Jacob put his hand on Teddy’s shoulders. “How are you doing, son?”
Teddy couldn’t answer, but just reached up and grasped the hand of the man he called father. Teddy’s wife lay on the hospital bed, tubes attached to her body, machines beeping and whirring all around him. He didn’t even know how it had happened. She had been fine one minute and the next had collapsed in his arms. Now, as medical jargon was thrown at him, emergency surgeries performed, forms and consents filled out, endless scans and tests being done, he was at a loss, not knowing which way was up or down. She shouldn’t be in this damn bed. They should be home, happy, together as a family. Not here, not like this.
Teddy lay his head on the bed, letting go of Jacob and holding his wife’s hand ever so gently.
“I need you here. We need you here. Diana and I, we can’t do this without you. I’m selfish, Ellie. I’m selfish and I want you with me.” He looked worn and tired. He hadn’t shaved in a week. His hair was unkempt and he looked like a homeless man, but he didn’t care. Nothing mattered but the woman laying in the bed.
“Teddy, we’ve come to say hi.” Teddy looked up and saw his mother standing at the door of the ICU, holding an infant car seat in one hand and a diaper bag over her other shoulder.
Jacob went to help his wife and took the car seat from Annie, setting it down on the table by the wall. Teddy got up and walked over to see his sleeping three month old daughter tucked in, cozily unaware of what was going on around her.
“Let her sleep for now. She can see her momma, when she wakes. I don’t want to disturb her.”
Teddy’s mother nodded and stayed next to the baby.
Teddy returned to Ellie’s bedside, looking back at his parents standing behind him. Ellie’s parents were taking shifts and helping out with baby Diana and were resting back at his house, having flown in a couple days before. Teddy hadn’t left the hospital since they got there, save to drop his daughter off with his mother.
“Come on, son,” Jacob pulled gently on Teddy’s arm. “Why don’t we go get some coffee? We can go outside for some fresh air. Your mom can stay here with Diana and Ellie. I have my cell phone and you do, too. She can call us if there are any changes.”
Teddy didn’t want to go, didn’t want to leave Ellie for a second, but he had barely left the room since they had arrived. He kissed Ellie’s hand and got up reluctantly, his mother giving him a hug before he left. He kissed his daughter on the forehead and held her little fingers for a second before he followed Jacob out of the room.
Jacob led the way to the elevator and down to the cafeteria where they got a couple of coffees and some food and made their way out to some benches and tables just outside the hospital.
Teddy covered his eyes, the sun jarring him. It felt too bright and cheery outside, the birds chirping, kids laughing and playing as they walked to and fro in the square in front of the hospital. He wanted to drown out all the voices, to mute all the happiness around him. He felt like it was suffocating him, sitting out there on the bright summer afternoon. He looked at Jacob who had set up the two lunch containers and was handing him a fork.
“Come on, son, you gotta eat. You need your strength. Diana needs you and so does Ellie.” Jacob took a drink of his hot coffee and set it down on the table.
Teddy picked up his fork and attempted to choke down a few bites of food, but it tasted like sawdust in his mouth as he tried to swallow it and wash it down with his coffee.
“Dad,” Teddy started to say.
Jacob looked at him.
“They’re starting to talk about taking her off the ventilator. They’re saying there has been no brain activity. They need my consent to do it.” Teddy was trying hard to keep his composure.
Jacob had been listening to the doctors and knew this was coming.
“I don’t know what to do. I know, I know she wouldn’t want to be hooked up to the ventilator for the rest of her…..knowing the only thing keeping her alive is those whirrs and pumps, machines and god knows, what else.” Teddy covered his face, fighting back the tears. He took a deep breath. “I don’t know what to do. I want her here. I just want her to wake up.”
Jacob looked at Teddy, the boy now a man, whom he had called son for thirty years now. “I know this is the hardest decision you will ever have to make. I’ve been in your shoes before..”
This caught Teddy off guard, “What do you mean? How? When?”
“Before I married your mother, I was married before. We, my wife and son and myself, were in a car accident. They didn’t make it. My son, he was killed instantly, my wife was, well it was a lot like Ellie, hooked up to machines keeping her alive. And I don’t even know how I was fine, save for bumps and bruises.” Jacob paused, the memories from forty years ago, still raw as he spoke them aloud.
Teddy looked at Jacob in disbelief. “You’ve never talked about them.”
Jacob nodded, “I know, it was always too painful. I blamed myself for a very long time.”
“You hid it very well. You never showed it.”
