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  • The Vail Project

My Failure Confessional

Tonight, is a night like most others. Twilight falls and the hardest part of my day arrives. It's the witching hour, the loss-parent version. Maybe it's harder for me, because of the time of day that we lost Vail. Probably. My nightly struggles are definitely amplified by my constant fear of sleep. Sleep equals death. Or at least an unknown factor, that the world has failed to identify. This is when my PTSD is the worst. I relive that night most often when I close my eyes and try to fall asleep. Which, in turn makes it impossible to fall asleep. The vicious circle of sleep deprivation is unstoppable. Even when sleep welcomes me, it is never the restful and rejuvenating kind. Without fail, I wake feeling like I have been hit by a bus. But this post isn't about my lack of quality sleep or even about my battle with PTSD. It is about my failures.

Failure is defined as the the 'lack of success' or the 'omission of expected or required action.' We don't often think of failure by its second definition-more likely by only the first. As I laid in bed tonight, covers pulled tightly over my ears, not only did I relive the night that Vail died, but my mind began to do something it has done often since that day, run down my list of failures.

Now, I'm not writing this for sympathy or empathy and certainly not for unsolicited facebook comments that feel good for non-loss friends to write. Example: 'Oh honey, you didn't fail her' or 'You can't think that way.' Because those are comments that only the whole would dare to send my way. Parents who have lost their child, no matter how that loss occurred, they know exactly what I mean. They live it every day, just like I do. When you lose your child suddenly, unexpectedly, and without a definable reason, the owning of your failures as a parent is just a standard feature of your new life. A shitty one. But one that is a permanent fixture, something that life no longer makes sense without. The burden of carrying the weight of these failures is not something I wish to be rid of. It is a part of me now, like my skin.

In fact, I don't put these words to paper for anyone but myself. Well, for me and for baby Vail. In many ways defining my failures out loud is like an apology to her. Or at the very least a lesson to myself, a warning of sorts. An instruction to myself on how not to fail my other children. I certainly don't expect most people to be able to grasp the true depths of my failures and the magnitude of their affect on the lives of my beloved family. It is purely for selfish reasons that I put this into the universe. To serve as a reminder to me, as I move through this life, without my precious Vail, that even the simplest, most meaningless of actions can have a profound affect on, well, everything.

So here they are, my failures, as I see them. I have addressed these failures to Vail directly, for no other reason that it feels right to do so.

  1. I never took enough photos or videos of you. Of course, I didn't know you were going die. But I didn't live each day and each moment in a way that acknowledge just how special and beautiful you were. There probably could not have ever been enough pictures of you, or home movies of your smile. I know that I treated you like a second child, with less reverence. This will always be one of my biggest regrets. In this way, I failed you.

  2. I didn't take you to the doctor when you were sick the week before you died. Aspen was sick too and you both seemed to handle it well and recover smoothly. You had a fever and you were not sleeping well. One night you threw up right before bed. I held you most of that night, while you slept, our hearts as close as they could physically be. I considered taking you to the doctor, but I rationalized not doing so in many ways. You were healthy and had never been sick before. You were happy during the day, eating and playing as if nothing was wrong. Your eyes were bright and you weren't fussy. You had a true fever only one night and then it was gone. You improved every day and in 4-5 days you were completely well again, laughing and being silly in the way that only you could. But then, a few days later you were gone. And so, I ask myself every day, if I had taken you to the doctor, would they have found something. Something that might have made a difference. In this way, I failed you.

  3. When you were 2 months old you cried every time you weren't being held. You cried like this for a few weeks straight. If I held you, the crying stopped but you refused to be put down. You wouldn't nap unless I held you. If we drove in the car, you would scream from moment of departure to moment of arrival. Daddy could hold you too, but you must be held. After almost a year of research and exhaustive attempts to understand what I missed, I now believe that I understand why you cried so much those few weeks. And while I cannot prove it, I know in my heart that you had a common vaccine reaction called encephalitis. And that your screaming and crying was what is often referred to as the encephalitis scream. I was uneducated and ignorant to the fact that this could occur. Maybe if I had known or made an attempt to figure it out at the time, I would have made different decisions about your medical care going forward. But I did not. In this way, I failed you.

