Eight years ago this morning, I woke to a nightmare. One that will really never end. My 3 year old beautiful daughter was found lifeless under her dresser. Somehow she managed to tip it over on herself while we slept. We did not hear it fall, for it fell onto her. She was unable to cry. She died in minutes while the rest of our family slept, her airway compressed by a drawer under the weight of the dresser. Her dresser is pictured below. When most people see it, they are flabbergasted, expecting it to have been a much larger piece. Most of you know this story already. What you probably don't know, is what I'm going to share here. I will thank you in advance for being with me this day in my grief.
Every year on her 'Angel Day', the anniversary of her death, I allow myself to participate in my own ritual of remembrance. I eagerly wait for the rest of the family to go off to work and school so I can have time alone with Meggie. It's difficult to go back to that day, yet it's important to me. Important that I allow myself one day to grieve, to really grieve, to honor my feelings from that day to this day, to reflect on my life and how it's changed as a result of her life and of her death. It's the one day I allow myself to really *be* with the pain, to remember the details of that day. For in the pain of it all, were absolute angels who helped us through.
Then, I read some of the letter I began to her on December 28th, 2004. It's now 397 pages long. It is a painful reminder of what I felt during those days, weeks and months after her death. It's also a reminder of how Meghan's Hope began and grew and of the love and support we received from so many. I'm so glad I wrote it, for I've forgotten many of the details of those days and had I not recorded it in my letter to her, I'd likely not remember it now. It always moves me to tears. I'm always surprised by what I've forgotten. Yes, they are my own words, but it brings everything back. I actually need that. There was a lot of goodness in there that came out of the pain. The kindness of friends, family, neighbors and compete strangers were gifts that helped us endure the hell, who walked with us through the pain. My depth of my gratitude for them is difficult to convey.
I, of course, add to the letter each anniversary and periodically during the year. With the social media tools available today, I also write about it here and on Facebook and Google+. I vow to somehow turn the letter into a book. I don't know when I will find the time to do it, or what exactly I will write, but it is inching ever closer. My hope in sharing all of this, is that it will touch someone, somehow, that will be compelled to DO something about it to prevent it from happening to a child they know and to share the information with everyone they know.
My ritual then turns to time in her room. Her dresser is still there. It has many Meggie items on top of it. Some made by her, some given to me in memory of her. It is now secured to the wall. The irony kills me. Her room is still her room in many ways but it also a room for me. For us. It's the place where I scrapbook and do my bead work. Neither of which I've actually done much of the past few years, but I enjoy being in her room. My scrapbook table is actually in the place her dresser was when it fell on her. Artwork by Meg and her twin hang on the wall.
I stand in the doorway to her room and pause. I close my eyes. I allow myself to remember my husband screaming my name "Kim, oh God, KIIIIIMMMMM" and being woken from a deep sleep knowing instantly something horrible had happened from the tone of his voice. I remember running into her room, seeing her tiny, beautiful body, pale and blue, lifeless on the floor. He had thrown the dresser off of her and placed her on the floor. I remember my older son, then 6, literally freaking out by her head, crying and yelling "What happened to Meggie...is she OK .. mommy make her wake up, make her wake up!" I remember doing CPR, simultaneously begging her to come back to us and yet knowing in my heart it was already too late. I remember her twin, also just 3, kneeling at her feet, quietly saying, "Mommy, Meggie not wake up". It was not a question. It was a statement of spiritual fact.
I remember my husband falling down the stairs trying to get the door for what he thought were the EMT's but was actually a neighbor who was an EMT who heard the call on the police scanner. I remember him walking into the room behind me and audibly gasping. I remember the EMT's arriving, taking over CPR, running frantically into my room to change my clothes, (I still have the sweatshirt I last held her in. I can't bear to part with it) running outside in bare feet to yell to ambulance which hospital they were taking her to and then flying to the car and nearly running over neighbors who were already flocking to our house to help and support us as I backed out of the driveway.
