I had been looking forward to Memorial Day Weekend for months. It had been a year since our last vacation (also a 3-day weekend deal), and I desperately needed a break.
We had reservations at a lovely 19th-century bed & breakfast in a nearby scenic mountain town, about 2 1/2 hours away. Since we had to bring a Pack N Play for Little Miss the B&B owners told us the only room they had that would really fit that was their largest, so the room we had reserved had a king size bed, a sofa, five windows looking out three different sides of the house, a fireplace, and a little table perfect for snack time for Little Miss.
The town was at nearly 4,000 feet elevation and the mountains just outside our windows rose to nearly 9,000 feet. Spring had just arrived there, so the trees were budding, the tulips were still blooming, and there were robins everywhere. On the drive there we saw several foals in the pasture, and countless baby cows. Near the town (whose population is just over 1,000) was a lake, surrounded by Alpine-themed lodges, inns, and restaurants, as well as a mountain “tram” where you could ride in a bucket-style car dangling from a wire up to the top of one of the mountain peaks.
Needless to say it was destined to be a lovely weekend.
Instead, it will forever be etched into my memory as one of the most awful weekends of my life.
Though I always turn my phone ringer to “vibrate” at night, on Saturday night, for some reason, I forgot. So, at 2:43 a.m. on Sunday, I was jarred to hear my cell phone ringing. Since we were sharing a room with Little Miss, I was instantly angry with myself for having forgotten to turn it down, and I’ll admit it: I swore. I threw myself toward the nightstand, yanked the phone from the charger and clicked “ignore call.” It was a phone number I didn’t know and an area code I didn’t recognize.
A minute later, the same number called. Again, I ignored it, wondering who would be rude enough to call me at 3 a.m.
Another minute passed. The same number appeared on the screen of my phone. By this time Husband was awake and we were both wondering who could be phoning us at such an ungodly hour. He looked up the area code on his phone. Missouri. We don’t know anyone in Missouri. And if we did, wouldn’t their number be in our phones?
After about five minutes, my phone vibrated once again. This time I knew the number. It was that of one of my best friends who had recently moved to Nebraska. Confused, and knowing she’d know it was only 3 a.m. where I was, I started to grow concerned. Unable to answer my phone, I texted her.
It’s 3 a.m. I hope everything is okay. What did you need
Another phone call. My friend again.
Is everything okay? I texted again.
Her response sent chills up my spine and gives me goosebumps even now.
I quickly slipped out of bed, pulled on my sweats, and tip-toed slowly to the door, trying to miss all the places on the wood floor I knew would creak. I slowly unlatched the door and turned the squeaky doorknob, my heart pounding in my ears, my chest, my head, my stomach.
As fast as I could manage I descended the stairs and found a spot on the end of the couch in the front sitting room and covered myself with a blanket. I was shivering in excitement, trepidation, and chills. I dialed my friend’s number.
“Hello, this is Dennis.”
My friend’s name is not Dennis. Her husband’s name is not Dennis. Neither her father nor his father are named Dennis. I couldn’t speak.
“Is this Becky?” the gentle, unknown voice asked.
“Yes,” I managed. His next words confused me in their unexpectedness.
“Hi, Becky…We just wanted you to know that at this point, the child has failed to be resuscitated…” I have no idea what he said next because I couldn’t believe what I was hearing…and then the connection died.
Frantically, I called my friend over and over and over again. It went straight to voicemail each time. On a whim I dialed the strange number from Missouri that had called me three times at 2:45 a.m. The same unfamiliar voice answered, “This is Dennis, hospital chaplain.”
“This is Becky…” I said. “The phone cut out, can you repeat what you said?”
How I was so calm I’ll never know. I think it was because I was hoping I’d misheard him, or that it was a wrong number somehow.
“Sure. At this time, the child has died. She failed to be resuscitated after being in distress. The parents are with her now. If they are ready, would you be willing to talk with the mother?”
My eyes were filled with tears, and I couldn’t think. A sob choked me and I took a deep breath. My friend’s daughter was 18 months old. She and I had been pregnant together and had grown quite close as we grew as mothers together.
“What happened?” I managed.
“Well…we don’t really know yet.”
I told him I’d be willing to talk to my friend, if she was at that point. I heard him moving and heard voices getting louder. I heard my friend’s broken voice sobbing in the background, “My baby…my baby!” My heart ripped in two.
They sat in the hospital room and held their baby girl for what I’m sure felt like hours to them. I didn’t speak with them until my friend called me at 8:30 a.m. during breakfast. I excused myself from the B&B table and went around the corner to the sitting room to take the call.
In her tear-filled, heartbroken voice, my friend told me the story. I missed some things because she was sobbing as she spoke, but I did gather some basics.
At 10 p.m. their daughter had awakened and threw up a little. This didn’t strike them as odd because she’d had upset stomachs before and every kid throws up. Then she started looking a little blue so they rushed her to the emergency room. The doctors hooked her up to IVs, thinking she might be dehydrated and they began monitoring her.
Around 1 a.m. my friend’s husband posted on Facebook.
Transferring Ryann to Omaha Children’s Hospital for a spinal tap. Scared.
At around that time, the girl started having trouble breathing, then she started passing out every couple of minutes. Then she started crashing. My friend and her husband were ushered from the room, but my friend saw them “pounding on her chest” before they left the room.
There was nothing they could do. Their little girl was gone.
I was sobbing as she told me her story. When she said “she started crashing” her crying got louder and her voice less controlled. I pressed my free hand against my eyes and cried along with her.
Our daughters had known each other since birth. They’d played together, sat in church together, fought over toys together, shared snacks together, gone shopping with their mommies together, and played on playgrounds together. My friend and I had exchanged babysitting many times. I considered her daughter like a second one of mine.
I didn’t get much sleep that night, and all the next day, no matter what I was doing my mind was on my friend and her husband. I remembered the conversations we’d had, the four of us parents, about raising girls, as we sipped home-brewed espresso and laughed as we watched our girls play together. I tried to imagine what it would have been like for them to hold their lifeless child.
I started feeling a bit of something like “survivor’s guilt,” watching my own healthy, happy toddler make up songs, push cars around and make their motor noises, and put her stuffed animals night-night. And I was sure to give her extra hugs and kisses and tell her I loved her every chance I got.
No parent should have to plan their child’s funeral.
My friend’s Facebook post yesterday:
11/4/09 – 5/29/11: The best days of my life. Ryann, I love you.
My friend’s husband’s Facebook post yesterday:
Rest in peace, Ryann. Your Daddy loves you.
11/4/09 – 5/29/11