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Friday, September 21, 2007

The Hardest Goodbyes

One of the things that I never really did after Catie died was to share much about that last day. Parts of it are a complete blur and parts of it I remember every detail. I've decided to share it here, more for me than anything else. That day, while the hardest of our lives, was a day I never want to forget. The worst part of the day, for me at least, was not letting her go that night, it was the realization earlier in the day of all we were about to lose.

I don't remember how much I slept the night before. I know I got a good 3-4 hour chunk in the sleep room. I came into Catie room, room 10 in PICU and my eyes went to the monitor in her room almost before they went to her. When someone you love is sick like that you wake up with a panicky feeling wondering if they're the same as you left them a couple of hours before. You know if something had gone badly, you would have been roused, but still... you can't help but wake worried. As I came in, Tre' stirred on the pullot chair. I don't even remember how her night was, but I think it was fairly uneventful. I then took my seat at the end of Catie's bed and begin rubbing her feet and her legs. We could not sit at the top of the bed next to her sweet head as she had so many tubes and wires going everywhere. Tre' got up and needed a break from the room, so he headed out of the unit for a bit. Everyone else in town was at the Ronald McDonald House or hotels as it was still early. It was so quiet except for the banging of the vent (she was on the osscilator -- I know I spelled that wrong -- and it is a very loud machine).

Not much later, the intensivist came in. Hands down, the worst conversation of my life. For me, I think it's when I knew we were done. I didn't know how long Catie had, but I knew... that mommy gut just knew. He told me that he just wasn't seeing much of a light at the end of the tunnel. He said that he certainly wasn't giving up, we were going to continue to do all that we could, but that it just wasn't looking good. I began to cry at that point and I do not think I stopped until much later that afternoon. Tre' came back and brought me some breakfast, but I couldn't eat. I pushed tubes away as much as I could and found the way that I could lay closest to her without messing any lines up. And I just laid there and cried. I truly believe that I began letting her go as soon as that conversation ended. I knew he was right... I knew the options were mostly gone... I knew she had had to fight far too long and too hard. I remember asking Claire early on that if it ever came to it, how would I know when it was time to stop. I remember her simply saying, "you will know." That was the moment that I knew... not because I didn't believe in miracles, not because I didn't believe in the healing power of God... not because I didn't desperately want to see her grow up and be a big sister and a bride and a mother... The momma in me just knew that it was time to set her free. I didn't say it aloud... I don't know that I even thought of it that clearly... but I knew... Nikki and John (my brother and sister) have both told me that I spoke about her in past tense from that point on. I didn't even realize that I was. I do remember John saying to me, "Jenny, we're not there yet." But I knew that we were.

Much of the morning and afternoon are a blur. There were conversations with nurses back home (Catie's and mine -- remember I was 8 1/2 months pregnant). Family was around. I probably should have done a better job making sure everyone knew how bad things were... there were a few people who I wish I had talked with so they could have been there that night. But my mind wasn't there... it was just trying to absorb the magnitude of all that was happening... it was trying to soak up every bit of Catie that I could. At some point Dr. Hudgins and Lynn came by. They operated on Catie seven times over the course of her treatment and they came to say goodbye... Lynn was crying. It means so much when your child's doctors and nurses care so much. Sometime, early that afternoon, Lisa and Dennis arrived. I was still curled up around Catie as best I could when they walked through the door. I don't know that I've ever been so glad to see anybody in all my life. I think that was when I quit crying... at least for a while. Dennis last saw her Christmas day and Lisa had seen her a week or two earlier. We switched Catie back to the conventional vent, just to see if it would make a difference. It didn't make a dramatic difference, but things didn't change a lot so we left her on that one. I'm so thankful for that... Her body was still again (on the other vent it shook with each puff of the machine) and she seemed much more peaceful.

Early evening, Dr. Claire came by. Dennis was in the room. He had never met her, and I'm glad he got the chance to. We talked for a long time (Tre', Claire, Dennis, and I). We talked a lot about how to know when to turn the vent off... I guess Claire sensed my mind because she said, "I really don't think we're there yet." She paused and I remember exactly how we were sitting.. side by side against each other on the bed at Catie's feet... she paused and then she said, "but maybe I'm just in denial." She was crying with us. We talked some more and I don't remember all that she said, but I do remember her saying, "You don't have to decide this tonight... but it may be you already have..." The x-ray folks came in and wanted to do another x-ray. I didn't want to do it... I just wanted to let her be... x-rays required me to leave the room and they had to move her and position her, and I just wanted her to be... to not be bothered anymore... But Claire or a nurse or someone said that this could give us a more definitive picture of where we were. I didn't understand how b/c they had just done one 4 hours earlier... Nothing had been changing on the x-rays, why would it now? But I agreed and I prayed that Catie would let us know the right thing to do. I knew, but I didn't know how to know when... I think Tre' and I both needed something definitive to go on. The intensivist got us when the x-ray came through, and I remember Claire standing behind me with her hand on my shoulder or back. Clear as day, there was a hole in her lung.... her lungs were so stiff that the hole didn't cause her lung to deflate as it should have... Holes in lungs can be fixed, but her lungs were so very, very damaged that it would have done no good. There was our answer... Catie couldn't speak, but I felt like it was her way and God's way of telling us that it was ok, that it was time... Almost immediately, I felt relief. I know that sounds strange, but I knew that she would have to suffer no more... I knew that we wouldn't have to worry about her and the tumor anymore... There would be plenty of time for sadness.... at that moment I was so relieved, that it was going to be over and her new journey was going to begin. The missing would be so hard, but that was for us. For Catie things were going to be so good.

