As I made out a check today, I noticed that tomorrow is my first nephew's seventh birthday. Only my long-time friends know the story of Sullivan. The day he was born was election day, when Al Gore was running against George Jr. Sully was born healthy and "normal" into our loving village. I rushed to see him as soon as I could. I could not wait to meet him. Handsome does not begin to describe him. I held him every chance I got for those first five weeks. He puked on me every chance he got. It seemed to make him happiest to stain my work clothes. Although we lived about an hour apart, we were bonding, that's for sure. Luckily, there were special occasions following soon after his birth so that I had extra excuses for baby squeezing. Because my husband and I were unable to have children of our own (yeah, right) I had determined with Sully's big sister Jilli that I would be the best aunt in the world. I was thrilled to have another opportunity to prove myself worthy of my self-declared title. Nobody loves me as much as I do!
At our birthday celebration mid-December, Sullivan was smiling and showing real eye contact and connecting with other human beings. It was the best birthday ever. I returned to work that Monday talking about him and his big sister constantly, the way any self-respecting obsessed auntie would. I was working as a 2nd shift supervisor of a catalog gift company and the season was upon us. A few days later, I received a phone message from my father-in-law stating that Sullivan had "had trouble breathing" and was being life-flighted from Defiance Hospital to Toledo Children's Hospital - about 3 miles from my house. I was the first one there, but because I was "just an aunt" and not immediate family I had to wait for others to come and fill me in. I have never been good at waiting. I slowly collapsed in on myself in the waiting room, surrounded by strangers and wondering what in the world was going on. I called my husband and told him about the message and intimated that "I think it's worse than a little trouble breathing and I think you need to be here for your brother." He arrived shortly after I was informed of Sullivan's grave condition. He had stopped breathing entirely and without certain explanation. He was revived onsite by EMT's who happened to be at the restaurant his mother and grandparents and he had walked to for lunch.
Sullivan was never the same after that. He had severe brain damage leading to cerebal palsy and other issues. He could not eat on his own, he had many many weeks and many many procedures in the hospital. He was still with us, yet at some times he needed round the clock care. It was devastating for all who loved him. Many times he showed hope and proved the doctors wrong. He could learn, he could communicate with his eyes and sounds and body language, even if it was only his caregivers who could understand his complex language. His extaordinary struggles started when he was but five weeks old, but ended before he could reach his 2nd birthday. When I see the 1st graders at my daughters school, I sometimes wonder where he would have fit in had he continued life on the easy path those first five weeks seemed to promise.
Thinking about him makes me sad, but proud; filled with love and loss, courage and serenity. His short life is one of the many things we have to be thankful for, and has made our "village" who we are today. I am relieved that he no longer struggles on a daily basis, but I am sad that Connie will never remember her closest-in-age cousin. She had just started walking at his funeral and all she knew was the flowers and balloons brought in his memory were pretty.