The outpouring of love and kindness and remembrances on Instagram, FB, in texts, emails and phone calls has truly buoyed our family in the midst of this crushing loss. All the messages and photos make us cry but also fill us with a profound sense of being surrounded…especially meaningful as we navigate this from so far away.
I so appreciate Rolf sharing about our last day together as a family with Rudy…it really was magical. Although we are all grieving differently, I’m grateful for our family’s ability to process thoughts and feelings verbally right now as things surface. Not to overshadow Rolf’s post, but I wanted to share my memories of Rudy’s last day before the details start to fade.
To say “losing Rudy is beyond comprehension” would be an understatement. In my mind, his decline was going to be gradual…we were going to see it coming…we were going to do hospice at home with the help of “Nell”, our friend who also happens to be a hospice nurse. In my mind, we were going to be cuddled in bed, surrounded by people we love. In my mind, Rudy’s last moments would be peaceful and he would hear our goodbyes…might have even had the presence of mind to usher him into heaven with a favorite hymn. I had it all planned out…in my mind.
What unfolded was a very different scenario. Just Sunday we headed off to church with our big 15 passenger van rental packed full and ready to embark on an epic road trip to visit family in Kansas. We were excited to travel along Route 66 and see the beauty of the Southwest. It was going to take us 3 long days of driving to get to our destination but we planned to make some fun stops along the way. Monday was a particularly incredible day (as Rolf already shared) and we pulled into Guymon, OK a little after 11pm for our final overnight stay before reaching my mom’s on Tuesday. We all fell into bed, slept soundly and woke up bright and early Tuesday morning ready for a fun stop in Wichita to visit friends before heading on up to Lawrence. Rudy woke up happy, sat on the floor playing with his new flatbed truck toy he got the day before, asked to watch Paw Patrol on TV and happily stayed in the room while the rest of us ate breakfast in the lobby in shifts. When we got back to the room, I asked Wilson to give Rudy a quick bath while the rest of us packed up and loaded the van. Rudy was cold after his bath so once Wilson got him dressed, Olivia snuggled with him under the bed covers and bumped up his O2 as she typically does when we need to warm him up but he was still uncomfortable. Although it was early, the air temperature outside was already heating up so Olivia suggested he might warm up faster in the van. She carried him to his car seat and I followed behind with the O2 concentrator. Rudy was fussy but there was NOTHING going on to suggest there was something serious happening. Olivia left us to go get her things and I saddled up next to Rudy to comfort him while we waited for the others.
Without warning, he got quiet, he might have opened his eyes a bit and the next thing I knew I could only see the whites of his eyes and he became unresponsive. I yelled to Rolf to call 911, he ran into the lobby and the clerk at the desk told him it would be faster to drive to the hospital ourselves…in seconds the big kids flew into the van, the doors slammed shut, I unbuckled Rudy, put him on my lap and, not detecting a breath, began doing mouth to mouth. Rolf had us at the hospital in less than 5 minutes, Wilson grabbed Rudy from me and ran him into the ER. The amazing team in the ER began working on him immediately…chest compressions, intubation, defibrillator…the big sibs settled in the ER waiting area and Rolf joined me with Rudy. For the next 45 minutes, we watched for any sign of life in our boy, waited for the gasp of air that would suddenly bring him back, occasionally called out “We’re here Rudy…Mommy and Daddy are right here”. Feeling completely helpless I remember cheering on Nurse Mary who was relentless in giving Rudy chest compressions…”Don’t stop Mary. Keep going!”…all the while whispering under my breath…”Not today, Rudy, not today”. At one point, the mood in the room changed ever so slightly and Rolf whispered in my ear “they’re only doing this for us now”. The ER doctor looked up at me without saying a word but kept working…a few minutes later he walked up to me and Rolf and said that they were able to get his heart rate up a bit but there hadn’t been any blood flow to his brain for too long. With that, I said “we’re done”, climbed up on the gurney with Rudy and started taking all the wires and tubes off of him. Rolf left to get the big sibs, the room cleared and there we were, just as we were when our journey with Rudy’s heart defect began, the 5 of us huddled in a medical examination room in disbelief trying to process what just happened. We each took time to hold Rudy and love on him. It was tender. It was sweet.
We were informed a little while later that because of the special circumstances of the case, the fact that it crosses state lines and to follow a protocol to rule out child abuse, the OK state medial examiner wouldn’t release Rudy to us without an investigation which required him to be transported to OK City. The local mortician, Bob, promised he would take special care of Rudy in the meantime. So, with that, we made the agonizing decision to leave Rudy in Guymon and make our way to Lawrence to be with family and try to figure out what to do next. Rudy’s body arrived in OK City sometime Tuesday evening and by Wednesday morning the medical examiner was finished with his investigation and notified us he was ready to be released. Rolf, with the help of our good friend and funeral planner Chris, arranged for Rudy to be released in the care of a mortuary in OK City who is now working with the mortuary in Goleta to coordinate Rudy’s transport back to CA…a surreal logistical puzzle that Rolf is excellently executing remotely by phone.
I know this is more information than anyone needs or wants but I wanted to record it for me…for us…for the big sibs and their families when I’m long gone. Like our dear friends who have walked this road before us, I understand now the importance of holding on to details and not wanting the details to slip away.
In the hours since losing our boy, I’ve played it back over and over many times and although it isn’t at all how I planned it would be…I’m at peace with how it played out…honestly, it was a reminder of how little control we have in life. EVER. We had to surrender every detail of that morning…there were no choices…no room for stating preferences. We put our boy in the care of perfect strangers in a completely unfamiliar place and, in less than 3 hours from first arriving at the ER… drove away. Even now I wonder how in the world we did that! God was and IS so present. We are experiencing His peace in the midst of the excruciating pain…everything aches…my head, my teeth, my body, my bones…the pain is so deep and I sometimes find myself begging for relief but there is peace.
So what do we do now? Plans are underway to get our family back to California this weekend. Although the details are not confirmed, we are hoping to have Rudy’s service and burial sometime around August 7th. Please keep an eye out for service details in the coming days. In the meantime, pray for our family…we need wisdom and grace, good communication and clarity as we move forward in the next couple of weeks especially. We love our worldwide circle of family and friends so dearly and can’t thank you enough for loving our family and our boy the way you have the past 8 1/2 years. We are humbled and lifted up by the love all at the same time. Forever grateful, Trish