On July 5, after finding out that Alexander no longer had a heartbeat, Scott and I were sent home to wait for a phone call telling us it was time to head to the hospital. I remember coming home, curling up on the couch together, and just staring at the wall.
What do you do when you have a house full of unused and unopened baby gifts?
What do you do when you have spent months putting together the perfect nursery?
What do you do when your much loved and much anticipated only child dies unexpectedly?
We sat in shock. We stared at the wall. We didn’t turn on the tv. We tried to eat, but just couldn’t. We waited. We cried. We cried a lot.
And then the phone rang. The nurse practitioner who we had seen that morning was on the other line: “You guys can head to the hospital whenever you’re ready.”
When we’re ready? When we’re ready?
We packed up an overnight bag and headed out the door.
As Scott grabbed the bag to head downstairs, the last thing he did was shut the door to Alexander’s perfect nursery. A nursery that was unfinished. A nursery that we had spent so much time in, preparing for Alexander’s arrival. A nursery that he knew we wouldn’t be prepared to look at when we came home from the hospital empty handed.
We had spent so much time putting together the perfect nursery. It was our labor of love for our only son. One of the first things we did after finding out we were having a boy was deciding on a theme. It was so easy for us. We were walking around Babies R Us and fell in love with the Disney baby Monsters Inc. nursery accessories. Back in 2001, Scott and I went on our first date to see Monsters Inc. in theaters. It seemed like destiny that our firstborn son would have a Monsters Inc. themed nursery. It was perfect.
I personally sanded and painted a crib that we received from some friends. For hours. By hand. We repurposed a shelving unit that Scott and his dad had built together when he was growing up. We spent a full Sunday sanding and painting. Sanding and painting. We painted the walls and spent an hour and a half hanging decals while bickering over whether the letters should be perfectly straight or have a little bit of tilt and character.
The week before we lost Alexander, the families from our church had blessed us with a perfect Monsters Inc. themed baby shower. We had just finished loading up the shelves with baby toys, sorting adorable monster themed onesies by size, and putting things away.
And yet there was so much that wasn’t finished. We were still waiting on a mattress for the crib. The stroller, pack n play and car seat were all still in the boxes. We hadn’t washed anything yet in the baby safe laundry detergent we had just picked up at the grocery store. We still needed to pick up a few things to set up the changing table. We were waiting until after our third baby shower, which was going to be hosted by our close friends on July 9. Our third baby shower that never happened. Because there was no longer a baby. Because there was no longer a use for the onesies or the diapers or the bottles or the toys.
When we came home from the hospital, the door to the nursery stayed shut. There were a couple of times that Scott or I opened it quickly, just to hide other things in there. We spent an afternoon moving all the “big things” and baby shower gifts that had arrived in the mail while we were in the hospital out of sight. The boxed up car seat and stroller and pack n play. The baby bathtub and rock n play sleeper. The diaper bag that hadn’t yet been packed to go to the hospital. The folders and books from our childbirth classes at the hospital. (The childbirth classes in which nobody warned us that sometimes babies don’t make it home from the hospital.) The bins of maternity clothes that had been passed on from a dear friend.
Anything that reminded us that there was supposed to be a living, breathing, heart-beating baby living in our house got moved into that room. Well, most of it. There are still things sprinkled around here and there. The What to Expect… and Baby Owners’ Manual books from our pregnancy announcement lying sideways across our family room bookshelf. The bottles, and brightly colored bowls, plates, and sippy cups tucked onto the third shelf in our hallway pantry. Little things that now serve as gentle reminders of the way things were supposed to be. Little things scattered few and far between in comparison to the memorials and reminders of how different our lives were supposed to be. Sympathy cards. Our Alexander bear that has stayed on our family room couch. The stained glass and wind chimes and paintings and photographs that have been gifted to us in memory of Alexander. The weeping cherry tree growing in our backyard, planted in Alexander’s memory.
For months the door to Alexander’s nursery stayed tightly shut. In fact, I avoided even walking that way down our upstairs hallway. And yet, it’s there. The empty room that is so full of love. I see it every morning when I walk out of my bedroom. Light peeking out from under the door. A constant, daily reminder of what should have been.
For months I have wondered: What will it be like to open that door? Will I cry? Will I ever be ready to face it? Will I be totally overwhelmed? Am I ready today? Am I ready today? Am I ready today?
This past Friday, as I was getting ready to go out and buy a new shower head for our master bathroom (that’s a story for another day), a friend and I were upstairs investigating the shower head situation, and I decided to give a short tour. This is the guest bathroom. This is the guest room. This is Amber’s room. And this is… well, let’s just skip that. My friend knew. There was no pressure. Just presence.
We skipped the nursery and spent the rest of the afternoon doing what we do now that we know we both have Friday’s off. We ran errands and ate lunch. We picked up her kids from school. I had a little trumpet jam session with her boys. We laughed. We had deep conversations. We talked about Alexander and how much different Fridays would be if things had turned out how they were supposed to. Then they all came over for Friday night pizza and video games. Well, the boys played video games while we chatted.
Then it happened. I think it was around 9:30pm, when suddenly I was ready. Something just clicked in my head and settled into my heart and I said (out loud), “Hey, do you want to see Alexander’s nursery?” I hadn’t been in that room for months. I hadn’t sat in there since before we lost Alexander. I had hardly even opened the door. But all of a sudden it felt safe, and I felt brave.
So, together we went up the stairs and around the corner and through that door that had been tightly shut since July 5.
We sat on the floor and cried. Cried for what should have been. Cried for how perfect and how unfinished that labor of love was. Cried for Alexander and all the things that are missing. Cried for the stillness and the quietness of a room that should be full of baby cries and laughter.
Then, we sat on the floor and talked. We talked about how things should be different. We talked about how perfect and how unfinished the nursery was. We talked about how the room still smelled like fresh paint. We talked about Alexander and all the things that are missing. We talked about all the hopes that are stored away in that tiny upstairs room.
And then, something surprising happened.
We laughed. We laughed about how Scott and I bickered and argued while putting together the IKEA dresser. We laughed about what it was like the night Scott and I hung the decals and couldn’t agree whether the letters should be perfectly straight or have some character and tilt to them. We laughed about how literally the only thing Scott and I bought for Alexander was a book titled Mommy, Why is There a Server in the House?. We laughed about how Alexander was probably going to have a complex from being called a “little monster” and only ever wearing clothes with monsters on them.
And suddenly, a room that had I had written off to silence and sadness for months once again filled with laughter and love.
We sat in there on the floor for hours. Crying. Talking. Laughing.
Oh, how I wish things were different. How I wish that Alexander was here enjoying his perfect nursery, a labor of love from his mom and dad who love him so very much.
When we walked out Friday night, I shut the door again. I’m not ready to leave it open, but I’m thankful to know that I can do it. I can spend time in there when I’m ready. And that while it is an empty nursery, it is also a room that is so very full of love for our sweet boy.