Friday, October 1, 2010

Complete Surrender

Over the past couple of weeks, a handful of friends have "tenderly" asked about what actually happened on the night that we lost Aaron. I'm learning that grief is not a graceful journey, with emotions changing drastically from one moment to the next. Recounting this night has certainly been part of this journey of grief, so I don't mind sharing it with others. In fact, I had journaled this privately, just to get some of the details and thoughts out of my head, but also to remember.  I don't want to forget a single detail about our son or any part of his life, including the night that our world came crashing down. This is also the point in my life at which I learned what it felt like to completely surrender every last ounce of my being over to God. 

I don't know if this may be too much for some, but these are the details as I remember as well as my emotions, raw and honest.

At about 9:30 on Friday night, Dan gave into my prodding to go back to Children's Hospital one last time for the day to deliver my milk stash to the CICU and to spend some quality time with our little guy, in hopes that his anesthesia was beginning to wear off from surgery that morning. I had called Aaron's nurse several times throughout the day to check on his progress and they said he looked fantastic. Still, something was honestly and truly tugging at my heart to go and see him again that night. (Also, I must clarify- Dan only needed prodding because he had already had an extremely long and stressful couple of days as he was running back and forth between Children's and University Hospital; being separated as a family with a very ill newborn is awful. I have an amazing husband who took on the role of mom and dad to Aaron, caregiver to me and medical decision maker for Aaron as I had not yet been discharged and was only allowed to be there via "speaker phone" for all conferences with surgeons, cardiologists, etc.) 

So, we "snuck out" of University Hospital and Dan wheeled me over the Children's to love on Aaron a bit more. I cannot even begin to describe the pure joy and elation that overcame me each time I got to see my is a love that there are absolutely no words to describe. I have never been more proud of anything in my life. We spent some time talking to his nurse about vitals, meds, oxygen sats, his blue right foot and why it seemed to be taking him so long to come out of anesthesia. During this conversation, I turned to take a peek at Aaron over my shoulder, cut the nurse off mid-sentence and grabbed a hold of Dan. Aaron heard us talking and had opened his eyes for the first time...he was looking directly at us as if to say "hi mommy and daddy, I know you're here with me." I just about cried when I saw my sweet son's eyes looking over at us for that split second. We continued to spend time with Aaron, talking to him, holding his hands, kissing his fingers and toes and trying to let him know we were there with him in any way we could. I wanted more than anything to hold and cuddle him as I had not yet been able to, but at the same time, did not want to upset the machines, wires and tubes that were, in essence, keeping the delicate balance of his heart and body in check. 

We then spent several minutes meeting two other very special families and babies in the CICU, knowing that we would likely be seeing a lot of each other in the upcoming weeks. As we were in another family's room directly across the hallway with our back to Aaron's room, we heard many alarms going off and staff rushing around; however, didn't initially think much of it as that can be somewhat commonplace in the ICU. "Run, that's Aaron!" is the only thing I remember hearing. The image that I saw when I turned around will be forever ingrained in my memory. Amidst the 20+ people that were running into and out of his room, pushing carts in, calling surgeons, ordering blood stat and throwing out terms I have never heard before, I saw doctors performing chest compressions on our son. Our tiny little Aaron. My heart dropped onto the floor and so did I as I just sobbed. I remember Dan trying to get my attention and looking directly into my eyes "it's going to be ok; it's all going to be ok. They're working on him." I don't know how much time passed, but in watching those nurses switch off while doing chest compressions because they were getting tired...I lost it, even more. I have never felt so completely helpless in my entire life and I would have given anything to trade places with my son...anything

We were eventually escorted out into the waiting room where we literally fell to our knees and were surrounded in abundant prayer by those very special families whom we had just been getting acquainted with. They never left our side. I now understand what it means to fall to your knees in prayer; it is during times such as these that we fully surrender to God because we no longer have the strength to stand on our own two feet. It is during those times that He must carry us. 

