Wednesday, June 27, 2012


I don't care who you are. It's impossible not to find this picture adorable.

Just do it.  These are the words that come to mind as I stand in the driveway of the car dealership, a technician’s hand buried in my trunk, straddling discarded individual soap containers that litter the floor.  It looks like someone went hotel to hotel and raided every bathroom, then threw it all in my trunk too fast to make a proper getaway.  The technician commented only briefly “Back from vacation?” He asks.  I do not reply. 
I am here because I drive too fast.  It’s one of the last holdovers from my youth when I ruined a succession of GMC products by driving all of them with a lead foot right into the ground, or in some cases the most conveniently located curb.  My current car’s safety features include rollbars that pop up from the trunk whenever you hit a bump too hard, which I often do.  The emergency lights pop on and the car swears it’s been totaled.  It’s quite the production.  There’s a way to reset it, a spot with an allen wrench nestled in the trunk.  I almost always forget it, and it takes the dealer five minutes.  But it means he has to open the trunk.  While I keep my car reasonably neat, the trunk is another matter.  It is filled with the detritus of every car I’ve ever owned, ported haphazardly from car to car to car at each switch as I am always too lazy to just clean the old one out.  Jumper cables.  College transcripts.  CDs I burned in high school that almost certainly will not play now.  Some certificate I received the day I was sworn into the bar.  I should do something with that.  Since James died, the soap. 
It did not come individually packaged.  People handed it to me in bags, the remnants of which I see clearly in the car.  Mementos of their own vacations no doubt.  I mentioned it on the blog I think, the value of those little hotel sized portions of soap the hospital workers (Social services? Guest services? I can’t remember.) handed out to us when we stayed in the hospital.  Generally you do not plan for a multi-week hospital stays.  Then again, perhaps you do.  Perhaps people schedule their procedures and have a reasonable anticipation that they will live to have them performed, and come prepared accordingly.  I did not plan.  The first time was in the PICU.  There are no individual bathrooms in each room in the PICU, only a community bathroom with a shower located outside the restricted confines of the ward itself, on the other side of the buzzer.  You wear sandals, like people always did in the community showers at my dorm in college.  It just seems like good advice in a communal bathing space.  They give you soap when they come around, pausing just long enough to talk and look after you.  You never realize how dirty you are until the water hits you.  It’s funny because you can’t imagine why you’ve been sweating so much, when you’ve hardly moved and been fighting off the cold most of the day.  The last shower is a distant memory of course, and perhaps that explains it.  On the floor each room had its own shower and bath, presumably for the patients, though James was never big enough to be bathed in anything other than the sink, so everyone else used it.  It’s a shame.  He loved to splash.  I gave him his first bath in the hospital after he was born.  He was beautiful, and I remember thinking to myself, as I did so often then, that this was only the first of a lifetime for him, the beginning of a routine. 
I know I would not have remembered I needed soap unless one of them gave it to me.  Did I ask? I can’t remember now.  I probably wrote about it if I did.  I should look.  I almost certainly will not.  Each lasted a few days.  Eventually soap came up from home, and that helped.  But the travel sized bags provided an important bridge. 
After he died, people brought the bags.  I appreciated the gesture.  They asked if I could take them up to Children’s.  A reasonable request, I knew where to go and who to see.  They did not.  I knew where to park and the fastest way to get there during rush hour.  How could they?  They could also not know how terrified I felt about it, terrified of walking over the sky bridge and over the garden where he had his last photo shoot, of how paralyzing the fear that quivered in me at the thought of it was.  But these are the kinds of things one does not mention in polite conversation.  “Thank you for giving me this.  I’d love to bring it up to the hospital, but I’m afraid I might start crying uncontrollably at the front desk.  Would you mind doing it yourself? Thanks.”  So the bags, inevitably spilt or broken, accumulated in the trunk, and the soap slowly formed a layer of stuff amidst all the other debris, obscuring the floor.  I ignored them studiously, piling groceries and suitcases on top of them and trying to deny the reality that eventually they would need to go somewhere else.
And that’s where they are when the technician pops open the trunk to repair my latest speed bump.  He comments.  I ignore, but I start to think to myself.  Just do it.  Just take them.  I’m less than five miles—if that—from the hospital here.  I can do this.  It’s an impulse, but I’m not fighting it.  I stop at the Starbucks on the way—the closest Starbucks to the hospital that is not in the hospital—and continue on my way.  Keep it together, it’s just a hospital, I tell myself.  I park in the garage on autopilot.  Did the rate change?  The ticket is the same.  I used to have a weekly pass, so the dailies stacked up in the car.  After he died I must have thrown out a dozen.  I park high, but close to the bridge, which the only part that matters.  Digging around the trunk I rescue the soap and some of the bags. 
Down the elevator.  Stop on 2, never 1.  I recognize the faces on the skybridge.  Not the people, but the faces.  Some are relieved.  Emergency room visits.  Some, though, have the haggard look of a person who intends to be here a while.  There’s more focus.  And the kids are never walking with them.  I must look different than last time I came here.  I suppose I am different.  I don’t start shaking until I walk into the lobby.  I am regretting the grande latte, which I’m clutching in the opposite hand of the soap bags.  There are the greeters.  The best cafeteria is below us, the stairs are near.  Valet desk on the right, couches on the left.  The greeters are volunteers, they hand you badges with the floor you’re headed to.  I used to almost have them all, but I never needed to stop because I always already had one on.  Today I do. 
There are two greeter volunteers, an elderly man and a high school girl.  I choose the man.  I start talking before he can warm up to ask me where I need to go (as if I would need directions) “I have some soap, for social services (I decided to go with that. Guest services just didn’t seem right.)  He looks perplexed.  “Soap?”  “Yes. My son stayed here for a while last year.  They gave us soap; I’m trying to give some back.”  I wonder if the tremor in my voice is noticeable or not.  How can he not see gift shop in the corner? I want to ask him if they have the giant giraffe in.  James had one at his party.  But he would not know that, or that it was in the room when he died.  He seems more understanding now that I mentioned the son, though I did not mention if he was alive or dead.  That was intentional.  “Oh, yes, I’ll get someon—“  I cut him off.  I’m feeling less certain now, the impulse is fading.  We took James home through the doors on the right in his Moses basket.  No car seat.  “No, it’s fine.  I don’t need to wait.  I trust you.  It’s from the Sikes family.”  He nods and I think is preparing to offer a thanks but I’m already walking away. 
I make it to the car before the first tears.  I’m glad I made it over the skybridge again.  The people with the long faces have their own problems.  I sit there for a while.  In a strange way I miss being here before.  I miss the hope associated with that.  I keep the door open to ward off the heat and I lose myself for a while.  I have a good spot, and I notice someone waiting for me to leave, so I do.  Better they take the spot and use it. 
It’s done.  I’m glad.  The soap will mean more to them than my trunk.  It’s the right thing, and really, the only thing to do.  I feel better having done it, one more thing that is not that important but that feels good.  Most of the little things do. 
Thank you all for your continued thoughts and prayers.


