I don't think I ever felt so strong while feeling so incredibly vulnerable. I tried to hold back the tears behind a forced smile. I couldn't allow myself to break down. I had to be strong for him. He needed me. They needed me. I needed to be their rock. Being away from my oldest son tore at my heart, but I knew I was where I needed to be. I knew he was safe with my parents. Seeing my youngest in an incubator cage hooked up to wires and tubes made me sick. I did everything I could to keep him safe. I was supposed to provide him with a warm and safe place to grow without worries for 9 months, but my body wouldn't let me. My body failed me and it almost failed him. I honestly try not to think about it. Whenever I picture it, I get nauseous and start to cry. It took me days before I could really talk about it. The pain. The blood. The lights. Watching the nurses rush to prep themselves and me for surgery. Being strapped down. Doctors and nurses calling out directions in loud and rushed tones. The pain. Wishing they would just put me under. Wishing it was over. Then came the reassurance from a nurse's comforting hand and I was out. The pain was gone. Or, at least I thought it was. Suddenly, I felt everything again. The cold table underneath me. The straps on my arms and legs. The doctor pushing on my stomach. The gas mask against my face. I could hear those rushed conversations and the beeping of the alarms. I could hear and feel everything but I couldn't move. I couldn't talk. They were about to cut me open and I could feel everything and I couldn't let them know. I was told I stayed pretty calm as I told the nurse it was time. I don't remember calm. I remember panic and pain. I could see the fear in my husband's eyes. The worry that he may never see his wife again or meet his son. I could hear the hesitation in his voice when he was clarifying my wish of “baby comes first. If it comes down to it, save the baby first.” I said this during our first pregnancy as well, and he agreed, but being in the situation where he might actually need to make that decision was a different story, one he was having a difficult time wrapping his head around. He tried to stay calm and not let me see him worry. He went through the checklist. “You want to be cremated, right?” “Yes, and the baby comes first.” “And allow family and friends to say goodbye first?” “Yes, and the baby comes first.” “And then planted with a tree?” “Yes, and Milo comes first.” He looked at me in a way I could never put words to. It was as if by agreeing to my request out loud he was damning me to death, that he was closing the book to my life himself. He eyes screamed while his voice calmly agreed, “and Milo comes first.” His green eyes sparkling from the tears he was trying to hold back. Swollen and red around the edges. Stinging. With a sudden jerk, I hear the words “here we go” as the nurses roll my bed out of the room. He walked with me until he was told he couldn't go any further and our hands pulled apart as I was wheeled in for surgery. The meds had seemed to be helping but part of me knew it wouldn't last. “What if as soon as these meds are done, it starts again?” The nurse reassured me that shouldn't be the case, but it was. Within a few hours after that last drop of magnesium, the pain started again in full force. Then came the blood. A lot of blood. The nurses seemed to stay calm, at least in front of us. But I knew. I knew there was no stopping it. I knew it was time. I needed to call my mom.
My dad stood in the kitchen as he watched Mom concentrating on the refrigerator door. “Mary,” he said quietly, “If you put one more magnet on that refrigerator, the door will be so heavy, it'll fall off!” Mary said, “Guess I do have quite a collection, don't I?” “Frank”. Do you remember when I bought this one?” As he stepped forward to have a better look, Mom pulled it small magnet off the refrigerator and handed it to him. It looked like a miniature egg beater. “I bought this right after Margaret was married. Remember?” She took it from him and sighing deeply continued, “We visited her new home and stopped for gasoline on the way. I saw this and decided it would make the perfect piece of memorabilia. We were so proud of her. Young, pretty, smart, a good husband and a new home!” Dad stood mesmerized as he recalled that trip. “Maryland” came from the first time they visited my younger sister after she moved down south with her new husband. “Montauk” brought back the memories of their first vacation alone after their children married and moved away. She never removed the next one, just pointed to it. In a voice that almost sounded like a whisper, Mom said, “I'm sure this will break if I try to remove it but look. It reminds me of the day, Margaret visited and announced she was pregnant.” “Our first grandchild! What a memory! I can't begin to explain how thrilled I was. Remember, Frank?” She looked at him through misty eyes. “After Margaret and her husband left, you drove me to the store so I could buy some wool. I was so excited to begin knitting a hat with the matching sweater and carriage blanket. When I approached the cashier, I saw this cute little plastic baby bottle and knew it needed a new home – on my refrigerator!” Dad remembered and he, too sighed. “So long ago, Mary and yet, it seems like yesterday. How old is Ken now anyway? 19?” “Oh my, Frank, no!” she said as she smiled and gently and affectionately stroked his arm. “He's all grown up now, He's almost 24 and our little girl will be 45 in a few months.” Dad, in a bit of shock, grabbed the back of the nearest chair and wanted very much to sit down – yet the magnets pulled at him as if he were a piece of metal. “Go on,” he encouraged Mom while trying to pull himself together remembering that he was 45 years old when his first grandson was born. Mom remembered the reason she bought each one. For instance, the tiny telephone. It was about 2-inches high and one inch wide. It was hard molded plastic, but if you picked up the handpiece and pressed its small cradle, the device emitted a sound replicating the ringing of an old-fashioned telephone. Mom said she got that from the 5 & 10 cent store during its last days of business. The magnet held her eyes as she looked back in time. “Remember how we would walk down the avenue and I'd stop in for some material to make the clothes for the children?” He remembered. He also remembered, that it was in that store, that old five and dime, where they bought their first full set of dishes – one piece at a time! That store closed their doors for the last time back in 1968, but Mom still has her magnet. “Do you remember this one?” she asked in a brighter tone of voice as she took it off the refrigerator. It looked like a small snail shell – no marking and faded with time. Taking it from her for a stronger and closer look while trying to peek inside, Dad saw what looked like dried grass. Then he remembered. “Yes, I sure do!” he said triumphantly. It was indeed a small snail shell which brought back a flood of memories. Mom was sure his smile spread from ear to ear. “You bought it during our first family vacation at Virginia Beach. We rented a large beachfront house for a week and invited Margaret and MJ and their families. We had such fun and the grandkids loved being so close to the water.” It took a while, but one by one they recalled each memory. Years past and with each one, dad became more observant with the arrival of a new magnet - sometimes more than one. Secretly, he wrote down the occasion associated with each one so that when the memories began to fail, he'd be able to relate the reasoning behind them all. Mom and Dad are gone now but the memories linger on more than just pictures in some old photo album that eventually gets stuck up in an attic. Through her declining years, her visits to shops for magnets slowed considerably but every now and then, while out with a friend or relative, she'd find one and insist it needed a new home - hers! And no, the door never felt off mom's refrigerator, but through the years, Mom had had to rearrange the magnets to make room for more. In fact, during the course of her lifetime, she even had to begin placing some on the side of the refrigerator. While these many magnets may never carry a business logo or an easy to find phone number, they sure do tell a story- a great story that will never change with time - the story of Mom's life.