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To the Stranger Whose Eyes Met Mine Moments Before Losing Her Child

The surgery went very well. All the doctors are pleased, and my daughter is resting. I start to unpack my pillow and blankets to settle on the pullout chair for the night. I grab my toothbrush, and then I hear it.

Many medical moms can do a quick assessment of a child based on the equipment you see as you glance in the room. I was pacing and met your eyes earlier in the afternoon. We smiled at each other. That “I know you’re in a horrible situation, and I feel for you as a parent also in the hospital with my child” smile. Parents who are in and out of hospitals can say a lot to one another with just that smile and nod. You looked away, and I saw you gaze at your son. A look of love and pride and worry.

I eyed up your room, not to be nosey but because I can’t help but notice. A camera and wave graph on a monitor – they’re checking for seizure activity. Two “Christmas tree” IV poles with many infusion pumps running at once — never good to see. A kangaroo pump — must have some sort of feeding tube. Ventilator, but nothing on his face from the glance — must be trached. Just a quick look tells me so much. As with all the children in the hospital, I say a prayer for the child, parents, doctors and family.

Just as the toothpaste hit the bristles, the code alarm went off. They called out the room next door to me.

I am instantly back in my daughters NICU room one year ago, hearing the same sounds. The sound of running from fifteen nurses, doctors, and respiratory therapists brings me back to reality. I drop to my knees and pray. Then I grab my shoes, alert a nurse standing nearby I’m leaving, and run like hell out of the unit.

I waited and paced and prayed for an hour before I dared to go back to the floor. I hoped for the best, but as the doors opened I heard your cries. The sobs that only mean one thing. You were on the phone with a family member, and I heard the worst “He’s gone. They tried so hard but he just couldn’t come back.”

My heart aches for you. We exchanged the quickest look and slightest smile, but I grieve for your son. I hurt for your loss, and I am so sorry. I didn’t know what to say at the time. I didn’t think it appropriate to interrupt your time with your son. If you are somewhere reading this, though:

Please know you have my extreme condolences. I’ve thought about you and your precious boy every day since his passing. The pain you felt that day, the pain you feel now; I pray for your strength. I can only hope you can grow to see the beauty and light in this world again, which is darker now that your son is not in it.

I am so sorry for your loss,

The mom in the next room