It’s an unfathomable moment, a day that is etched into my heart and memory forever. On August 16, 2013, my husband and I made the hardest decision a parent could ever face — we stopped critical care of our baby and held our precious son as he died in our arms.
A parent shouldn’t outlive their child. Instead of planning a funeral, we should have been planning his future outside of the NICU. But life doesn’t always go as planned, and for my family, we faced one heartbreak after another. After giving birth to triplets more than 17 weeks premature, we knew the odds were stacked against us.
Our first triplet, Abigail, passed away shortly after birth. Our two other babies were whisked away to the NICU. At just over 1 pound each, they had a slim chance of survival. Those critical minutes turned into hours, then days, then weeks. After making it through the first month, my husband and I were optimistic. We thought Parker and Peyton would eventually come home with us. But our lives came crashing down like a wrecking ball, destroying our hopes and dreams in an instant.
When our babies were 5 weeks old, we were given gut-wrenching news that would change our lives forever. As we sat in a medical conference room, we waited anxiously for what we thought would be a routine update. While our daughter, Peyton, was doing well, our son faced a setback. Parker suffered a major brain injury. His weak little body survived surgery on his intestines, but the stress on his body was likely too much.
As the doctor began to go into detail, my mind went into a haze. His voice suddenly sounded muffled, as the walls of the room felt like they were caving in. The only words I could make out were “brain damage” and “paralyzed.” My husband grabbed my hand as the tears began pouring out. The moment the doctor left the room, I collapsed into my husband’s arms as the tears turned into hysterical cries.
It took several days for the diagnosis to fully set in. Parker’s brain injury meant that he would slowly become paralyzed, as well as most likely develop cerebral palsy. On top of all of this, our son needed another surgery, which doctors didn’t think he would survive. It was at that point when our doctors began discussing Parker’s future. Do we continue with life-saving treatment or let our son go? It’s a decision that I wish no parent would ever have to make and it’s something I will wrestle with for the rest of my life. How can you say goodbye to your child? Yet at the same time, how could you see your child suffer in pain?
It wasn’t a quick decision. Instead, it was one that took days of soul searching and sleepless nights. Parker was being kept alive by doctors and machines. I believe in miracles, but science was stacked against us. Parker’s health was irreversible. My husband and I made a decision early on that we didn’t want any of our children to suffer. As each day passed, our realization became clearer — we had to let go of Parker. It wasn’t a matter of “if.” It only became a matter of “when.”
Our family flew in to be with us, and on August 16, we were surrounded by love and prayers as doctors slowly removed the wires and tubes from Parker’s tiny body. Doctors placed our son in my arms, and I began to rock him as I read him our favorite children’s books. The pain was unbearable, but I held my composure, not wanting my son to see my sadness. Parker opened his eyes occasionally, even offering a smile as we told him about life outside of the hospital. At 6:12 p.m., four hours after he was placed in my arms, our only son passed away. That evening, after weeks of sleepless nights, my husband and I slept like babies. We were at peace knowing Parker was at peace.
A month after our son passed away, I ran into a doctor in the hospital parking lot. As we talked about our surviving triplet, Peyton, he gave me a sympathetic look. He told me that we made the most selfless decision a parent could ever make. I smiled back, knowing in my heart that we made the right decision.
The 55 days we spent with our son gave us a window into his world. Parker showed us that strength isn’t measured in size, but in the will to live. It’s true of all three of my triplets. They each showed a fight in them, stronger than anyone I know. As I look at our lone survivor, I see that same strength more than three years later. I see Parker and Abby living through Peyton, and I imagine my angels dancing in her dreams.
Death may be the end of life, but it’s not the end of their story. My children haven proven that you can make an imprint in this world, long after you are gone.
This post originally appeared on Her View From Home.