  1. I know what you mean about recognizing the faces. When we go back to the hospital (which is still weekly, almost), I can spot the shell-shocked look of the parents, newly arrived.

    I've taken to keeping my 'buy 10, get one free' coffee cards to give to those parents, along with a promise of a prayer for their child. It's not enough, but I remember how much small things have meant when my daughter has been the most sick.


  2. Dear Matthew,

    I agree that photo is gorgeous. Nothing anyone can say can make you feel better, but I jus want to remind you that you are not alone and James is still very much in our thoughts minds and hearts, as are you and Kara. x

  3. I've been reading your posts for over six months now. And, all I can think of to say is...I'm sorry. I'm so, so, sorry for your loss. I'm sorry you didn't get to see your little boy grow up. I'm sorry that you can't still hold him, and feel the weight of him on your shoulders, and smell that baby smell in the crook of his neck. I'm sorry that he doesn't fall asleep in your arms. I'm sorry for all of the firsts that you've missed--will miss. I'm sorry that you won't be awakened in the night by his crying when he's sick and that you won't get to wait for him when he comes home from his first date. I'm sorry for all of the sorrow and the pain and the unanswered questions. If I knew you better, I'd try to take care of some annoying detail in your life. I"d mow your lawn or do the dishes or bring you a meal...or something...anything...just to be a little helpful...because I fully know that no one can do anything to really help you I am praying for you, dear stranger. I will continue to do that.

  4. When I saw the picture (before reading the first sentence) my heart and lips smiled at your sweet James.

  5. I love that picture. My son died last year too. I haven't gone back to the hospital yet. Took guts to park in the same place and walk through the same doors. The thought makes me a little sick still. I know you're coming up on the 1st anniversary. They call it an angelversary. I call it D-Day. Will be praying for you both

  6. Maybe a month after my mom died, my friends wanted to go to out to eat, we decided on a Greek place in Westwood. I didn't even think twice, a night out, with friends, ice cream - sounded like a relief. I don't know why I forgot, or what blocked my memory, but as soon as we left the Greek restaurant and headed out walking through town, one of my friends said, "Let's walk through UCLA." It's a beautiful campus, especially at night. The dread started to creep upon me, I didn't want to voice it aloud, but my limbs started to freeze up, and then the campus was in sight, the crosswalk before me. And, I couldn't walk, I couldn't go to the other side. Everyone else was obediently following the little green man, but I could not. Finally, someone noticed me, frozen, in terror, and came back. They all understood, they all comforted me. But I have still not gone back. You voiced it perfectly. It is the pain and the hope and the memories, all wrapped up in one package that only someone who has spent time in a hospital with a dying loved one can understand.

    You put it so eloquently, I hope that one day you turn this blog into a book. There are a lot of people who feel these things but don't have the words.

    Thank you, for letting me walk through this with you.

  7. I think it was an important thing to do. Not only will it make a difference in someone else's life, but you were selfless and thoughtful. I fear I would have thrown the soap away instead of returning to the hospital. I'm proud of you, Matthew. Now that may not mean much coming from a stranger, but I think James is proud of you, too! You and Kara continue to be in my prayers, especially with the 1 year anniversary coming up soon. May you find God's grace sufficient for each new day.

  8. I'm amazed at your bravery to go back. My father died last November after being in and out of medical city for over 2 years with leukemia. I was even married in the courtyard there 5 days before he died, and the thought of going back for any reason makes my heart race. Now my best friend will deliver her firstborn there this November, a child we prayed so hard for God to bless them with, and I am terrified to even pull into the parking lot to visit her. Thank you for showing me that it can be done, and it will be ok. Prayers for you and your wife for continued healing.