I am suffocating even though the air conditioner is running. Apart from that sound, the room is still. I hate the night. It's too quiet. The silence chokes me. My bedroom, which has always been a haven, is now a prison – a torture chamber.
I lie in my bed beside my son, his faint breath kissing my neck. His tiny body is hot, though his lips and nose are cool. His skin is taut; I know he is dying. My five-year- old son is dying and what I fear most is the moment he will leave me, when this room will become a tomb.
I stare into his half-closed eyes. I can still see in them his will to survive. He wants me near him. After four days of watching him fight death, I join him in his battle. I perspire with him. My legs throb with pain. My teeth and jaw ache from the tension. My heart pounds. My breathing is heavy as I struggle for air in this stuffy room.
Ryan stiffens and cries out. "Ron," I whisper, awakening my husband who is sleeping on the floor beside the bed. He responds immediately, sees Ryan's misery and stumbles out of the room to alert our friend, Loie, a hospice nurse sleeping in the next room. They arrive back in the room a moment later looking concerned. "Please Loie, he needs another dose of morphine," I say. She glances at the clock beside our bed and turns to leave to retrieve a suppository from the refrigerator. When she returns I hold Ryan's weak head in my arms as she inserts the narcotic. "It's okay baby. This will help," I whisper in his ear trying to calm him. I wipe my hand across his sweaty brow. He tenses again, terrified. "We need more air," I plead, hearing the panic in my own voice. "Ryan and I can't breathe." Ron leaves the room and returns with a fan. I feel the cool air blow over us.
I try massaging Ryan's legs to settle him. Seeing that his mouth is dry, I creep out of bed to get his toothbrush so I can cleanse his teeth and dry cracked tongue with cool water. Loie and Ron sit on the end of the bed waiting while I rub Vaseline on my son's delicate lips. Ryan's body stiffens and his pleading dark eyes search for me as I move out of his focus. Lying back down, I place my cheek against his and cradle him in my arms. His body finally begins to relax and I close my eyes indicating to Loie and Ron that they may go. They settle back to their places – Ron on the floor by our bed, Loie on the living room couch. I reach out and hit the play button of the tape deck, which is resting on the nightstand. The lullaby plays again and gently pushes away the silence. The morphine begins to relax Ryan and his breathing becomes less labored. My fear returns as the dark steals in to encapsulate us.
When I awaken, the morning sun is forcing its way through the Venetian blinds, casting a pattern of bars across my bed. We have been held captive in this room for the last four days, endless days that sag into endless nights. I hear someone stirring in the kitchen. The smell of coffee travels down the hall. Now that the night is over and the darkness has retreated, my body relaxes. Daylight brings with it new strength.
My brother Joe enters the room carrying our other son. My newborn smiles at me. Uncomfortable milk-filled breasts remind me it is time to nourish my son, the one who is filled with health and life. I go to the living room to nurse my baby, enjoying the ability and feeling the reward of providing life and food to a child. He gurgles and smiles at me, unaware of the anguish that has invaded our home.
Ron and Loie move about as though each motion is filled with purpose. We keep our thoughts to ourselves. The sound of a guitar strumming and a mellow voice pulls us all back to the bedroom. Joe is singing to Ryan while our daughter Kari sits quietly in the corner listening. We all gather around them. We listen. We cry. It is Sunday.
Joe completes the song and starts reading the twenty-third Psalm. The words are keys, which open the doors to our well-guarded emotions, allowing them to spill out. We become vulnerable before God and each other. We pray to God to grant rest to Ryan's body and to have mercy on our son. Ron whispers in Ryan's ear, "It's okay to let go, son! Let the angels take you to Jesus."
The doorbell rings, interrupting these precious moments, causing us to scoop up our emotions and place them again in a protected place within us. Ron's parents arrive, followed shortly by my parents. The house hums with extra activity. Everyone finds some task to perform, stopping occasionally to take his turn to touch and speak to Ryan. I cradle him in my arms, with Ron holding me.
I sit on the bed propped against pillows feeling as if my body is in intense labor. A battle rages within me. I want release for my son for his sake, and yet I don't want him to go. I have given him consent to leave and be with Jesus and yet I know by the way my body is clutching him that I am also telling him not to leave me. How can a mother ever give permission for her baby to die? No, I can't let him go on this last journey since it means going without me.
Our relatives stare in our direction as Ron holds Ryan and me on the bed. Their presence, that has been a comfort, now feels like an invasion as I realize I only have a few more moments with my son. I whisper to Ron to have everyone leave the room. He gets up and shepherds everyone from the room, closing the door behind them. This final good-bye has to be private, between our son and us. I pull Ryan close to my breast. He no longer responds to pain. His breathing is sparse. Ron prays, committing our son's spirit to God. We play the lullaby tape again. We weep bitterly, our tears falling on his scorched body.
I sense the unseen angels in our quiet room – waiting. Ryan jerks with a long hard seizure. His eyes open, his mouth gasps for air. Then he is gone. I close his eyes and mouth, and then place his warm body in Ron's arms. He cradles him and tenderly we hug. I am numb.
I walk blindly into the living room to share with the others that Ryan has left. They weep, and then slowly, one by one, they wander back to the bedroom to see for themselves that he indeed is gone. I cover him with a blanket and kiss his cheek. The doctor is on her way to confirm the obvious. I attempt to fill my empty arms with our newborn as I nurse him. My tears will not stop flowing.
We are left to reflect on the meaning of Ryan's precious life. His was an incredibly hard journey, adding to the difficulty of our own. But we had made it – all of us, together.
Prologue Next Chapter
Copyright (c) 2002 by Ron and Joan Denlinger