The fog that followed

We had Matthew christened, and were told the State Police were taking jurisdiction. I’m uncertain exactly what that means, or how it’s different from the local police having jurisdiction. I cognized that it meant the State Police wanted to talk to Michael and I in a little room while our families waited outside the room getting increasingly upset because they could hear cropped-img_47121.jpgus crying.The state police needed us to give them a rundown of what our Sunday was like. What we did. We told them in great detail about how it was a typical Sunday for us all. We did our usual stuff, hung out as a family, since Sunday is the only day Michael doesn’t work. We had dinner, then we got the stroller out and took Matty for a walk with Caroline. We came home hung out, around 9pm we gave Matty a bottle, and he fell asleep. We took him upstairs to say good night to his sister. I didn’t remember until Caroline told me but evidently I asked Caroline to hold Matty so I could use the bathroom. I don’t know why weeks after he passed away she felt the need to share this information with me. I’ve often wondered if perhaps it’s because she was a bit irritated to have to hold him; although I can’t for the life of me envision her feeling that way; and now lives with regret over having had any type emotion aside from happiness. Likely she mentioned it because that was the last time she saw her baby brother.

I didn’t hold a wake. I knew I wouldn’t have been able to handle it. I don’t know if it was the right decision for Caroline though. Perhaps she needed closure? I’ll never have an answer to this however, she won’t talk about anything regarding Matthew, even now almost 5 years later, Matthew is not a topic she will even entertain having a conversation about. She shuts down and because I have no idea how to handle the death of her brother with her I go along with it. I no longer mention Matty to her, and I mostly don’t mention him to their father either. Neither of them are open with their feelings so I shut my own emotions away as best I can in Pandora’s box as to keep everyone as happy as possible.

At any rate;  Matty was put in his rock and play in our bedroom next to my side of the bed about 10-10:30pm. We went to bed ourselves after he was settled.

Around 3am Matthew woke up screaming, it didn’t sound like his usual cry but I thought nothing about it until after he had died. Hindsight is 20/20. It’s also a bitch. It’s those very details that are enough to kill me over & over again.

Michael usually didn’t generally wake up with our children when they were infants, however this time he did. Not only did he wake up, but he actually got up out of bed and walked to my side of the bed leaned over Matty’s rock & play and said “what’s wrong little buddy”? He picked him up and rocked him while I made him a bottle. Then I leaned over and Michael handed Matthew to me, he hadn’t found solace In his fathers arms. He had been screaming the entire time but typical Matty calmed right down when he got into my arms and went right back to sleep…he LOVED to be held and snuggled especially by me or Caroline. Matty didn’t take his bottle, he didn’t want his bottle. He should have wanted it. It had been several hours since he had last eaten. I didn’t think much of it, I was tired and he seemed happy. I should’ve known something wasn’t right.

We explained to the police that Michael had woken up round 4:45am for work and Matthew was fine. He left for work at his usual time 5:15-5:30 am, he checked us both and all was well. 

 The more time that passed with us in that room, the more our family’s became upset. My mother in particular, she tried getting into the room. She was held aside by a nurse who tried to comfort her.

Our families knew we were destroyed, they didn’t want us to be harassed. They couldn’t hear what was being said all they could hear was crying.

The troopers were not unkind to us, the troopers didn’t harass us, they merely did their job. They asked the questions they had to ask, I was crying but any thought of Matthew made me hysterical in a way I never dreamed possible prior to that day. During the time that the police questioned us, I was completely coherent. I knew what was happening and I knew it was real. It is one of the few times during that week that my mind was able to fully grasp the magnitude of what was happening. It was a short lived clarity but at that time I knew I was leaving the hospital without my baby, I was never going to hold my baby again, I had lost half of my reason for living. I was furious. I was deeply disturbed. I was shaken to the very core and I knew my life was over.

For all intents and purposes life had ended but my goddamn body still lived. My heart continued to beat while my son’s body grew cold in a room somewhere in a hospital where no one knew how amazingly special he is. There is no past tense. Not today almost five years later. There is no past tense on my love for Matthew. There never will be. 

