Rowan hugs and kisses my belly every morning and says I love you to Phoenix. This morning, I said “you are missing having a baby around aren’t you?”
He looked up at me and responded “Yeah mama, a lot”
I told him once his sister was here he could love and hug her just like he did Sloan.
Then he hesitates and asks “But she won’t die? She’ll be here forever?”
A part of our loss that I haven’t touched on much since the first few weeks after Sloan’s death, is Rowan’s proximity to the tragedy as it unfolded. He witnessed every moment of that day, quietly meshing into the background as our nightmare took place. A large part of me has kept this aspect of the tragedy close as if it protected him, in the way I couldn’t protect him from what he saw that day. The rest of me kept it close to protect myself from the triggering it causes to think about.
Most mornings, Rowan would follow me into Sloan’s nursery to wake him. Together, we would say “hi baby” in a sing song voice and Sloan would lift his head smiling. That morning, Rowan shadowed behind me as usual. The moment our routine greeting left my lips, I felt this strange ominous weight of realization wash over me. Sloan hadn’t moved when we spoke. I reach into his crib and placed my hand on his back. Cold. Nothing. I turned him over as I lifted him and saw the purple blotches of pooled blood on the left side of his beautiful face. He was still. His eyes closed, lashes perfectly splayed in a curl, lips pursed and blue.
I remember shouting for Justin, my voice coming out more like a wail of pain and agony. Justin ran in, pushing Rowan out of the way and taking Sloan from my hands, shouting “No!” over and over again. After that moment, Rowan was forgotten.
Do you know what it’s like to say those words? Your child was forgotten? How much it aches to realize that in your haste to save one child, your other child blended in to the surroundings? I have struggled greatly with this fact. When I have flash backs of that day, in many, I see Justin pumping Sloan’s lifeless chest with his fingers. Sloan’s knees slightly bent, frozen in place as the stiffness was already beginning. I see my own hand touch Sloan’s stomach, feeling the warmth and thinking maybe it meant things were still working inside. In that moment I also see Rowan sitting silently on the sofa with his own knees to his chin, watching and studying every detail of what was happening. His face had this look of concern, he was clearly trying desperately to understand what was going on in front of him.
Family arrived, and Rowan was taken out of the room for his sake. Paramedics surrounded, trying and failing to do what could not be done. It was too late. Everyone already knew. Motions just had to be gone through.
I see the moment I was holding Sloan’s body in my arms, tracing his eyebrows, his lips, his lashes, with my fingers. Wiping my tears off his perfect face. I see someone bringing Rowan over to us, I don’t remember who. That person asking Rowan if he’d like to say goodbye to Sloan. Rowan flinching, confused, and yet still grasping that this was finality. His hand touched the blanket I held around Sloan, very gently sliding away and then the person took Rowan back to our bedroom.
I know people were with Rowan that day. I know he was taken care of. He wasn’t alone, he was occupied. I know he had it all explained to him. I know he was cared for and loved. But I don’t remember wondering what he was doing or where he was. And that is gut wrenching.
In the days and weeks following, we clung to Rowan. He was purpose and light, and he was suddenly so fragile to us. Yet here was this 3 year old child, who somehow not only understood that his brother was gone, but understood that his family needed tenderness and ease in order to cope. Rowan held our hands when we cried, he kissed our faces when we were silent, he talked about Sloan when we could not, and he offered humor when we longed for normality. He was magnificent, mature in ways far beyond his age or comprehension.
He has his moments, he cries for his brother when the longing is too much. He asks questions, like today, needing reassurance that he won’t relive those dark hours. But he is this pillar of strength, courage, and absoluteness that amazes me. This child, this being, has a beautiful ability to take in what happens around him and not only say “Ok, this is how it is now”, but help nurture others through the process. It’s not a feat even many adults can take on.
It is evident that his excitement and love for his unborn sister is in direct relation to the bond he still shares with his brother. In moments like this morning, when I’m feeling the most guilty and devastated about how that day affected him, I remind myself that these questions he asks are simply him giving HIMSELF the reassurance he so often gives us.