We saw our surgeon run into the CICU, with a quick "I'll let you know what's going on when I find out what's going on" as he hurried in. We were moved back into an unoccupied room of the CICU as family began to arrive and then came the first update from our surgeon: "we opened his chest up to check the shunt; it looks beautiful and perfect. His hematocrit dropped severely and quickly, so he's bleeding...somewhere. Our next logical guess would be a brain aneurysm, so we will get him on ECMO (life support) and figure it out from there." Again, I don't know how much time passed; I only remember feeling like we were in a dream and thinking "this can't be happening". My head hurt from crying, my incision hurt from crying and all I wanted to do was run in and take my son and protect him from all that was going on; make it better and make this all go away. 

We continued to pray, unceasingly, for a miracle. We prayed the hardest prayer we've ever had to pray in our lives:   "Father, we pray for your will to be done for our son; we trust you, we love him, please don't let him suffer." Our surgeon returned with a somber look on his face. I so precisely remember his words and our cardiologist standing there, just crying. "We got him on ECMO. We decided to open his belly. He's been bleeding profusely into his abdomen. We can't stop it or even see where it's coming from. We don't know why.The machines can't keep up with his bleeding. We've been doing chest compressions for over 90 minutes. I'm sorry, but there's nothing more we can do." I don't have a clue what I said as we held each other and cried, but I remember what I felt: complete devastation, helplessness, emptiness, but peace. There was the slightest peace in the midst of our world crashing down. A calm and stillness that only comes from the presence of God. 

Finally, I got to hold my son. He was already gone, but we got to rock him, pray over him, sing to him and be together as a family, even if just for a short time. We missed out on those things while he was here with us, but while looking down on us with our Father, hopefully he could see how deeply and crazy in love we were (and are) with him. 

I would give anything to have had that night end differently, but God's will was for Aaron to be in a safe place, away from all suffering and filled with endless joy. "Skipping stones on the river with Jesus", as our Pastor put it. I know that I am still blessed in more ways than I could ever imagine and I have learned many, many things while walking through such a dark time in life:

I now understand that life is so very delicate. Our joyful day turned into complete heartache in a matter of seconds. 

I understand the perfect, unconditional love that parents have for their children.

I know that God has a plan from the beginning; our plans, our wants, our desires don't override His plan for us. There is a reason we went to see Aaron that late that night. There is a reason Aaron opened his eyes for the first time and looked at us. All in God's plan and timing...

I understand complete, absolute and utter surrender to God.

After having to stand there, absolutely and completely helpless while my son died, I truly have a new appreciation of God's perfect love for us; that He would give His one and only son for us, as sinners, honestly baffles me. 


  1. It is astounding, isn't it? That place of complete surrender and peace. I've journeyed in and out of that place the past two weeks, and I imagine I'll find myself there again.

    Danielle, thank you for sharing Aaron with us, and thank you for writing about that night. I'm so glad you all went with your gut and got to see him, got to hold him, and got to love him the way you wanted to.

    Much love,

  2. Danielle,

    Once again... thank you for sharing your heart and putting your story into words for others to read. I'm so far away from you, but the way you open your heart makes me (and I'm sure so, so many others) feel like I'm right in the room with you. Your total focus and dependance on God in such a difficult situation is so inspiring.

    Love, Karrie

  3. Dear Danielle, I just found your blog and as a fellow heart momma all I can say is how very very truly sorry I am for the loss of your son. It is so heart breaking, truly rips your insides to shreds. I have been reading through your blog and want you to know I can relate to many of your emotions. I also went through the angry at God faze and felt quite guilty about it, also cried at Target many times, and well know what it is to face death in the face with your child. My daughter Alexa is alive but I always live with a fear of losing her. Life is so precious and I just want you to know how sorry I am you never go to hold your son or bring him home. I loved your post about when you talked about the thunderstorm over your home and how you couldn't have your son away from you. Thank you for sharing your soul. I will pray you find the comfort and peace and only God can give.


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