Claire told our family for us and we went in to be with Catie. They unhooked everything that she didn't need. No more antibiotics... just sedation and pain meds to keep her comfortable and peaceful.... Just the vent tube and a pulse ox (but with no sound)... I could take my spot, curled around her with sweet Izzy in my tummy between us. Tre' sat on the other side in a chair with his hands on her and his head on the bed next to her. We both longed to hear her voice one last time... that's the only thing about letting her go that I wish could have been different. So many were there to tell her goodbye. The ICU staff was amazing... they let everyone come and go as the needed and wanted. Sometimes there were 20 people in her room, sometimes it was just Tre' and I. Nurses and techs came from the 1st and 3rd floors to say goodbye... Folks made phone calls to get the word out. At some point, her sats began to fall a bit and then stayed in the seventies... she was letting go too... it probably would have happened that night or the next day no matter what. Claire went home to tuck her kids in, but told us she's be back and for us to call her before it was time. Several of my dear cancer mom buddies came to stay with us until it was over. It was so good to see their faces when they walked through the door. It meant so much that they were there. We all told stories and we laughed and we cried. Everyone kissed that bald head. Tre' and I took turns snuggling with her. I hurt so for him.... there was nothing I could do to make it any easier... There's just something about daddies and their little girls. At some point, it was late, we decided it was time for last goodbyes. Tre' and I both were ready to let her go. All through treatment, there was nothing we could do to make it better, but that night... that night we could do something. We could let her go... We listened as everyone said goodbye... what a treasure for us to be there for that. Many, tears from many people... family, friends, friends who are family, cancer moms, nurses... I've said many times that I'm so glad that so many were there. They can remind me on hard days how sure we were that night. They can remind us of the peace that filled the room. They can remind us on days when it's hard for us to remember that we really did know it was the right thing.

And it was time. They were so gentle as they unhooked her. Claire was at my back rubbing my arm and Tre' and I both clung to our sweet girl one last time. I whispered in her ear to run to Jesus... and RUN I know she did... without a single, solitary wobble... Whole and healthy and full of joy... just like she will be when I see her again.

I am unable to find the words to describe what it was like in the room that night. Maybe it's because it's the closest we've ever been to Heaven... not in how we felt, our hearts were absolutely breaking... but as Jesus reached down to pull our sweet girl for her battered body, Heaven was right there, opening for her. In the ICU you hear lots of stories of kids being comforted by angels. Those who wake up often describe them and the peace that they brought. I believe that and I believe that they were in that room that night, comforting not only Catie, but us. I'm grateful for her peaceful passing... I'm grateful for the assurance that we will see her again... I'm grateful we had the chance to hold her even if her 4 years and 4 months were far too short.

27 comments:

geenalyn said...

I'm sitting here, tears streaming down my face, so beautiful and so heart wrenching...

Susan said...

Thank you so much for sharing this with us. We miss her so, but we know she is perfect now - healthy and happy.

Mary said...

The enormous love you have for Catie shows in every word of this beautiful post. She is, I'm sure, very proud of her mama.

Mary in Illinois

BP said...

Thank you for sharing this good-bye with us. I'm praying for you all this weekend and coming week.

Melissa said...

Jenny,
Thanks for sharing this with us. I am glad you got to spend those last few hours with Catie holding her and loving on her.

Martha said...

Thank you, Jenny, for allowing us to be a part of Catie's homegoing. I know she did RUN to Jesus and I know He welcomed her into His great big loving arms. As I've said many times before, you inspire me in so many ways.
Thank you for being so open with your life and for sharing Catie and Izzy with us. I'll be praying for you especially as Catie's birthday approaches. I'm sure that her heavenly birthday will be a "doozy." I can just imagine that she and Jesus have planned quite a party.
May you know the comfort of the Holy Spirit each day and be kept busy with the joy of the Lord who is our strength.

Brandy said...