I have no idea how I drove. I shouldn't have. I had no idea how to get to the hospital, yet I managed to get there. It was a Saturday. All I could think was "it's been more than 6 minutes", although none of us knew how long she was under the dresser, knowing on a soul level she was gone, but hoping beyond hope that they would get her back. Miracles happen, right?
I remember, very vividly, walking into the ER at the local community hospital. By then, I was having chest pain. Like really serious chest pain, I was pretty sure I was having a heart attack from the stress. My heart was breaking. Literally. I felt it. It hurts. Like hell. I can actually still feel the visceral pain of it when I allow myself to fully go back to that day. I felt like I'd pass out, my head was spinning, my vision was fuzzy, my legs were as heavy as cement. Walking was such an effort and so very slow and unsteady. I have no idea how I managed to put one foot in front of the other. I really thought I was dying myself right then. I remember the girl at the check in desk, telling her I was here and my daughter was just brought in by ambulance. She told me they'd be right with me and not to worry, she was sure it would be OK. I literally almost slapped her across the face. She's dead! What the hell do you mean it will be f*cking OK?!
I remember the little room, the kind woman (a nurse maybe?) who sat with us. Who brought me ginger ale and tissues, which I asked for in the hopes it would quell the nausea and keep me from passing out because it is nothing short of a miracle I did not hit the floor. She prayed with us, because clearly, we needed it and there was little else we could do. I remember talking to our neighbor, also an ER doctor, who was part of the team caring for her. The look on his face said everything, but they were opting to Life Flight her to a trauma hospital. He said it didn't look good but they were not giving up yet. We were allowed to see her before they took her. I was vaguely aware of the many people around her, yet all I saw was her beautiful face. I ducked under someone's arm and kissed her, stroked her silky blonde hair and told her I loved her. That I would see her at the next hospital. I remember thinking she'd have loved the helicopter ride. There were tears in the eyes of the staff tending to her. A few posted on her guest book of the Web site later and their words were so sweet and kind. I remember one nurse saying she promised me Meggie was well loved and deeply cared for by everyone who tended to her that morning in the ER.
One of the EMT's drove us to the next hospital. I remember trying to sit in the car seat in the back seat, unable to process that I should remove it and sit in the regular seat or even figure out how to remove the car seat. I just stood there and stared at it. The EMT did it for us. He was a wonderful man. We tried to call at least one family member to let them know what was happening so they could share with others. I called to see how the boys were doing since we left in chaos, essentially leaving them with people they barely knew. I was told our babysitter, who knew them well, was already with them and the entire neighborhood was in our house holding vigil. Family was on their way to our house. It gave me some peace of mind that I needn't worry about them.
We were lead to the God-awful room. You know the one. Where the priest is waiting with you and your family to hear the words you don't want to hear. It wasn't long before a very uneasy looking resident and the trauma chief, who had on a lovely Christmas tie (odd what you remember), said something to the effect of "blah, blah, blah...I'm very sorry, but Meghan had died". They really didn't tell me anything I didn't already know, but now it was official. There was no more hope. It was over. My baby girl was gone forever. I couldn't have hurt anymore than I already did. So I bowed my head, took a deep breath, and asked to see her. All I wanted to do at that moment was to see her. It was but a few minutes before we were allowed to see her.
Let me say, the pedi trauma nurses rock. How they do it, I'll never know. The priest accompanied us. Quite frankly, I found him irritating. I'm not sure if was just my reaction to her death or if he was really annoying. He did not comfort me at all. He read the 23rd Psalm. It took every ounce of my being not to tell him to shut up. It did NOT help. He left. Rather, I dismissed him, thanking him, but not sure what for.
