Friday, October 29, 2010

Deaf and Death

On October 31, 2010 I will remember my other daughter. Well, really I remember her often. She died in her sleep four years ago on Halloween morning.

So I sit here tonight thinking. I think a lot, can't help it. I sit and think how my daughter never showed me who she is past the very first  connection we have with our young children. I sit here tonight and wonder what if she had lived to show me.

I used to love Halloween because my kids could show me that part of themselves that comes out only through imagination. I would host parties to bring folks together. Then one day it stopped. One Halloween morning the world came crashing down. We were left defenseless.

A couple of days before my son was given his first "store bought " costume. It was the "Grime Reaper" . My daughter also had her first commercial attire gifted to her. I decided to let it go. I had a new baby, two jobs, volunteer classes at WSD and couldn't really design the costumes that year. My kids wanted to see what store bought stuff was about. In the past I had shunned store bought costumes. I was a costumer and my thought was a child should create the character they wished to become on that one day where they could be anything they dreamed of.

That Halloween morning I checked on my baby and she was dead. There was foam in her mouth, her body was cold. I had already sent my son to the bus for school. My husband was in the shower and my other daughter was asleep. I refused to believe it and screamed for my husband. I begged him to do CPR while I called 911. It felt like hours for them to arrive. It was only minutes I found out later.

When they did arrive it was dreadful My house was full of paramedics, firemen, police in uniforms and detectives in trench coats. I was of course feeling unbridled hysteria. I feel empathy for these first responders. Looking back they were maybe as shocked as I was, healthy babies don't just die. I remember one paramedic pretending to work on my Finley and she quietly pleading to her partner, " I don't know what to do". 

We ended up going to the deaf school to tell my son. We had decided to wait until his school day ended at the advice from the detective The campus was strangely quiet for that time of day. We walked to the counselors office to tell our son and I noticed folks peeking out as if to see if we needed help but to uncomfortable to approach. Folks just want to do the right thing but what is the right thing when a baby dies? We told him the news.  He protested thinking it was a prank. The counselor who is Deaf was able to help us frame the information. 

So on Halloween morning we joined a new club. "Victims of Sudden Tragic Death".

What happened next will always brings me chills. Our hearing friends and community were not comfortable with the thought that a baby could die for no reason. They gave us our privacy. I don't mean this in a negative way. I would have never known what to do if the tables were turned. Some did come forward to help us grieve but....

Our Deaf community was also shocked but rose up. Every day we had someone with us. Maybe a hearing or deaf friend who was a teacher or a Deaf friend, maybe a parent or interpreter.

That Halloween night our deaf friends came to our home and the dads took the kids out while the mothers gave comfort to me. I found out over the months to come that this community was strong and accepting. I couldn't stop talking about it and they sat and listened even to the graphic details. Even though food tasted like sand I ate the food brought t use from our deaf community. I am not sure I would have been able to heal without this support.

We had a private burial for family and the night before I realized I didn't have an interpreter for Haddy. I was sick with guilt and contacted the owner of SRI (local interpreting service) and explained I needed to hire someone and it might be tough because  of the situation. I know a lot of interpreters around here. The interpreter that showed up was a woman I knew and respected. She donated her time. I will always be grateful for her generous graceful soul.

My husband and I wanted a multicultural service and the school provided a venue. SRI provided the interpreters. They offered we didn't ask. The state school was our family and it felt like the right place to say good-bye.

 The superintendent officiated. The community of all different walks of life came forward to participate. We wanted to included every native language and all faiths because that was the fabric of our life. They had all been part of her joining this life and all part of her leaving. I still can't believe how much we were supported. It was beautiful. One friend presented an ASL poem about Finley. She asked the interpreters to not voice for her. I glanced over to a hearing friend while she expressed her feelings about my daughter and he was crying.

I imagine our hearing friends who showed up were nervous. On one level it is a funeral for a child. On another it was thick in Deaf culture. I am grateful they showed up. I am grateful for the unexpected support from our Deaf community at the state school. The state school has given our family an opportunity to be whole and include our son even when it is a dreadful task.

So since that day I tend to sit back and think a lot. I think about how we treat each other. How we sometimes judge even though we don't have the whole picture. I wonder how a community could rise and support when perhaps in the past individually these people were maybe not supported in the past. I will always marvel at the reaction of my other first responders.


  1. Mel -
    i am sitting here with tears streaming down my face. Streaming. I am only allowing bits and pieces of ur story to anchor themselves into my mind because there is imagery, there is pain, there is profoundness, there is loss, there is sorrow

    and there are gifts

    i do not know how u do this - as a writer, as a mother, as a human being - how u share and see

    it is an incredible blessing

    i want to tell u i am very very very sorry for the loss of your Finley

    all i can imagine is how black my days would be and how every time Halloween rolled around there would be this amped up ache - this hurt - this loss.

    i am glad u had such amazing first responders

    i am glad u opened ur hearts and urselves to the Deaf community to be there and to bare witness

    u know while she is gone - she truly is not as u carry her with u always and the things she needs to tell u and show u are still being sung and shown

    thank u for sharing this with us

    u r brave and good



  2. I am so sorry. There are not words to express the sadness that you must have inside you. I have never lost a child (and I thank God every moment for that) I can not imagine the grief and pain. Thank you for sharing your story.

  3. I don't know what to say, except for thanking you for sharing your story with us.

  4. Wow. You went through the unimaginable. As a parent, I could not imagine that happening to my child. I'm so glad you had your Deaf friends and community to offer you their support!

  5. Thank you for the kind words. It does suck, it really sucks. There are things we came away with. One thing is a deep appreciation for our community.

  6. I'm crying, too as I read this. How tragic. I'm glad the Deaf community came through so well for you, but we all know we'd rather have it not happen at all in the beginning. Angels that come to visit, stay all too briefly before they go back home...

  7. I'm so sorry about the loss of your beautiful child. I can't imagine the pain you must feel every Halloween. I'm glad you had so much support in the early days.

  8. Your post touched us deeply. Thank you for a beautiful remembrance of your daughter and for sharing your experience with the Deaf community. We are so
    sorry. We also lost our 13-month old son 8 years ago, to undiagnosed primary pulmonary hypertension. As Dianrez said, the angels that come to visit us stay all too briefly...but the gifts they leave with us last forever.
    Candace and Sharon