Thank you for sharing your last moments with Catie. I've been reading Catie's Carringbridge site for a couple of years and have never posted. Your family, and especially Catie, have touched me in so many ways. She lived such a short but fulfilled life and always seemed happy. You are a wonderful mother to both your girls. I hope you continue to share your feelings as you feel comfortable. I enjoy reading about memories of Catie and of Izzy's adventures. I never met Catie but I feel like I know her through all of your wonderful posts and pictures. You have a beautiful family.

Dorothy Gould said...

Jenny,

By the end of this post, I was sobbing. Thank you for sharing your heart with us. Even at your darkest moment, your faith in God shines through. How your little girl runs in heaven now! I lost my oldest sister to cancer when she was 40, and I was 28. All of my siblings (there are 9 of us) her husband, and my parents were with her when she died. Reading this post brought back so many memories of that day. I am now a year older than she was when she left us,a wife and mother. I can't imagine how she must have felt, knowing she was leaving her 2 small children behind. Like Catie, she had fought long and hard. Peace filled the room when she passed. Like you said so eloquently, you know when it is time. God has seen us through, and he is seeing you, Tre and Izzy through as well. This blog is testament to that. Thank you again.

Holly said...

I have followed Catie's story for at least 3 years now, but I don't think I have ever posted. Thank you so much for sharing her life, her story, and your memories with us, complete strangers. I graduated from Mercer University's School of Medicine in May and am continuing my training in pediatric neurology at Cincinnati Children's Hospital and have found that in reading your story and the stories of so many others I have learned how to be a better doctor. Yes, medicines and treatments are good, but sometimes what a family needs is a comforting touch or just a listening ear. Sometimes what a child needs is a doctor who comes to visit just to visit, not to prod or poke. I pray daily that I will do the best I can for my patients, whether it be to begin them on a new treatment therapy or just hang out with them and laugh. I lost my mom 2 years 8.5 months ago to cancer. I was a second year medical student at the time. It was very difficult. What made it even more difficult is that her doctors didn't tell us just how bad it was until the end....until it was too late for us to do anything differently. My mom was a kindergarten teacher. My mom was awesome. She loved everyone and everyone loved her. She was much too young to move on to her heavenly home. I was selfish in not wanting her to go but my family and I knew that she had suffered long enough. She was diagnosed in March and passed away New Years Eve 2004. The last 4 months of her life she was in the hospital more than she was home. Her illness was hard, but through it my initial lessons on how to not only be a bright doctor but a caring doctor were learned. Sometimes the best lessons aren't learned in class or from a textbook. Sometimes the best lessons are learned from life. From your stories, the stories of others like you, and from my mom I hope that I can continue to learn how to not only be a good doctor but how to be a person for my families.
Thank you again for sharing. Catie IS beautiful as is her little sister Izzy.
Take care,
Holly

Holly said...

I have followed Catie's story for at least the past 3 years but have never posted. Thank you so much for sharing her story with us, complete strangers. Catie seemed like an amazing little girl. One of my friends from med school knows y'all (Brandon H) and thinks so highly of you. I graduated from Mercer in May and am continuing my training in pediatric neurology at Cincinnati Children's Hospital. Through Catie's story and the stories of others like her I have learned so much. Yes, medicines and treatments can help a child feel better, but sometimes what a child needs is a doctor who will visit just to sit and kid around and laugh, not to poke and prod. Sometimes what parents need is a set of listening ears. My mom passed away 2 years 8.5 months ago from cancer. She was diagnosed in March and went to her heavenly home on New Year's Eve 2004. I was a second year medical student at the time. Some of the most important lessons I learned that year of school came from my mom's illness. Her doctors didn't let us know just how bad it was until the end, when it was too late for us to change anything. My mom was a wonderful person. She loved everyone and everyone loved her. She was a kindergarten teacher and it was so awesome to see her former students, some now in college, come to her services. To me, that shows just how much she was loved. The last 4 months of my mom's life she was in the hospital more than she was at home. It was hard for me to let her go. I knew she was going on to a better place, a place where there is no cancer, no pain, no nasty medicine, but I was selfish and wanted her with me. She was so young. I was so young. It wasn't fair. I came to the realization that there was nothing that I could change about our situation. Through her illness, I learned the importance of keeping the family informed and being honest with them. With providing them with the facts, even as hard as they may be. Not cutting off all hope, but not providing false hope.
Thank you for sharing Catie's story. The perspective of a parent is like no other. In the 4 months i've been at Children's, I have definitely reaized just how important a parent's perspective is. You know your child better than any doctor ever will and your opinion is important. Yes, medicine is important, but sometimes what you and your child need is a comforting touch, a comforting hug, or even just a pair of listening ears. I have never met Dr. Claire, but I have read of her impact on so many families. I hope one day that I will be able to have the repoire and respect with my patients and the relationship with my patients that she has with hers. She must be awesome!
Catie IS a beautiful child as is her little sister Izzy.
Thank you again for sharing.
Take care,
Holly

Jennifer said...