Meggie looked so peaceful. A true sleeping beauty. If only a kiss could really bring her back to us! I actually wish we had a picture of her then. She was SO beautiful and so at peace. Her color was better thanks to an hour+ of CPR. They asked if they could call anyone for us. I couldn't remember phone numbers. I couldn't even dial a phone. They got me a chair so I could sit by the phone and they looked up numbers. They dialed for me. They held the phone to my ear because I was shaking so badly I couldn't even hold it. How do you tell your parents their granddaughter is dead? They stood behind me with their hands on my shoulders and rubbed my back while I told my parents. I think they also talked to them since I was likely incoherent. They called my uncle, the Deacon who baptized her, and asked him to come for me. When he came, I sobbed into his belly. It was the first good cry I had. He was my spiritual comfort. Then I smiled through the tears, a comforting thought and connection coming to me. "She's with Gram!", I said. We knew she'd take care of her.
They asked if I'd like to hold her. Of course, I said yes. I'd have held her forever if I could have. They got me a rocking chair and they placed her in my arms. They covered us both with a warm blanket. I rocked her and held her little hand. So delicate and tiny. So sweet. I stared and stared and stared at her face. It was so surreal. How could she really be gone? I kissed her. Often. I talked to her. I cried. But mostly, I stared at her and loved her. The nurses gave us our space but checked on us often.
The nurses asked if we'd like to make hand/foot prints for us and the boys. They helped us paint a hand and a foot pink and purple and 'stamp' several pieces of paper with them. They hang to this day in her brother's rooms. They made a little soft plaster heart and together we imprinted a hand and a foot. They added a little pink bow. It sits on our mantle now. They placed her back on the bed. Other family members were invited to see her and say good-bye. Then we had a bit more time with her. After about an hour and a half, they gently encouraged us to say goodbye. This was as much from a practical physiological stand point as it was psychological for us in need. We were blessed to have all that time alone in the trauma room with her, with no one else in the ER that morning. For that, I am grateful.
I remember it was a beautiful day for December. The sky was blue, it was in the 40's. I glanced at the sky. Were you up there, Meg? I wondered where our car was as we waited for my BIL to get his car. The EMT had driven it home for us. I stood there in complete shock. Getting irritated at the smiles on other people's faces. It was surreal. How was I going to tell the boys? How was I going to do this? How could I be living this nightmare? OMG, I have to plan a funeral. For my daughter! This couldn't be real. Yet, I knew it was. So painfully real.
I had to come home and tell my boys, on the kitchen floor of a neighbors house, where they immediately clamored into my lap hoping for good news, that she had died. The pain on their faces exponentially deepened my own pain. How could a 3 and 6 year old comprehend the death of their sister when their parents were struggling so much? We came home, without our Meggie. And our lives have never, ever been the same.
I sat on the couch and stared at the Christmas tree, snuggled with her twin. I sat. I stared. That's all I did. For hours. I couldn't function. I didn't want to function. Family wisely left me alone. They gathered down stairs and did their own grieving We went into Meggie's room. Her twin gently and methodically cleaned up all the clothes she had thrown all over the room, put her toys away. All on his own. When he was done, he quietly said "There". He continued to talk to her and play with her. It was comforting to know that just maybe, he *could* still see her. My husband turned the dresser to the wall so the drawers could not open and it couldn't tip again.
I was starting to get pissed. When darkness fell, I went outside and swung on her favorite swing under the stars. I wondered what they looked like from the other side. I thought about how she always wanted to 'fly in the sky!' I started to cry. Sob. Loud, uncontrollable sobs. Finally. I was able to release that pain, the grief, the sadness of the day. God and the Universe got a loud what for that night, directed toward the sky. I screamed, I cried, I threw myself on the ground in complete and utter despair and sobbed some more. Neighborhood dogs barked like crazy at my outburst. I didn't care. My daughter was dead. It was wrong. It was unfair. It was my fault. It hurt. So. Damn. Much.
I come back to the present now, and sit on her floor. I take out her jammies. The ones she was wearing that day. Cut off by the EMT's. I lay them out on the floor. They look so small now. I lay next to them. I imagine she's with me. Can you see her? I touch them. I smell them. I cry. Because although she may be with me in spirit, she is not here physically. I miss her.
