resentful because of the short time I had with Ella, I’ll be able to be grateful for the time I did have with her here on earth - the eight months and seven days I had with the most awesome baby on the planet.
One day I’ll be able to live with the bad memories because I’ll be able to make my peace with them. I will truly be able to make peace with God’s will in all of this because His will is perfect though my understanding of it is not. In the meantime, I’m hoping and praying for a peace that surpasses all understanding, but I have to admit…some days I’d settle for a resignation that numbs even a little bit of this heartache.
St. Ella, pray for us!