  4. I insisted you wear an owlet baby monitor every night of your life. Every. Single. Night. Until the month before you died. Daddy and I had a conversation about how you were no longer at risk for SIDS and you didn't need it anymore. You were amazingly healthy and the former paramedic paranoia I couldn't shake could take a vacation now that you were over a year old. I had never heard of sudden unexplained death in children over the age of one. I had never come across it in my time as a first responder, or EMT or tenure as a paramedic. No pediatrician had ever explained to me that it could happen. But I don't blame my education or your doctors. Only myself. When you intellectually outgrew the owlet, and played with it at night, the alarm indicating the device wasn't on properly kept waking me up at night. So I turned it off. Not the alarms for an emergency, just the ones indicating the device was displaced. Never thinking that you could die while it wasn't on properly. But that is exactly what happened. You played with it, or it was never on correctly that night. The why doesn't matter. Only the result. I will blame myself for making that decision every day for the rest of my life. In this way, I failed you.

  5. While we are talking about devices, let's touch on the camera in your room. I was too cheap to pay for the video recordings. I never thought we would need them. Daddy and I watched you live on the camera every night and we were comforted by doing so. If I had paid the few dollars a month to record you while you slept, maybe, just maybe we would know what happened that night. More importantly, maybe we would have seen something before you died, some indication of an issue while you slept. Some identifiable pattern. Yet again, in this way, I failed you.

  6. The preceding three months before you died, I neglected you. Not in the true sense of the word, not the way we think of child neglect. But I didn't give you the attention you deserved. I was too busy working from home, trying to save a company for a man who turned out to be an awful human being. And for what? $20/hour and little overtime. Certainly not for appreciation or respect. Not to advance my life or career. Because I was trying to do it all. When I should have been focused on my most important job...being your mommy. In this way, more than most of the others, I failed you.

  7. The night that you died, I was in a rush. Daddy put you to bed, despite that not being our regular routine. So I didn't sing you your bedtime songs or hold you close while you relaxed for sleep time. I didn't smell your hair or kiss your face that night. No, I rushed through our bedtime routine with both you and Aspen, in order to make snacks. Yep, snacks. Special, fancy snacks for Aspen's pre-school class. Why? Because I was trying to be 'that' mom. The perfect one. I rushed through my last moments with you. Then I didn't check the monitors to make sure they were working. An hour later you were gone. I can't get those moments back and there is nothing in the world I wish I could have more than one more breath of your hair or one more kiss goodnight. Those were the things that really mattered. I was blinded by the need to be seen as a good mom, instead of actually being a good mom. In this way, I failed you.

  8. After you were gone, I still failed. I was so blinded by pain and the emptiness of my arms, that I didn't use my brain. There were so many things I should have done in those few days that I didn't know to do. And I didn't ask any questions. I didn't know to. Accepting the results of your preliminary autopsy without research, information and inquisition was a huge lapse in judgement. One that shouldn't have happened. I should have demanded a second opinion. I should have asked about storing parts of you that may hold answers to what happened that night. There was a brief moment in time where I could have educated myself about what was happening to you, what had happened to you, and I missed it. I couldn't breathe, let alone think. I couldn't reconcile your absence with the events that occurred around your death. It was so unreal. So I missed the window. By the time I knew more, by the time I started asking questions, it was way too late. Those parts of you are gone, the ones that may have held the answers Daddy and I so desperately need. In this way, I failed you, and your sister.

My life is full of all of the 'ifs' and 'whys.' I hope to someday find answers, if not specifically for Vail, then for the thousands of other children and families who will live through the hell that has become my life. Don't get me wrong, there are moments, however brief, where I can see beauty in the world. Mostly when I look at Aspen. Despite that, all things, I do mean all things, live in the shadows of her absence. Every moment of my life is now lived through the lens of the loss of Vail. It is impossible to live otherwise. She is everywhere. In everything. And she is not. No amount of joy can fill the void she left. Vail was and always will be my person. I say that without minimizing my love and adoration for Aspen; as she is the most special and amazing child. Without diminishing the importance of the amazing partnership I was blessed with when Steve came into my life. But in the way that Aspen is and always has been her Daddy's, Vail was mine. I was her person. She belonged to me and I to her.

And it is because of this, that my failures will weigh heavy for the remainder of the days that I draw breath. Don't fret though, I will bare the burden with as much grace as possible. More than that, I will use my awareness of these critical, life-shattering failures to focus and change. To do better. My family deserves that. Vail deserves that.

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