Thanks, Jenny.

Patricia said...

Oh, tears were streaming as I read this...but I am so glad to hear the story of what she (and you) went through that last day. I was so relieved when the path report showed that stubborn, darned spot was indeed cancer...and I see now how God worked all the pieces out so that you would know that it was, indeed, time to let her go. Thank you for sharing this with us.

Patricia said...

Well-that bugs me that I said I was relieved that that stupid spot was indeed cancer so I want to clarify in case it bugs you, too. I wish it was not cancer...but if God was to call Catie home because of RSV and NOT the cancer that she fought so bravely against-I just felt a little comfort knowing that it wasn't a "fluke" that she got RSV...it was probably a blessing as her passing was much more peaceful than it might have been had she went from that darn cancer. I was just relieved to see that God had spared her from what was going to be a continuous battle with perhaps the end result being more difficult for her than how He took her home. Anyway...didn't want to babble, but it bothered me to think that I was saying cancer was a good thing without explaining it. I guess I've read too many caringbridge battles that ended so awful with tears (from the patient) and the battle was so terrible for them up until the last breath...I am so thankful that Catie passed so peacefully. God is good...all the time! :)

John & Kelley said...

Oh, God, Jenny. Thanks so much for sharing these most precious of moments with us. As I've said before, even thinking about losing one of my girls takes my breath away, and here you are describing how it happened for you. No parent should have to say goodbye to a child like this. It's one of those outrageous injustices of our fallen world. I'm so glad we have hope and memories, even though they can be the source of painful longing sometimes. I pray for a very joyful celebration of Catie's fifth birthday.

amy said...

Jenny,
I am glad you shared this with us. It is one night I will never forget. There are more words but I will save them,

Thanks for letting me know all of you.
Amy

Angie said...

Your entry was beautiful, the way you describe Catie leaving this world for Heaven really touched my heart. She is missed by so many, thank you for sharing your thoughts on that final day with her here on earth.

Stephanie said...

I've been following your site for the past yr. or so after coming over from Kendrie's site. Something about Catie stuck with me. I always remember a picture that was on her CB site of she in a long white dress on a wooden stair surrounded by flowers. She looked so pure and sweet.

Something I've been wondering. Is Izzy's middle name in honor of Dr. Claire?

Kelly said...

There are no words to tell you what an impact your post had on me. I read the whole thing with a huge lump in my throat and tears stinging my eyes.

For you all to be strong and faithful enough to encourage your precious daughter to run to Jesus - well, that's beautiful. That's the depth of parental love. You knew when to let go and you knew you were sending her to Jesus. I wish I could accurately describe just how awesome I think that is because I can only imagine how hard it was, but yet the blessed assurance it must have brought you. Only God can give us peace in the midst of pain. His work is evident in your family.

God bless you all!

Mary Frances Duren said...

Tre, Jenny and Izzy,
This is my first time on your blog. Thank you for sharing your hardest goodbye. It is amazing how the Lord gives us that peace that we have done all we can do and we must give them to Him. My sister, Martha, followed Catie to heaven on Jan. 27,2007. Your family, Mamanon, Carmen, Donna, Tori and Charles were here for me in spite of their own loss and I'm grateful to God for them. They are my family also.
We pray for you every Sunday morning in our Special Ministries Class. One of our Young Men (early 20's) write out his own prayer requests(most we haveto write for them) and he never fails to list "Catie's family". He listed you this morning and we prayed for you.
This time of remembering is hard and yet comforting. I know the sense of peace you felt when you knew you had to release Catie. I felt this and was able to tell Martha that it was alright for her to go on to heaven to be with mother and daddy. When that has been done you have a sense of peace at the end because you know that they are with the Lord.
Keep remembering and keep depending on the Lord because He will continue to give you the strength you need for each day.
My love and prayers are with you!
Mary Frances

Deb said...

Your strength and your faith continue to amaze me. Thank you for sharing them with us.

addie&daniel said...

thank you for sharing, that was so beautiful and comforting...

Estefania said...

Dear Jenny,
Me heart is aching... there are no words.
We will all miss Catie but we rejoice in the fact that she is whole...she is an angel.

Diana said...

How beautiful. Catie was a beautiful little girl, and truly blessed to have such wonderful parents.

leeanne said...

I'm crying; your eloquence with words is amazing.Thank you for sharing this incredibly intimate, personal time of your lives. Very, very touching...

sara said...

This story made me cry. I miss catie.


sara

Kim said...

Thanks for writing about her last night. I am so glad you felt so much peace. God is so generous with His blessings.

I still miss her....can't imagine what it is like at your house.

Thinking about Catie,
Kim

Nic said...

What a beautiful post, and thank you so much for sharing it... xxx