the gift of Liam

When it was all over, when he was gone, he said to me: Look, mama. I’m better now. This sick little boy lying on your lap, this poor boy, he’s not me. Not anymore.

That’s when I knew he was finally resting. Liam died this morning. It was all just too much, the doctors tell us. The birth asphyxiation, the bleed, hydrocephalus, the shunt, a collapsed lung. During the operation they had a chance to look at his brain. The damage was worse than the worst of the ultrasounds. He was breaking down.

That’s the doctor’s story. Here’s mine. He died in my belly six weeks ago. They brought him back when he was born, aggressively, ten minutes of frantic work to get him to register an apgar score of one. That’s when my old-soul son said to himself:

This is strange. I was there, and now here. Okay. I’ll stay for a little while to show them who I might have been. To give them smiles and help them know me. Once I do all that, I can go. Not in an operating room. On my mama’s skin.

And so it was.

Shhh, lili. You don’t need to try so hard anymore. Please rest, sweets. Go to sleep, go back to that safe place and wait for us. Be the stars and the trees and the loons in the morning. When I am old and grey, I’ll find you and come to you. I promise. Even if I’m a hundred-and-one I’ll turn back into this me, right now, and I’ll feed you and walk with you and we’ll cuddle forever. I promise. So please lili, please rest. You can rest, love.

We held him for twelve hours through the night. Now we need to take his last gift, I think: permission to feel relief. Liam gave us peace by finding his own.

This morning on the way home we looked in on Ben, suddenly robust in comparison. As he passed through Liam stopped at Ben’s crib, curled up beside him and whispered to him all his secrets and hopes and dreams. Then he was gone. Ben lies with rosy cheeks, belly full, nasal prongs wrestled free, chest rising and falling in deep contentment, blanket kicked off and toes twitching languorously. His life continues. His twin is gone.

We left the hospital to recharge, to find our way to being parents of two, to give them whatever we have. I stood at the ocean wearing two-day-old clothes—clothes I’d put on when my son was still alive. I put my right hand over my belly where his naked, warm rump lay throughout that endless night, and my left hand over my heart, where he let go. And I stood with him, remembering, just being his mama.

Peace, light, love for Liam, our son.