 The time came for us to go home, and I chose to ride back to my house with my sister, Ann. I don’t have the slightest idea who Michael drove back to the house with. What difference does it make? Nothing changes the end of the story.

Ann and I got into her car, she looked at me and said with tears in her eyes “Danielle it wasn’t Caroline” I knew exactly what prompted her to say it, years ago when I had just one child, that child being Caroline, I stated I would kill myself if anything ever happened to her. I was young, I was naive, I didn’t have another child. Ann was lost. She had no idea what to say. She had no idea what not to say. She only knew what any mother reading this knows; that I was fucked. I was never going to be okay again and nothing she said or didn’t say could or would change that. I had entered the unknown land that no mother ever wants to visit.

I told her I know, and started to cry. I wasn’t crying for me this time though, I was crying for Caroline. All I ever wanted was for her to have a happy childhood, I love her so much and the pain I feel that she was forced to endure such a horrendous event is enough to make me cry an eternity of tears. I assured Ann that she doesn’t need to worry, that Caroline has lost so much already and was such an intricate division of what transpired that morning that I could never make this any worse for her by hurting killing myself.

The day will come that Caroline will be the person reading these blogs. When that day arrives Caroline; please understand how very much I love you. Please know that I always wanted a better life for you. Please know you are the sole reason I’m alive to write this. You are the most beautiful soul I’ve ever known. I can’t ever allow you to misunderstand that it was the burden of your life that kept me on earth. It was the beauty of your existence my love. Nothing more. Nothing less.

I felt and still do feel like a failure; my babies, my dear sweet babies, one was no longer living, and the other has been traumatized. I couldn’t feel like any worse of a mother. My job is to keep them safe and guide them as they grow and develop and despite not having control over the situation, I will forever feel like I failed them both. If I had set an alarm on Sunday night, instead of thinking “why bother? There’s no need, Matty is always up and by the time the alert goes off he has already had a bottle and is napping. I don’t need an alarm” and then actually turning my alarm off after having that thought, maybe this would have never happened. I recognize what you’re thinking…I can’t blame myself. However every mother knows the incredible amount of guilt that motherhood gives you, you never feel like you have done enough for your children etc. That being said imagine how I feel, I know the reality is I could not have changed anything. I know I did  everything in my power to bring Matthew back to us, but still, that voice remains in the back of my mind, nagging me, taunting me, that somehow I should have known something wasn’t right. So as much as I know that Matthews death was out of my control, I see the broken, painful aftermath his death has caused to our entire family and I feel responsible. I brought him into the world, so I am the one who broke everyone’s heart.

 Upon our arrival home, we found there were several police officers standing out front of our house waiting.

Apparently, they had been there since Caroline and I had originally left, they told my husband they needed to gather some things from our bedroom. They removed the bed sheet, and I’m unsure what else; if anything they took. They gave condolences and they left (as far as I can remember that is what happened).

 I sat on my front steps smoking cigarette after cigarette. The day had started off with a sunny sky however clouds had begun to move in overhead. I remember thinking how befitting that was.

I was lost. I was so many emotions all at once I started to feel numb. My mind wasn’t capable of handling this level of pain and fear, nor was my mind capable of processing the traumatic events that had unfolded mere hours before so it shutdown amiss the terror. Leaving me alone, lost and terrified in a body I could do nothing but beg to stop working.

I didn’t know what to do with my hands….my hands who knew they were supposed to be carrying a baby, or making a bottle or changing a diaper.

Most people don’t realize just how many facets of ones’ life is impacted when they’ve lost their child.

