Saturday, August 6, 2016

History Puts a Saint in Every Dream

In honor of the Olympics and the 24th anniversary of Derek Redmond's heroic race, I am sharing the letter my husband Mark wrote to Milo that was read at his funeral. You are our olympian this year and every year, Baby.

Dear Milo,

I am a Tom Waits fan. For whatever reason, his music fits well with me and moves me. There is no doubt we would have spent lots of time listening to his songs together. In 1999 I was given a mix tape, from my friend Brad Towell, of Tom Waits songs that mostly contained songs from the albums Frank’s Wild Years and Big Time. From there many of his songs have developed a special meaning for me. And even some of them remind me of your other siblings. But today I want to focus on just one that reminds me of you. The song is called Time. As a songwriter myself, I often get the question, “What is that song about?” To which, I usually and quickly reply to the person asking, “What is it about to you?” Anyway, there are many interpretations to the song Time, but I’m not about to dissect it here. Given your passing, Milo, I’d like to focus on one short verse that has a new meaning for me. It goes like this.

"And they all pretend they’re orphans, and their memories like a train, you can see them getting smaller as they pull away. And the things you can’t remember tell the things you can’t forget that history puts a saint in every dream.

Well she said she’d stick around ‘till the bandages came off. But these momma’s boys just don’t know when to quit. And Matilda asks the sailors, ‘are those dreams or are those prayers?’ Close your eyes son, this won’t hurt a bit."

For me, what gets me about this verse is the idea that history puts a saint in every dream. Let me tell you a story while I have your attention, because I’m sure you’ll be off playing with the other kids in no time.

I know you haven’t heard much about the Olympics, but it’s a big deal and requires a lot of effort from the athletes involved. An Olympic athlete spends a lifetime training for their big event. As that event gets closer, the rigor of their training increases and the dream becomes more real, as was the case with Derek Redmond, a British Olympian in 1992. As he set foot on the racetrack at the ‘92 Barcelona Olympics, ready to run the races of his life in the 400-meter, first in the semis then in the finals, he had all the training of the previous years behind him, with the dream of winning the gold metal only a short 800 meters from becoming reality. You know, it was just in 1985 he had set the British 400 meter record at 44.82 seconds. To put that in perspective, on a good day at the track you or I could probably run a 400-meter between 60 and 70 seconds—and that’s even with your lanky legs and big feet. So Derek was at the top of his form. He was running the 400-meter in less than a minute. On the day of the semi-finals, he got to his mark in lane five. He breathed in deeply, taking the whole experience in. He put his feet in the blocks, and at the same time felt the firmness of the track with his hands. He got set and proceeded to wait for the sound of the gun. When the gun went off, Derek was off to a fantastic start—smooth stride, great economy, and outstanding turnover. He was all in. He rounded the first bend in great shape. He reached the backstretch still with great form. But at the 250-meter mark, about half way through the race, his hamstring snapped. He limped to a halt and fell to the track in the pain. After a few moments of taking in what had happened and acclimating to the pain, in an act of shear determination, he got up and started limping in his lane towards the finish line in an effort to finish the race. As his pain escalated, his will to finish the race started to deteriorate. As he made his way past the 300-meter mark, with less than 100 meters to go in the race, a man was spotted pushing his way through the crowd and past security to get onto the racetrack, making his way towards Redmond. In a last ditch effort by security to stop the man, they tried to get in his way, attempting to block the path between the man and Redmond. Security failed to stop him, and the man ran towards Redmond. As 65,000 people watched what was happening, Redmond’s father, Redmond’s saint on that day, the man who had bowled over security, grabbed Redmond under the left arm, Redmond in tears. In another show of shear determination and perseverance, they both, Redmond and his father together, were able to get Redmond over the finish line in order to finish the Olympic race. In a post-race interview, Redmond’s father offered these words, “But whatever happens, he had to finish and I was there to help him finish. I intended to go over the line with him. We started his career together. I think we should finish it together.” That’s a pretty cool story, huh?

Well in a way, our family has a similar story. In 2012, after having experienced the losses of your older siblings OB (Our Baby) and BW (Baby Willer) in 2010 and 2011, Mommy and I decided to try to have babies again. This time we had a new outlook on things, as we decided to use an egg donor. We were thrilled! This would be our chance to start our family, the family we always wanted. We went through the process of selecting just the right egg donor and worked towards getting things scheduled. After a lot of coordination, finally everything was set, and we were put on a plan that matched us up with our donor. After all of the fertility treatments, we ended up transferring two of the best looking embryos we had ever seen, thus sounding the gun and beginning our race.

You were both perfect! You looked amazing! We had butterflies and were nervous. At seven weeks we saw your hearts beat. At nine weeks they were still beating, a point that we had not previously passed with OB. At 13 weeks, more of your parts were forming, and even better, we were out of the first trimester—a feat that was worth being overjoyed about. It was bound to be smooth sailing from here. After all we had been through so much training that nothing seemed it could go wrong. But disaster struck at 18 weeks, about half way through the pregnancy. Dr Stark, our perinatologist, told us that Baby A, your sister Matilda, looked great. But as for Baby B, you Milo, you had some complications surrounding your kidneys. They had cysts all over them. And since kidneys make amniotic fluid, and amniotic fluid provides lung development, Dr. Stark said that there was not much hope of you surviving after birth, only a 2% chance. In great irony, he compared your lungs to trees. Without the branches extending from the trunk, things would be difficult. But even more, most doctors we talked to thought that you would not be born alive. In fact in one case, a neonatology doctor said that we’d rather not have you born alive, as it would be easier for us to deal with. We never felt that way. We knew we absolutely wanted to meet our baby. All we had to have was a commitment from you. And in an act of determination and perseverance, you decided not to give up. At 20 weeks you were still kicking and developing, outweighing your big sister. At 22 weeks, you were still going and Daddy even recorded your heartbeat. It wasn’t until about 30 weeks that you started to show signs of tiring. But you still limped on, helping to make sure that Matilda finished the race. On February 8th, 2013 you and your sister Matilda were born, crossing the finish line at about 10:30AM, making your mommy and me very proud parents.

Milo there are so many things that Mommy and I want to say to you. Thank you for being you. Thank you for the three wonderful hours that we got to spend with you. Thank you for hanging in there to meet Mommy and me face to face, defying many doctors’ predictions. Thank you for taking good care of your sister and keeping her company while you both developed. With Daddy’s determination and Mommy’s love, you safely helped to get a healthy Matilda into our arms. We will make sure that Matilda knows all about you, Milo. And we’re sure she’ll have some stories of her own to tell us. But we cannot repay you and we are so very sad that you cannot stay with us. We will miss you terribly. We will visit you in song and in prayer. For everything you have done and for how you have changed our lives forever, we, again, thank you. It is now our turn to carry you in our hearts to the end. Mommy and I love you deeply. We feel you in spirit. Like that old Tom Waits song, and like Derek Redmond’s father, you are the saint that history put in our family’s dream. For it’s time, time, time that we love, and it’s time, time, time. Goodbye for now.