by Theo’s dad, Nate
There was a magnetic white circle on the outside of our hospital room door. It wasn’t very big — just about two inches or so across — and it had no identifying features, no text or pictures on it. It was hung just at eye level, a little below the room number and slightly askew of center.
I’m not sure how long I stared at it without fully realizing it was there. The first night, I fixated on it while I stood out in the hallway speaking to my brother on the phone in a quiet, defeated voice. Again, in the early morning hours when my sister returned my call, I allowed it to be an anchor, something to focus on without thinking about, which helped keep my mind from drifting away mid-sentence. I didn’t put any thought at all into it at first, it was something that was just there, something of no real significance.
On our second day in the hospital though, it took up a permanent settlement in my mind, and it’s doubtful it will ever leave.
I had gone down the hallway to the patients’ kitchen to get…ice…soda…juice…really anything I could find that would provide me with some creature comfort. Since we had come to the hospital the night before, time had moved by sporadically. My brain would consciously accept new information for about an hour at a time, then everything would slow down while I tried to process and accept the reality, and the gravity, of our situation. As I left the kitchen and rounded the corner to our section of the wing, it occurred to me that I didn’t actually know which room was ours. Up to that point, I had barely strayed out of the room, and when I did I just let my subconscious guide me back. However, as I stared at the last few doors in the wing my subconscious happily reminded me that we were in the room with the white circle under the number.
I had seen it there probably a dozen times already, but for some reason when I looked at it that time, it sank in. It wasn’t something that got stuck on the door once and never removed. It was how the staff new which room was THE room. It was why the nurses and doctors knew to be somber when they entered, why the hospital staff didn’t smile or congratulate us on our new baby, or even look us in the eye, when they entered the room. That small white circle was how the hospital told everyone that death had come for my son.
Self-control is not a virtue I possess in great volume. When I realized why it was there I wanted to rip it off and shout at the person who put it there. I wanted to move it to a different door with the childish hope that it would take death and sadness with it, and I would enter our room and everything in our little world would be okay.
But I didn’t do it. Instead, I remembered that it didn’t work out okay, and that this was our new reality. Our new normal.
So I went back into our room, and we forced ourselves to both fit on my wife’s hospital bed, and we held our son.
As I came to terms with our situation, I feared, at first, that Theo would be forgotten. Being a stillborn, only a very small number of people ever saw him. For most, his life was a little more abstract — he was the squirmy thing under the surface of my wife’s enormous belly, then not. However, I soon realized that wasn’t my true fear. My true fear was that he would always be remembered, but that his entire existence would be defined by how and when he died — that he would be remembered only as a tragedy that my family suffered through. Something bad that happened to us. A reason to pity us.
I spoke at my son’s funeral — it’s something, as a parent, I never thought I would have to do. But, he wasn’t given the opportunity to speak for himself through the actions of his life, so I did it.
I asked that everyone who knew him try, in time, to let their grief subside, and remember him not as a tragic thing that happened to my family, but for what he really was — our son.
I hope in time I can learn to do it myself.