Losing your baby is not just an emotional reaction, but also a physical one. Your arms literally ache to hold your baby, your body wakes you in the heart of the night to check on your baby, even though your mind knows your baby is no longer here on earth, your body does not. I can’t tell you how long I awoke in the middle of the night confused, searching for Matthew. In between, dream and reality, I would wake and walk from my bed to stand in the middle of my bedroom scanning the room for a child who no longer occupied any physical space here on earth. I would return to bed crying once the remnants of sleep had left my mind and reality set in. Some nights I felt a sadness so bone deep my soul ached, other nights I would be furious, on the nights when fury coursed through my veins I could no longer sleep, only simmer in anger without an outlet. Screaming into my pillows, until there was nothing left but tears which only further enraged me I would fall into a fitful sleep.

During the daylight hours my arms ached with pain. It’s a feeling too difficult to describe with words, but my body could not accept my child’s death and screamed at me in any imaginable way to go and find him. This is too much in the future though, returning to the morning of April 7, 2014:

I could not bring myself to go inside my house when we returned home. I could not bring myself to see anything that belonged to Matthew. I needed any trace of him moved upstairs to his bedroom. I understand that probably sounds quite harsh, however, it was the only way for me to make an attempt at coping.

The task of moving Matthews items was left to Michael, my father in law Tony, my brother Chris and my dad Eddie. They, along with our moms (Michael’s step mom Karen included) moved through the cupboards and drawers and rooms and moved everything out of immediate sight. Unfortunately it was all for naught. I still couldn’t bring myself to go inside, I was afraid. I don’t know what I was afraid of however I was terrified.

While sitting outside I watched two woman pull up in a car, they parked, got out and walked towards me. They introduced themselves, one of their names was Jen, the other I don’t remember. They said they were looking for Danielle Mazzeo, I told them I was her and they informed me that they work for DCF, Department of Children & Families. They were carrying a letter in their hand which Michael promptly took and put away.

I was horrified, I didn’t understand why they were at MY house, looking for ME. I understood when I was questioned by the police, I didn’t have any problem with answering their questions. They needed to be sure Matty was cared for and loved and that Caroline was in a safe environment, but DCF showing up was beyond my realm of comprehension, by this time, the entire day was more than I or any sane person for that matter was able to understand.

They stated they were there to ask some questions about Matthew. I can’t recollect what they asked I only know that I answered their questions. I remember them asking to speak to Caroline, who had decided she didn’t want to come home immediately when we left the hospital and instead went to her friend’s house around the corner (the same friend who had shown up to take her to school with her mom and sat in the hospital with us). I accepted this because how exactly do you say no to your child when they have just lost their baby brother and seen their mother lose her mind? In truth, I needed her home with me, but I lay my feelings aside and gave her space.

I told them she wasn’t home, and they said they don’t mind going to where she is. I didn’t trust them, I wasn’t allowing anyone to speak with her unless her father or I were present. This was again one of the rare moments in which my mind returned and I was able to understand reality. These moments were fleeting. My sister told them we can telephone them when she comes home and they can come back. I’m thankful she was there to help me handle that situation. They then walked inside to speak to Michael, they asked to see where Matthew was when he passed away, and asked him some questions. Before leaving they asked him if he had any questions for them and he inquired as to whether they knew of any programs that might help us pay for Matty’s services. They told him they would look into it.

My sister ended up calling DCF back not long after they went left, they had told her that if we needed anything to call them, and I’m told that at that point we did need something.

I’m told that I had completely lost any composure I may have had left. I was lashing out in anger and frustration, I was hysterical and inconsolable. No one knew how to handle this, they wanted to help, but what could they say or do? I stood screaming, then crying, then furiously screaming and crying attempting to hit anyone who came close to me, outside my house while my family stared in disbelief and fear trying to figure out what to do.

My mother in law, Karen led everyone into the house and left me outside with, my sister Ann, friend Kimberly and my mother, Grace.

Ann called DCF because she was at a loss, she didn’t know where else to turn she recognized that I needed help. DCF seemed equally stumped in regards to who might be able to help them with me. They suggested Ann call a priest and  supplied her the phone number for Father Al Capone.

