Like his parents, from the day we told C.T. about my pregnancy with Zachary, he never fully trusted that his baby brother would become a living sibling. Some of the first words out his mouth were something to the effect of: I'm excited but scared. Of course, he/she might die. I'm certain that seems (gasp) so, so troubling for people who have the luxury of shielding their children from the reality of death. But when a child in the family has already died, there is no choice but to get real, to face the enduring consequences of that loss and the vulnerability of all of us to death. B.W.'s absence was and is ever-present in our home - reflected in our family rituals, our values and attitudes, our priorities and our friendships. Our talk of the new baby boy was always tempered with..., if he survives. When we finally told our family and friends about my pregnancy with Zachary, most couldn't contain their excitement and certainty. We grimaced and attempted some form of outward optimism for their sake, but also flailed our bloodied and permanently broken parts, to remind people what we knew firsthand as a result of B.W.'s death: that there are just no guarantees. Not for this baby, not for any of us, at any attained age.
Of course, this doesn't mean that we didn't have hope for Zachary. The three of us hoped and prayed and dreamed. C.T. imagined all sorts of things about his little brother during my pregnancy... What kind of theme do you think he will want for his birthday? Will he be good at math, like I am? I'll have to go easy on him when we kick the soccer ball, right?. I will hold him and rock him before bed, ok? Mom, do you think I can give the baby a bath by myself, as long as you watch? I'm going to give him half of my stuffed animals. (Again, all of his questions and declarations prefaced by something like "if he lives,...".)
When Zachary arrived prematurely, but almost fully expected to survive and thrive, C.T. was the proudest big brother you can imagine while still somewhat cautious about Zach's permanency in our lives. Impatient that he was not allowed in the NICU, he peppered us with questions about Zachary every time one of us returned from the hospital. He wanted to see any and all pictures and videos the minute we walked in the door.
By the time C.T. was allowed to see him in the NICU, Zachary was in septic shock (and ventilated, medically paralyzed and puffy with fluids). He was critically ill, but showing signs of increased stabilization and still had a fighting chance to live and recover. I lifted and carried C.T. over to Zachary's isolette, and although I was worried about how C.T. would react to seeing Zachary like this, it took just a minute or two for his fear of the wires and the sound of the oscillating ventilator to melt away. I asked C.T. what he thought about Zachary. He whispered he's so cute with his arms wrapped around my neck. I can't even try to choke back the tears as I think about how much C.T. loved and wanted his brother Zachary.
A few days later, on the day before we removed his life support, my sister and brother-in-law brought C.T. and my two nieces to visit Zachary. C.T. showed the girls how he could reach in and feel Zachary's soft hair and touch his toes. He spoke about bringing Zachary home. It was probably one of the most painful experiences of my life to watch C.T. introduce his cousins to Zachary with such pride and optimism when I knew Zach would die the next day.
That evening, B and I sat down with C.T. and explained that his beloved brother was so sick that he would not survive. That all of this talk about Zachary (hopefully) feeling better and coming home was actually not going to happen. Ever. I saw his world crumble right before my eyes, just as mine had two days earlier when we learned of Zachary's brain hemorrhage and prognosis. I have never heard C.T. cry and scream like he did that night. His pleadings: He's going to die? Why? When did you know? I thought you said Zachy didn't have a brain bleed? Momma. Daddy. The reverberations of his sobbing shook my body as I held him, tears streaming down my own face.
C.T.'s hopes and dreams for Zachary shattered, just as we knew they could be.