The evening of Thursday, November 18 started out just like any other chaotic family weeknight. After her dance class, Taylor and I picked up our 2-month-old Keith from his daycare and came home. Elizabeth was fixing dinner; we all took turns feeding Keith his evening bottle and cuddling with him. He was fussy that evening. I laid Keith down in his room for a nap and sent Taylor to the shower while Elizabeth finished dinner, so I could watch Alabama’s game against Chattanooga which I was assisting our coverage on.
It was an easy game for Alabama, so they scored two touchdowns pretty quickly. I went into the kitchen to talk to Elizabeth and to fix me a drink. The game came back on, so I went back into the den to continue watching.
This was the moment that changed our lives forever.
We had an Angelcare baby monitor for our peace of mind, which we got after Taylor was born. We used it for Keith as well. This wonderful monitor comes with a very sensitive sensor pad, which would sound an alarm if no motion was detected for 20 seconds. When I came back into the den, I heard the alarm. I ran upstairs, burst into his room and flipped the light on. Keith was lying there in a pool of blood. I screamed. I scooped him up, but he was unresponsive. I could feel no pulse.
Elizabeth was right on my heels. She screamed as well. We yelled for Taylor to get out of the shower. Elizabeth ran to call 911. Attempting CPR while I ran, I carried Keith in my arms across the street to the home of a dear friend, a NICU nurse. She was not home. I ran back across the street and got Elizabeth to call another friend down the street, another NICU nurse. She arrived about the same time as the first responders did, and they took over CPR for me in our front yard.
More emergency vehicles arrived, and the ambulance soon followed. I sent Elizabeth and Taylor inside to get dressed, knowing we had to leave. The EMTs and our nurse put Keith in the ambulance, continuing efforts to revive him. They took Keith and Elizabeth to the hospital. I felt OK to drive, so Taylor and I followed a few minutes later. I called our Pastor, Keith’s godparents, my boss (to let him know I couldn’t help with coverage) and another dear friend who was texting me about the game. Aside from getting completely confused and forgetting where Children’s Hospital was, it was an uneventful trip. Our Pastor had to call me and guide me to the hospital, I was so flustered at this point.
Taylor and I were rushed into a counseling room, where many of our friends, nurses, Elizabeth and the doctor were waiting. The doctor broke the news I knew from the moment I picked Keith up out of his bassinet: he was gone. Elizabeth’s sweet sweet baby boy, Taylor’s bubby, my little buddy, had left this world.
We were allowed the opportunity to spend a few more hours with Keith. The hospital staff kept him wrapped in warm blankets, and we took turns holding him and sobbing. Friends came in to be with us. Our Pastors prayed for us continually. Finally, the coroner arrived, and we had to let go of our baby boy for the last time.
Much of the rest of that night was a blur. Several dozen friends showed up at the hospital to be with us. (Nurses commented that they had never seen such a crowd at the ER – we have the best family and friends one could ever ask for.) A friend got us a hotel room so we wouldn’t have to go home. Other friends went to our house, picked up all of Keith’s things and placed them in his room so we wouldn’t be confronted with them when we came home. They also packed things we needed from the house and brought them to the hotel. Someone followed us to the apartment to make sure we arrived safely. Someone got us dinner. Someone else got me a six-pack of Sam Adams (MUCH needed that night). We spent much of the evening on the phone with family and friends out of town. I got my girls settled down to a point they could get some rest. I spent most of that night on Facebook reading comments and reliving the evening over and over again.
Friday morning, we came home, greeted by friends. (Did I mention we have the best friends ever?) I’m not sure what all happened that day. People came, hugged us, told us they loved us. Keith’s godmother – who has two boys and never gets to do girly things – took Taylor away to get a manicure. Taylor loved it. I think I ate. I did finish the drink I made Thursday night. I believe I had another beer or two after that. Numb, that’s all I remember. Numb, but surrounded by loved ones. Many of our out-of-town families came in. I spent Friday night sitting in the driveway talking and listening to my brother, our neighbor and Miles play guitar well into the night.
