We’ve just past the 8 month mark since the day Peyton left us on October 13. In reality, he left us 5 days before. When I talk about his death, I never really know which day to use as the day he died. October 8 was the day he chose, but October 13 was the day declared by the doctor. Is it possible to use a span of time as a date of death?
While I don’t remember much from the hospital or the month after Peyton died, I remember those two days with alarming clarity. October 8 was a day like any other day…well sort of. I was home sick with a migraine. Peyton had asked to stay home with me that day, but because he’d missed so many days due to his stomach issues and because we’d argued the night before, I sent him off to school. That is my first regret of the day. When I picked him up from school, he told me about speaking with the principal and I felt like he wasn’t telling me the whole truth. We went inside to speak to Mr. Rhoades and, although we were unable to do so, Peyton knew I was irritated with him. That is my second regret of the day. On the way home, we discussed the situation and I told Peyton that I didn’t agree with his declaration of bullying and that he should just ignore it. That is my third regret of the day. Once we got home, he went to his room as I checked the mail. I left him alone for about 15 minutes. That is my fourth regret of the day and the biggest regret of my life.
From there, things are a blur of policemen, paramedics, Anthony from Victim’s Assistance, a helicopter ride that seemed painstakingly slow, and, somehow, finding our way to the ICU of Dell Children’s Hospital. At this point, I was still optimistic and knew that Peyton would be ok. I guess I didn’t notice the clandestine looks between the medical staff or the reticent conversations that took place just out of my hearing. All I could see was my baby boy with a tube down his throat. Unresponsive. Not moving. No dramatic reactions to cover up his fear. No sideways glances at me when I tried to reassure him. No nothing. Just the mechanical sound of the machine that was keeping him alive. Throughout his entire time in the hospital, my only demand was that he not be left alone. So, when I was made to go to the cafeteria or go lay down, I insisted that someone be with him at all times until I came back. I just couldn’t stand the idea of him being in that stark room all by himself. Because I still had hope. I wanted someone to be there when he woke up. And despite the warning signs that I chose to ignore, I still had hope for 3 days.
On Saturday, my world came crashing down for a second time. A CT scan showed us that the swelling in his brain had gone down his brain stem. There would be no recovery. There would only be a slow descent into death. When the doctor showed us the image and told us the outcome, I believe my mind left my body. I only see the next few hours in the way they’ve been described to me. I don’t remember falling into a ball on the floor and wailing what I’m sure was a wail only another mother can understand. I don’t remember my sisters taking me into a private room and letting me scream and sob and flail about in empty space. I don’t remember walking down the seemingly miles long hallway, past Peyton’s room, and being put to bed. I don’t remember anything except waking up in the extra room where we’d set up camp. From then on, all we could do was wait for Peyton to decide it was time to go. I knew he was gone and I knew he might not be able to hear me, but I talked to him anyway. I sang “Sweet Baby James” to him, which is what I sang to him as a newborn in the NICU and at bed time or when he was sick. I told him how much I loved him and how proud I was of him and how much I would miss him every day and how much I hoped he would wait for me when he got to wherever he was going. I begged him to forgive me for not being a better mother.
On Sunday night, the medical staff took Peyton to CT to perform the second brain flow study, which was necessary to determine “time of death.” We waited silently for them to bring him back to his room and for the doctor to tell us what we had known and feared for many days. Peyton was gone. Only the machines were keeping his body alive. He held on until 12:02 on Monday, October 13. Perhaps he just wanted to flip the calendar one more time so he waited until after midnight. So much of the rest of that day is a void, but the moment when the doctor told us with finality that Peyton had died is branded into my brain. I can still see the room perfectly and I remember it as clear as day. This time, I didn’t cry or fall apart. I wasn’t hysterical. I was numb. The shock had come days before and now all I had to hold on to was a very thin thread of reality.
Early that evening, after his father had gone back to the Ronald McDonald House and after I had been made to go home to prepare to move out of our house, I came back to the hospital with my oldest sister. Peyton’s father and I had agreed to allow him to become an organ donor and he was scheduled to be taken to surgery at 6:00. I had to see him one more time. I had to touch him one more time. I had to kiss his face and tell him how loved he was one more time. At 8:00, Peyton’s nurse, Irl (who had stayed well past the end of his shift) walked beside the bed as my son was wheeled away. That was the last time I ever saw my boy alive and all I could do was watch him go. As we were driving away from the hospital for the last time, past the helicopter landing pad, we looked over and saw 2 helicopters waiting there. My sister said, “Those are for Peyton.” I knew they were. They were waiting to take his life saving gifts to those whose lives would be forever changed. Peyton went on to save the lives of 6 people, including a 17 year old boy, a 48 year old grandmother and an 8 month old baby, and for that, I’m extremely proud.
Many people measure their lives by days they remember. The day they started school, the day they had their first kiss, the day they married, the day their children were born. I used to do that too. But now, I measure my life in 3 parts. Before 4:30 on October 8, 2014. This is what I see as my past life, my past reality, the best time of my life when I grew up and got to be Peyton’s mom. The time I got to know that funny red headed boy who loved to make other people laugh with his crab walk and silly faces. From October 8 to October 13, 2015 is what I see as purgatory – the time when we hung in limbo, not knowing what the next minute or day would bring. And then there is everything after October 13. This is the new life that I’m supposed to live. Its one of uncertainty and darkness on most days, with a few glimmers of light shining through on a couple of rare occasions. I’ve gone back to work, moved into my own home, built new friendships, learned to appreciate the old ones even more, and started a movement that will be Peyton’s legacy . But it’s a somewhat hollow existence. Everyone keeps telling me that Kindness Matters is my “new purpose,” but I was happy with my old purpose – being Peyton’s mom. That’s all I ever wanted in the world. I’ve been told that finding a “new normal” will take time. I wonder if that’s still true if I don’t want a “new normal” and just want my old life back?