“I poured myself into being the best husband and father to your mother and you after your mother and I were married. I had to let my Allison go. And I know this will be the hardest thing you ever have to do and watching you relive a past I could never forget and never wish upon anyone, is breaking my heart. Son, I’m here, I’m here for you. Your mother and I both are. I wish I could give you strength. I wish I could take away all your pain.” Jacob struggled watching Teddy going through this. It was the worst feeling as a parent to see his child suffer, and he was helpless to do anything. “You are going to have to be strong for Diana. Tell her about her mother, tell her all about her. Keep Ellie’s memory alive.”
Teddy stood up angrily. “She’s not dead yet. She’s not gone.” He felt his phone start to go off and he pulled it out of his pocket. It was his mother. He answered it, already running back into the hospital.
“You need to come up here now.” she said.
He hung the phone up and ran. He ran as fast as he could, up three flights of stairs and waited impatiently as they buzzed him into the ICU.
When he got to Ellie’s room, his mother was standing in the hall, Diana awake and in her arms. Ellie’s parents had just gotten there and they looked frightened by the sight before them. Ellie’s bed was surrounded by doctors and nurses.
“What happened?” Teddy asked gruffly.
His mother shook her head. “I don’t know. One second everything was fine, the next the machines started beeping and the doctors and nurses came flooding and told me I had to leave the room. They kept saying that they….that they were going to do everything they could.”
Teddy’s face twisted in pain as he went up to the glass window and watched them pull out a crash cart. He turned his face away as he saw his wife’s fragile form contort with each shock to her body. He put his hands on the glass, screaming out, “Noooo!” He fought every part of him that wanted to race into the room and take Ellie in his arms and whisk her away from this terrible place. Tears were streaming down his face as the seconds slowed to hours.
He knew, he knew the moment it was over, before the doctor ever left the room, before anyone spoke to him, he knew.
He stepped back and took Diana from his mother’s arms and held her close. The doctor finally came out and spoke to them. Jacob was there now and held his wife in his arms as she cried softly. Teddy just stood there holding his daughter, not really hearing the doctor. Words like “We did everything we could.” and “I’m very sorry, sir,” floated in and out of his conscious.
“Can I see her?” He finally asked when the doctor stopped speaking.
“Of course.” The doctor let him back into the room where the nurses were taking the ventilator tube off of his wife.
Teddy went to stand next to the bed, still holding Diana, the doctor standing in the doorway.
“Can we have a minute?” He asked the doctor, his voice strangled with pain.
“Yes.” The doctor pulled the curtain across and closed the glass door behind them as they left.
Diana started to fuss, but Teddy held her up on his shoulder and gently rocked her as tears streamed down his cheeks. He sat down in the chair next to the bed and took Ellie’s hand, still warm, though all life had left her.
“Remember,” he began. “…Remember last fall, when we found out we were going to have Diana…I was so freaked out and you were just cool as a cucumber, excited and reassuring, hopeful. You were filled with so much joy that you had no room for worry. You have been my rock, Ellie. You have been the glue that has held our family together. You, with your vibrance for life, your love for so many, your care and adoration for Diana….I can’t do this without you, Ellie. I need you. I need you. You can’t…Please don’t leave me like this…” Teddy’s words were arrested from him as the pain of losing her took over.
Diana cooed in his arms and he looked down at his daughter and stood up to rock her. Looking into her eyes, he remembered what Jacob had said and he began to tell Diana how he and Ellie had met, that fateful day when she had walked into the library of the community college, how she had helped tutor him through math. How they had spent night after night getting through homework and classes. How she had swept him off his feet and stolen his heart with her soft brown eyes and her sweet smile. He remembered how beautiful she had looked on the day of their wedding, walking towards him in her white gown, hair long and dark and curled all around her, her veil like a halo around head, that he swore she had looked like an angel coming towards him.
She was and would always be his forever angel.
“Look out for us, darling.” He said as he walked back the the bed and took Ellie’s hand again. “We will be smiling up at you and missing you. I can’t thank God enough for the brief time He gave you to me. You changed my world. You gave me Diana and I will never let her forget about you. I promise you that Diana will know all about you, every last beautiful moment she had with you and every part of you that filled our lives with so much love every blessed day with you. Good-bye, my love, my angel Ellie.” He whispered as he kissed Ellie’s hand and then her lips one last time.
Drawing Source Unknown
Song: Judy Kuhn & Mel Gibson – If I Never Knew You (from Pocahontas)