I open the 'purple bin'. The one that holds all the cards and little gifts we received, the trinkets left for her, the guest book from her wake. I go through them. Bolstered by the outpouring of love and support we received. I go through her clothes. Remembering what she loved about each thing. What I loved about each thing. I hold the little red velvet skirt with white embroidery and the black turtleneck sweater I bought for her to wear for Christmas that year. It still has the tags, for she died before she could ever wear it. She'd have been so pretty in it! I hold the Marie, the cat from the Aristocats, one of her favorite movies. A Christmas gift she never saw either, but would have been SO excited to have. I slept with one of her stuffed kitties last night.
I wrap myself in the quilt made of her clothes, I snuggle one of her stuffed kitties, I smell it, hoping to smell her again. Of course now it's been too long, but I still try. I look at her windows, still smeared with her finger prints, now dusty and even a wee bit moldy in spots, yet I cannot bear to clean them. I close my eyes and I quietly try to be with her. Her memory, her spirit, her essence. There are tears. There are smiles. There are more tears. I open her dresser drawers and wonder how the hell she managed to tip it over. What was she doing? Why was she doing it? What did she think? What did she feel? Was she scared? How a zillion other things could have happened and she'd have survived, but the pure physics of the situation instead led to a tragic outcome. I ask an unanswered, why? Why her? Why me? Why this way? Why at all? The why's get more angry and insistent. Why, why, why, why WHY?!
That was only the beginning of a long and painful road, 8 years long today. One I will walk for the rest of my life. Without my daughter. One that *I* could have prevented.
So, when people ask me why they should secure their furniture, I'd like to tell them this story. I'd like for them to feel what it's like to live with the pain, the guilt, the hole in your heart. Maybe if the words don't compel you to do something, perhaps raw, visceral emotion will. I don't, of course. Who would listen? Besides, it takes too long and is too painful to re-live that often. Feel free to direct them here if you think it will help motivate them to action.
Here is my rant: What really pisses me off is knowing people who know us, who knew her, who came to her wake and funeral, who have heard her story, who have children or children who visit their home and still choose to do nothing. The people who I ask to share the links to her Web site and Facebook page and don't. That hurts me. Deeply. I don't get it. I just don't. I'd be lying to say there are not times where I wonder WTF? Why not their kid? (and immediately hate myself for that thought) Why mine? Why not try to help someone else even if you don't believe it's a risk for you or your children? Everyone has furniture. Nearly everyone has a TV. Every child is at risk. And why the hell do so many people think 'it' can't happen to them? Ignorance is not bliss! It's stupid! If it can happen to me, it can happen to you. It doesn't matter who 'you' are or what 'it' is!
I'll never know all the answers. The simply answer to why Meghan died is because her dresser was not secured. $5 and 15 minutes would have saved her life. It's that simple. Why she died when dressers have fallen on so many other children who were luckier and were not injured is not for me to answer. I'm glad for them that they were so fortunate. I hate that it was my daughter and our family that were the ones who it happened to and had deadly consequences. All I can do now is try to educate as many people as I can about these dangers so it never happens to another child again. So no mother ever feel the pain I do. So no one need bury their child because of something that could have easily been prevented.
No one should have to experience what I did 8 years ago today. No one. If everyone secured their furniture and TV's, no one would ever know the pain of this tragedy again. Just do it.
So, I ask you. Have you shared Meghan's story with everyone you can? Have you secured ALL of your furniture and your TV's? Even if your children are older, do younger children visit your home? You must consider them, too. Have you 'liked' the Meghan's Hope Facebook page so you can be informed of all manner of child safety information? What about those at the homes of friends and family where your child visits, are furniture and TV's secured in their homes? Yes? Thank you, thank you, thank you. No? I'm sorry, but WTF is wrong with you? Most days, I don't judge. Today, I do. Today, when I'm so deep in the pain I just can't fathom why anyone wouldn't do anything they can to avoid ever knowing this horror. I just don't get it.
Thank you for listening. Now, "You listen to Meggie"! (which is what she was telling me when this picture was taken just weeks before she died)