Shortly after Peyton was born, my mother-in-law and I took him and Dduger (our dog) for a walk. A little ways down the street, a bee stung Dduger and was stuck to his foot. Being afraid of most bugs and a natural panicker to boot, I waited while my mother-in-law handled the situation. Dduger limped for a short period of time and Peyton was unscathed. This incident left a bad taste in my mouth. What if the bee was stinging Peyton? Would I have reacted the same way? Why did I wait for someone else to help this poor dog that I love so much?
I remember calling my mom to tell her about it. I told her I thought I would do anything to protect Peyton, but after that I wasn’t so sure. How could I ever be sure? I know parents always SAY they would do anything for their children, as I had; but how do we really know that? My mom assured me that if the time ever came, I would do the right thing. She couldn’t explain it, but she knew.
And now I know she was right. When Peyton first got sick, I didn’t accept the news. The one time I would have expected to panic the most was the first time I was completely calm and focused. I knew it was true, but I couldn’t let it sink in until everything else was in place. We needed someone to care for Emma and Jacob indefinitely. We needed to notify work that we wouldn’t be back for an unknown amount of time – fire us if you have to, we won’t be there and money pales in comparison to a crisis with a child. Family and a couple of close friends needed to be called, and we knew they would step up to help where needed. The daycare needed to know we would only be sending two children for the time being, and we hoped they would hold Peyton’s spot.
This all started around 10pm while Peyton was waiting in an ER room after an unorganized effort to get him diagnosed (starting at 3pm), and continued from the ambulance on the way from one hospital to the other. We had no idea of the prognosis (“he has cancer, but we don’t know what kind yet”) or whether he was expected to live or die, what treatments would be like, what it would do to his little body, how long this would go on, etc. It was just enough information to know the situation is dire.
Fast forward 2 ½ weeks when Peyton had a seizure at home. The ambulance arrived and we got in. I told the ambulance driver my son was dying in the back and there wasn’t anything I could do about it. He was silent. Somehow I just knew, and I was anything but calm.
We were supposed to go to Riley, but they couldn’t stabilize his breathing. We stopped at the nearest hospital for that with Eric following in our car. It was snowy and icy, and I later learned that Peyton should have been life-lined, but the weather was too iffy.
When we arrived at Riley, they immediately told us they needed to start breathing for him. I was on the verge of passing out and Eric stepped up to keep us both calm. We were transferred to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) and were surrounded by a swarm of doctors and nurses trying to stabilize Peyton and figure out what was going on. He continued to have seizures. He continued to be unresponsive. I continued to panic. It was Eric’s turn to take control and keep the calm. He was the only thing that kept me from losing it, and I needed to be present to answer the doctors’ questions.
I don’t remember if/when we slept or what all happened through that first night. I know that was the start of a very busy month. And I know that was the first time I was sure without a shred of doubt that I would die for any of my children. No questions asked, no matter the circumstances. Through the course of the month, I begged God to spare Peyton and take me. I tried to will it to happen. We tried to pretend it wasn’t true. We stopped participating in rounds and shut the doctors out.
I couldn’t save Peyton. The doctors and nurses couldn’t save him. It was beyond human power or he would still be here. But I can still do good things in his name, and I can keep his memory alive for as long as I’m alive. I can teach his siblings about him and they will learn compassion for others in a way that many will never truly understand. They will learn that it is okay to talk about things that are difficult to talk about and to always talk about their brother when they want to; it is okay to be sad, to be happy; it is okay to ask for or take time for yourself when you need it; it is okay to be a little off from “normal.”
I hope they will also learn their strengths and be able to use them to get through difficult situations. Eric and I were given the ultimate test. I know from previous research that only about 50% of parents survive the loss of a child together, and many suffer from long-term physical and mental illnesses. These are scary statistics, especially after losing a son who was given a 90% chance of living. We both started reading everything we could get our hands on that didn’t scare us, and continued to communicate every step of the way. This continues, but has gotten easier. We have good days and bad days, and not always at the same time. The kids see it and we talk to them about it. They know it’s unnatural to be happy all the time and we don’t pretend we are okay when we are not (most of the time). They see Eric and I working together to help each other cope. They see the love we both have for each other, for them and for Peyton. And they see and feel the love from so many others who care about all of us.
At some point while I was writing this, I forgot what my point was. I just miss my son and this is another attempt to feel better and keep his memory alive. I would give anything to have him back and continue down the unenlightened path I was on before. I’m not a “why me” kind of person because really, why anybody? Children simply shouldn’t die. I don’t know why Peyton had to be one of the ones who did, but that’s not for anyone in this lifetime to know or try to explain. All I can do is give this world my best while I’m here. Some days I won’t have anything to offer, and that’s okay. Peyton has made my world better forever, and I know he has changed things in positive ways for many of you as well.
Happy 5th birthday, my sweet Peyton Daniel. We will be sending you more orange thoughts and love than usual today (if that is possible). Love you with all my heart, mommy