On November 22, 2001, an adorable, sweet little boy became an angel. Zacary was born with VACTERL Syndrome (which involve a heart defect among other things). He was 4-1/2 years old when he died...way too young.
The first time I met his mom, Laurie, was at a Family Advisory Board meeting at the hospital. I will never forget hearing her describe how she had endured something like nine miscarriages and two tubal pregnancies before getting pregnant with Zac. And even that pregnancy was not without its problems. At the beginning of the pregnancy, her HCG did not go up like it was supposed to, and the doctors were convinced she'd lost this baby too. But Zacary was determined to come forth into being.
When he was born, the medical staff noticed that he was missing a thumb (an indicator of VACTERL syndrome) and immediately whisked him away. They announced that they needed to take him to Emanuel to the Level 3 NICU, where he would receive the care he needed. Laurie jumped out of bed (remember, she had just given birth moments before) and announced that she would be accompanying him. Throughout Zacary's hospital stays, Laurie never left Zacary's side. She simply informed the hospital staff that they would need to find a place for her to stay. I was awed by her strength and fortitude--it would never have occurred to me to do something like that!
Laurie was pureminded in her passion and love for Zacary. The devotion was completely mutual, too--you can see from the photos below how much he adored his mama.
|Laurie and Zacary (used with permission from Laurie)|
Laurie knew firsthand how terrifying it is to be a parent with a baby in the NICU. She spent countless hours supporting other families in the hospital...sitting with them, supporting them, and giving them hope for the future. She was such a gift to these families.
Zacary's heart was so big, and it gave out on Thanksgiving Day nine years ago. The night Zacary died, the nurses from the NICU called us at 3 a.m. to tell us the news. We arrived at the pediatric ICU to see Laurie and her husband Derek holding a limp, silent Zacary in their arms, shellshocked by their sudden loss. That night will be forever seared in my memory. No parent should ever have to mourn their child--especially such a young one.
The days and months that followed were agonizing and awful for everyone who knew them...and the memorial service was heartbreakingly beautiful and sad. Zacary touched so many people's lives. I will always remember his impish sense of humor and love of life. He loved to draw and paint. He adored ladybugs and marshmallows...to this day, whenever I see a ladybug I believe it's Zacary sending me a message from heaven. To this day, when Chris hears a song from "John Denver and the Muppets," which says "Merry Christmas, little Zachary"...it makes him cry and remember Zac. (Chris was 5 when Zacary died, and they were buddies.)
|Bike buddies Calder, Chris, and Zacary|
From Laurie--as well as my close friends Kristin and Roger and Catherine and Doug--I have learned how to honor children who have died before their time. I have learned that no parent ever recovers from this kind of loss. I have learned that it's important to treasure every day with our children, no matter how difficult it might be.
I have learned to keep things in perspective. Nick accidentally broke our toilet the other day. The tank top was not fitted on all the way, and he climbed up on top of it (I had stepped away to get a towel!). It crashed down onto the toilet, splitting the tank lid in half and cracking the toilet. But even though it is a $300+ toilet, such a thing or scratches on our newish leather furniture...none of these are truly important if we keep things in perspective. It's not worth losing my temper over something so minor, knowing that others would give anything they had for another moment with their beloved child.
Today I am conscious of the fact that I have a four-year-old sweet boy myself. I am remembering that sweet little Zacary and thinking of Laurie (who marked the day by visiting the beach and writing him a message in the sand)...and all parents everywhere who have lost a child too soon. I know he's looking at his friends growing up and smiling...wishing he were still here with us.