He arrived almost promptly but truthfully it could have been hours for all I know. Nonetheless he was awe-inspiring, he made me feel safe, if only for a few short moments. He walked Michael and I through our house blessing each room, when we got to my room I stood shaking in the doorway. He didn’t pressure me to go inside, he continued blessing our home. I felt more at ease after speaking with him, but the moment he was out of sight, the fear and pain returned full force. I was back outside immediately, it started to get chilly and drizzle rain so my mom got me a blanket, my neighbor Chris, who was the same neighbor who came running out of his house to help me as I stood in the street screaming holding Matthews lifeless body, brought lawn chairs over.

I sat outside wrapped in a polka dot blanket, chain-smoking, and alternating between shaking and rocking. I looked at my sister Ann, who never left my side and told her that out of everyone I was handling this best. I really believed I was, however, she said: “Danielle I don’t think you can see yourself right now”. I now understand what she meant. I looked like I belonged in an asylum, I wasn’t coping, I was out of my mind. A simple shell of a person.

Soon after the priest left I called my friend (or someone did) and asked her to please bring Caroline back, at that point I needed to see her so badly I thought I would jump out of my skin. I needed to be sure she was okay, well as okay as she could be. When she arrived home, we all attempted to dry our eyes and hold it together in front of her. I refused to cry in front of her, I didn’t want her to see me so sad, what I didn’t understand until a few days later was that by remaining emotionless in front of her I wasn’t giving her permission to grieve. Thankfully our pediatrician helped me understand that by doing so, I may cause her more harm than good.

I had called him to tell him what happened, nonetheless, he already knew as did both his receptionists. Dr. Andonian is an amazing pediatrician. He operates a small practice in Lexington, it is only him and his two receptionist and the 3 of them are incredible. When I called Dr. Andonian I’m certain he wasn’t sitting around awaiting my call. He’s been our pediatrician since Caroline was born, and every time I’ve visited his office he has a steady stream of patients coming and going from his office, however he got on the phone immediately and spoke to me for at least a half hour. He helped me see why I should cry around Caroline and offered such sincere condolences it was clear he too was heartbroken. To this day, Matthew remains Dr. Andonian’s only patient lost to SIDS.

When Caroline arrived home, hours after the rest of us had returned from the hospital I was still unable to go inside our home. At that point neighbors had begun to return home from work and had somehow learned of Matthews passing. God bless each of them. If I were them I would have averted my eyes, and ran inside to avoid speaking to me. Not a single person did that. Each of them came and sat next to me hugging me and crying with me for a period of time. How long exactly I couldn’t begin to tell you, and it truly makes no difference. What matters is their outpouring of support and love.

My sister (again I think it was my sister) called DCF to inform them that Caroline was back and that they can come by. Michael, Caroline and I sat on the front steps waiting for them. This time only the woman Jen came, she told Caroline that there are people she can talk to and that her school will know and whenever she needs a break she can tell them and they will let her go sit in an office or something. As she was leaving Jen took $100 dollars out of her bag and handed it to Michael explaining that she and the other woman she was with earlier want us to have it to put towards our son’s services. We tried to say no but she insisted.

As day began to creep towards evening it was clear I needed to go into my house, I’m unsure when it was that I did finally go inside. I was still so terrified that I remained on the first floor. I avoided the stairs leading to the second floor, I would not go anywhere near my bedroom.

I told Michael that I would never be able to sleep on our bed again, he agreed so we decided that at some point we would buy a new bed, in the meanwhile Caroline, Michael, and I slept on the couch for weeks if not a month.

