We were out grocery shopping on Saturday night and as we came to the checkout I overheard the lady two people ahead of us talking with the teller. She was mentioning that she worked in a NICU. I took her for a nurse right away; could have been gender bias, or just something about how she held herself and how she spoke.
I wanted to go up to her and thank her for her work in the NICU. It takes a special type of person to work in a NICU, seeing sick babies and families in distress every day. I was hesitating though.
I have this fear that if I bring up Reilly, or the NICU, or death, or cemeteries, or funerals, or babies or … or … or … then Veronica will be sad, upset or depressed. And I don’t want to hurt Veronica any more than she has already been hurt, so I rarely bring Reilly up, even though I know that this too can be hurtful and puts a bit of a wall between us. It’s dumb and wrong and tragic and understandable and necessary and sad and … and … and …
So I was hesitating, I wanted to thank this woman for the work that she does, but I didn’t want to risk Veronica being upset.
Finally though I felt I needed to, I timed it so that she was just getting ready to go; I didn’t want a conversation. I slipped past the person in between us, and said excuse me and apologized for the interruption, then I asked her if I’d overheard correctly that she worked in a NICU. She said that yes she did with a bit of a puzzled look on her face. So I thanked her. I said, “thank you for the work that you do”. Then I turned around and went back to getting groceries from the cart out onto the checkout conveyor. It didn’t seem that Veronica had noticed.
And that was that. I had felt the need to recognize her hard work in a very limited way and I did. In my head and heart I was hoping that she was going home with a bit of lightness in her step, knowing that there are people that appreciate what she does.
Well, that was supposed to be that. As luck and random chance would have it, her car was parked very closely to ours.
So while Veronica was getting Lachlan into the van the woman approached from the front to where I was standing and thanked me for my recognition of her work, but asked why I gave it.
This wasn’t in my plan.
So I told her that we’d had a son in a NICU. She said that she had been working in NICUs for 14 years and asked which NICU we were in. I told her BC Women’s. She told me she had worked there until 2014. I told her we were there in 2014. She said that she worked there until late summer. I told her we were there in January and February. She asked our last name. I told her, and told her that our son was a CDH baby named Reilly. She apologized for not knowing the name but said she had worked as charge nurse quite a bit.
If you are watching this movie in your head right now, you are looking at the conversation from the woman’s right side, more facing towards me with the van just over my right shoulder. You are also seeing Veronica come towards the front of the van having put Lachlan in on the passenger side. You are seeing Veronica noticing that I’m talking to some random woman and start to come forward.
And now you are hearing the woman ask, with hope and happiness in her eyes, how our son is doing.
And you are hearing my voice catch, seeing my face lose composition, and, in my imagination because I didn’t see it myself, seeing Veronica stop like she has been poleaxed.
I stammered out that no, he wasn’t ok, our son had died.
The light died in her eyes. I imagine that she’s seen hundreds of parents go through the loss of a child in her career working in the NICU. I imagine she’s cried with them and held their hands as they’ve lost composure. But this was out of the blue, a random, chance conversation that went sideways with a single question.
I thanked her again for the work that she did, said how much it was appreciated. I turned again and went back to the van, hopped in and started it up. Veronica asked who she was, I told her. In that moment she was angry and confused. I was in tears and crying noisily as I backed out and started driving away.
It never leaves you, that raw feeling. It is under the thinnest of layers of scar tissue, ready to be exposed to the world.
My desire to thank someone for their work had resulted in pain for the woman, pain for my wife, and pain for myself.
But I was sincere, I really do appreciate the work that she does in the NICU. And I hope that she knows I just wanted to say thanks.