Saturday morning, Taylor was taken away for a fun day with friends while Elizabeth and I met our Pastor at the funeral home to make arrangements. We had breakfast at Cracker Barrel after that. Again, we were surrounded by loved ones the entire day, but again, much of the day was a blur. Saturday evening, Elizabeth and I selected some of our favorite pictures of Keith, and went out alone to get them printed and framed. Friends came over Saturday night, and I think I had another beer or two.
Sunday morning. We had a lot of family in town at that point, and I knew we could not go to Good Shepherd. Elizabeth, Taylor and our parents went to Advent Cathedral downtown, where they could worship in relative anonymity. After spending a quiet morning crying with Elizabeth’s mother who chose to stay home, I decided to go to our church. I came in after the service started and snuck upstairs to the sound booth where I could be a part of the service without drawing attention to myself. Our praise team saw me and came up to hug me. I went downstairs for the last group to receive Communion, trying not to make eye contact with anyone for fear of losing what little composure I had left. I left the service early – breaking my own pet peeve – knowing I didn’t have the strength to face everyone there.
Sunday afternoon. We had a private viewing at the funeral home at 4:00, where our family got to see Keith one last time, in his casket. Shortly after 5:00, we closed the casket and started the public visitation. I have no idea how many people we saw that night, but heard reports that the line stretched into the parking lot. I got to talk a lot about our baby boy, show off the pictures Elizabeth and I had chosen, and cried a lot as well. Sunday evening, yet more friends who arrived in town came over, and once again I think I had another beer or two. (Notice a recurring coping mechanism here?)
Monday afternoon, 1:00 was the memorial service. I have been to a number of funerals, but never one like this. Our praise team played all the music (how, I’ll never know), and I have never heard such sweet music before. Pastor Dave shared scripture and a story I had contemplated sharing myself, but knew I didn’t have the strength to share there. My brother played and sang a song that may be the most emotional outpouring in music I have ever seen. Pastor Ed offered up the most moving prayer I have ever heard, shouting WHY?? to God at one point. It was (as some people confided in our friends later) a “different” memorial service, but I could not imagine one more perfect than this. We processed to Keith’s grave to say our final farewells, and watch him be laid in the ground. I anointed his casket with oil (thanks again, Mike!) and watched his casket as it was buried. Eventually, we made our way back to the church, where a meal had been prepared for anyone who wanted to come. We were able to fellowship with our family and friends. Sunday night, we had what could only be called a party back at the house. (At this point, I must thank our neighbors –the ones who didn’t hear the noise and come over that night at least – for not calling the police on us. We were loud, and it lasted well into the early hours of Tuesday morning.)
Thanksgiving was that Thursday, one week after Keith’s death. Abandoning our original plans to leave town, we were adopted (Kidnapped? Hijacked? Not sure we had much say in this, actually) by an extended family at our church, who brought us in, fed us and loved on us. Quality time with three of our godchildren made the day even more special.
So, in poorly-written fashion with many details probably left out, this is the chronicle of the hardest week of our lives. Elizabeth, Taylor and I continue to ache down to the very core of our being, and we will for a long time. We have had family and friends with us, holding us up, every step of the way. We have received hundreds of cards, text messages, emails, phone calls, Facebook posts, telegrams, smoke signals, carrier pigeons – you name it – expressive condolences and love. For all the outpourings of love, for all the prayers, for all the meals, for all the late-night phone calls, for the donations, for the financial assistance, for the invitations, for the hugs, for everything – we will never be able to thank everyone. We appreciate it all. Through this whole ordeal, as difficult as it has been and will continue to be, we have never felt so blessed or so loved as we do now.
Elizabeth, Taylor and I will get through this. We will work through our grief and learn to live with the hurt. In time. Please keep us in your prayers. We need each and every one of them still. And if you’ve stayed with me through this whole post, thank you.