The following day Michael and I (who mind you have NEVER had to plan a funeral or be part of planning one) were informed that we needed to go and meet at the funeral home. I wasn’t aware we had a funeral home, but apparently, my mother had contacted one. Michael went upstairs into our closet and picked out some clothes for me since I would not go inside my room. I suppose it wasn’t the easiest task considering it was only 6 weeks after I had given birth therefore I had very few items that fit my body, and to wear any type of maternity cloths was completely out of the question as far as I was concerned. I feel compelled to express how  amazing my husband was to me during these first initial days, weeks and months. I would not have been able to do what was being forced upon me if not for him. He’s been my rock. He handled things I know nothing about, I was too out of it to function properly. I flew from one extreme to the next without warning. One minute I would be on the floor hysterically crying, to the point of hyperventilating , and the next minute I was so full of rage I thought I would explode. I didn’t have control over a single aspect of my life. I was being forced to plan my child’s funeral and the truth is I was angry that my body would not stop living, or that I had not been marred in some way so others could see how shattered I was, looking exactly the same didn’t seem right to me. It still doesn’t.

During that time I fought the urge to kill myself too many times to count. I had a plan in place for how I would accomplish the sweet release I craved, I wanted to have a slow painful drowning. I wanted to tie cinder blocks to my ankles and slide off the retaining wall into the Merrimack River which passes behind my house. However I knew every time I looked at Caroline that I was incapable of inflicting more pain upon her by following through on my well thought out plan.  It simply wasn’t an option. Caroline still needed her mom, I couldn’t fail her a second time.

It was in those moments when I came to understand that I was to be living in purgatory.

 I think Michael used me as his coping mechanism. He focused his energy on me, therefore he did not have to deal with his own emotions. He didn’t do this to be selfish, he did this because one of us needed to be capable of functioning for Caroline, it came at a great cost to him however, I would not see that until several years later when our marriage started to fall apart.  I will love him until the end of my days for his love and devotion to my well-being during that time.

The morning of April 8, 2014 on my sisters 33rd birthday, Michael, me, his dad, his stepmom, both my parents and my sister went to the funeral home. McDonough Funeral Home in Lowell. A nurse at the hospital had suggested them to my mom when she handed her a “memory box”. I don’t know what is inside that box, I didn’t know this box existed until almost a year after Matthew passed away. My mother knew enough to keep it with her until I was more stable. In fact, I do not have the box in my possession, it remains with my mother and father. 

Michael and I could not have been directed to a better place. We arrived and we all sat in a room going over what type of service we wanted for Matthew. Michael and I agreed that there wouldn’t a be wake, we could not emotionally handle it, nor did we feel our daughter would be able to. We wanted a “Life Celebration”, I wanted balloons, I did not want flowers everywhere. We both felt strongly that no one spend money on flowers that if they wanted to do something then in leu of flowers they should make a contribution to the SIDS foundation in Boston. 

I sat through almost all of this meeting, with only one outburst. I don’t know what set me off I know I was signing a form that probably was regarding our final decisions for Matthews body when I ended up yelling “F*#k” and throwing a pen. I apologized at once, I was embarrassed to have behaved that way. We were just about through when the man, Jack, helping us asked what Matthew should wear? All of a sudden I realized where I was and what I was doing there, and I couldn’t handle it. I lost it, I began crying and yelling “NO, NO…NO I WILL NOT DO THIS! NOT MY BABY NO!” I was led out of the funeral home by my father, crying all the way out the door saying  “DADDY, NO, DADDY PLEASE HELP ME, I CANT DO THIS, I WONT DO THIS, DADDY PLEASE DONT MAKE ME, NOT MY MATTY, PLEASE. PLEASE DONT MAKE ME DO THIS DADDY” He spoke to me in a way he had never spoken before, He said he was so sorry he wishes he could take it all away, he wishes I could go back to being happy, to having my baby, his grandson, but he can’t and he is sorry but I have to do this. We were joined by Michael and everyone else shortly after I was led away. I had reached my decision; my son should wear, his father’s christening outfit that is what he was supposed to wear when he went to church for his christening which I had begun planning so that is what he would wear. 

It had been a little more than 24 hours since Matthew died, and I already felt like a lifetime had passed me by. I felt ancient, defeated, broken and angrier than you could imagine. Why had God chosen my son? Why couldn’t he have chosen me instead? Doesn’t he know that all of this goes against the natural order of life? Doesn’t he know that parents are not supposed to plan their child’s funeral? What have I done to deserve this? 

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