So What Happened?
My daughter Eleanor, or Ellie for short, was a happy, healthy, thriving little girl. She was born with no complications, and her growth and development was right on track. Her father and I separated, and later divorced, in August of 2016 due to his infidelity. I didn’t let my resentment towards him affect his time and companionship with his children. I thought I was doing the right thing. I thought I should rise above and not let my personal baggage interfere with their relationship with their dad. I was wrong.
Shorty after our divorce, Kevin, their father, decided to move back to our original home state of Indiana despite us agreeing to continue our lives in North Carolina. Because of this, we needed to come to a new custody agreement. We most certainly could not continue our “every other weekend, every other holiday” agreement. We knew that in most cases where parents live in different states, the primary custodial parent has the kids during the school year, while the secondary custodial parent has them during the summers. To avoid unnecessary court and potential court fees, we came to this agreement among ourselves. The summer of 2018 was the first, and only, year of this new agreement. On June 9th, I met with Kevin in Lexington, KY, the halfway point, to drop off Eleanor and her older brother KJ with their dad. I was already a wreck just dropping them off. It was the longest I would have/was ever without them. I cried for two of the four hour drive home. I tried to keep myself busy back in North Carolina with school and hiking, and I would of course call and Facetime them any chance I could, but I still would cry from time to time because I missed them so much. On July 11th, I got the worst phone call of my life. Kevin had called Nick’s, by long time boyfriend, phone because I had left my phone upstairs. Just him calling Nick’s phone told me that something was off, but I never in a million years could have imagined he was calling to tell me my beautiful baby girl was on life support.
He told me that they found her in their home pool, a pool that was not protected by a fence and still had the ladder in it. I instantly fell to the ground and screamed. I told him, “I’m getting a ticket to Indiana. I will call you back”. After getting two one way tickets to Indiana for Nick and myself, thanks to Nick’s parents, I called Kevin back. My first question was who was watching the kids, and he hesitantly told me “my mom”. Why was he hesitant to tell me this? Because I had explicitly said that I did not want his mom to watch them. You see, his mom has a long history of drug and alcohol abuse, impulsive and irresponsible behaviors, and hardly ever tried to have a relationship with my kids, even going as far to decline invitations. She was untrustworthy. I was livid. How could he trust her? He now says that he doesn’t remember agreeing to this stipulation however, Jana, Nick’s mom, remembers me coming in saying I just told him this. And, I believe, Jana questioned Kevin at Easter when he came to Asheville about who was going to be watching the kids while he was working and that he never mentioned his mom. Nonetheless, he KNEW how I felt about her. How I did not trust her, and he knew her history. I have never wanted her to watch the kids. I had told him when we were married that she would never watch the kids. So even IF I had never explicitly said that (I did), he knew.
He goes on to tell me that they don’t know how long Ellie was in the pool, that she has a pulse but is on her own, so she is on a ventilator. So as I am sitting in the airport waiting, helpless, thinking about all the terrible possibilities. Brain damage crossed my mind as the worst outcome, not death. I packed her Peppa Pig pillow, her favorite blankie, her tiara, and her Minnie Mouse toy, and her 3rd birthday was coming up, so I even packed some new clothes and presents for when she woke up. So no, I could not bring myself to consider the death of my daughter as a real possibility. My sister sitting with Ellie at the hospital, she was the first person I called, giving me updates on Ellie’s condition as things changed. My sister tells me that they are warming her with blankets and started a central line. She said that the CT scan showed brain abnormalities when she was admitted, and they were currently running an eeg to see her brain activity. It felt like time was dragging on. I was so scared, sad, and angry. I felt empty and hysterical at the same time. I could not believe this was happening to me, to my daughter. I kept thinking to myself, “my precious baby girl needs me and I’m stuck in an airport”. Update after update lead me to feel a sense of hope. My sister was telling me that her temperature has gone down when it was too high and that the ventilator is on 70% instead of 100. She even Facetimed me so I could see and talk to her. But seeing Ellie there with all the sensors and tubes broke me. It was a sight no mother should ever have to see. Through sobs I tried to talk to her. I thought that if she could just hear my voice, her mommy’s voice, that she would wake up.
Once Nick and I arrived at the hospital, I noticed there weren’t as many tubes and sensors. I thought this is a good sign, she must be getting better. The nurse scooted Ellie over a bit so I could lie with her. Family began to leave the room. The only people who remained were Kevin, Nick, and the nurse, and then the doctor walked in. The started to tell me that there was no brain activity and her organs here failing. I kept saying no no no, this can’t be happening! She can get better, and they assured me that she could not. They said they found out while I was on the plane and that when I was ready, once everyone had said their goodbyes, they would turn off the machines and wait. As I looked at my daughter and saw her belly distended from liver failure, bile leaking from her nose and mouth, how lifeless and cold her body was, I knew they were right.
After the nurses laid her on her Peppa Pig pillow, after we put her tiara on and her Minnie Mouse under her arm, everyone said their goodbyes. Then they turned off the machines and took out the tubes, and we waited. We waited for the unbearable to happen. I rested my head on her chest so I could hear her heart beating and hear when it stopped beating. It stopped at 1:20pm, and it felt like mine did too. I sobbed and wailed. I denied and screamed. I held her lifeless body while the most foul smelling bile dripped and, at moments, poured out of her mouth and into my hair and on my clothes. I will never forget that smell. I kept trying to hold her but she was just to limp and heavy. Dead weight has a whole new meaning to me now. I put her head back on her pillow and just stood next to her bed in shock. I felt like I was either going to throw up or pass out, so the nurses took me outside to get some air. I came back to her room and laid in bed with her for a few hours until they told me the coroner was coming and that we should go.
Over the next few days shock really set in. I slept for the first 24 hours. I refused to shower or launder the clothes I had been wearing because she was still left on me. No matter how foul the bile was, it was still a part of her. My family convinced me to put the clothes in a box and cut off some chunks of my hair to save. I had to collaborate with an ex that I now hated and resented to plan a funeral. I did not know how to plan a funeral. I never expect to have to plan one, especially for my child, but, somehow, I did. Once the service was over, Nick, his parents, Kj, and I left to go back to North Carolina.
I have been trying to continue with my life, taking care of Kj, going back to school, etc., but it is so hard. Everyone keeps telling me how strong I am, but I just feel so numb. A couple things motivate me to go on the first being KJ. I am still his mother, and it is my job to protect him. Second, remembering Ellie and honoring her memory. Her legacy will live on. I am her voice, and I will make sure her death was not in vain. It cannot be for nothing. I will not stand for it. I will not accept that. Third is school. I have to complete school. I started school for them, so I will finish school for them.