I don't know why I did CPR on Nina. It just seemed like the thing to do. With each breath I blew into her precious mouth, I told her I loved her. After a couple of breaths it dawned on me to check her pulse. I could feel a slight heart beat. Todd was calling our families telling them to come asap. I had already texted our friends and told them to join us. Todd came back into the house and I vividly remember seeing the deepest most agonizing pain written across his face. Tears were cascading and he covered his mouth to muffle the gasps that were pouring out. I felt my own heart race, like nothing I had ever felt before.
I must have breathed into Nina about 12 times. I listened for her heart and felt nothing. As soon as Nina exhaled her last breath, I told Todd to come sit with me and talk to Nina. I told her that we loved her, that we adored her, thanked her for being a ray of sunshine in our lives. I reminded her how grateful we were to be her parents, how much Teddy adored her, how her grandparents and cousins loved her to pieces, and how we would all miss her terribly. Todd also told her that mama and dada loved her so much and were so proud of her. I kept kissing her precious mouth and face. I must have covered every inch of her beautiful face in kisses. The last thing I said to her before sitting up was that I was so proud of her, that she had been the bravest and strongest person I would ever know and that now she didn't have to be sad anymore, be in pain anymore, she could just be happy in Heaven and be our angel forever. I remember (as if I were doing it right now) that I kissed her lips and held mine on hers for extra long, trying to memorize the warmth of her precious mouth on mine.
For almost 6 years I have kissed those prefect cherub lips. Up until August 19th I had taken it for granted that I might not always have the privilege of doing so. At the very moment of her death I discovered how truly sacred Nina was, how the very warmth of her body was a miracle. The very atoms that comprised Nina's lips were a miracle!!! I kept my lips on Nina's because I wanted to forever sear into my mind the sensation of Nina's warm lips on mine. I wanted to do this desperately because I knew the coldness I had prayed against for so long would soon take over!
Todd kissed Nina and I reached for his hand. We hugged her together, knowing all to well that it would be the last time we would get to hug our warm Nina.
Our angel on earth was now our Angel in Heaven.
Tears fell from my eyes, but I recall that they were not tears of sadness. They were tears of relief and longing. They were tears of relief because Nina was no longer suffering. They were tears of longing because I now knew for real how much I was going to miss Nina. For 6 months I had speculated about this moment and what I would feel. I had thought about it over and over again, but it had never been REAL. Now it was REAL!!!
At this moment, Dan Brennan walked in and sat next to us. I asked him to check to see if her heart was beating. He checked her pulse then said he needed to go to his car and get his stethoscope. When he returned, he confirmed what we suspected. Her heart was no longer beating. Todd walked outside no longer able to contain himself. Dan walked into the bathroom. I sat alone, caressing Nina's face and hold her precious hands. My mind went blank for a split second.
For months I had pained and toiled about how we would handle this situation with the kids. All along I had thought that if we had to lose Nina we would try to have her die at the hospital instead of at home. Personally I had wanted to keep her at home but I wasn't sure that would be the best thing for Teddy. Just two weeks ago Todd and I had made plans to keep Nina at home as long as possible once we started sedation and then when she was no longer conscious take her to the hospital. I had made contingency plan after contingency plan but never had it crossed my mind that we would lose her so quickly and be unprepared. The kids were all upstairs asleep. I had heard Joe, Silas and Teague use the bathroom a while earlier but Teddy, Adelae and Sosie were fast asleep in our bedroom.
Todd came back in and I told him we needed to wake up the kids and tell them we needed to take Nina to the hospital and that they needed to say goodbye, that they loved her, and give her a hug if they wanted. I asked him if we wanted to go get the kids or stay with Nina. He opted to stay with Nina. I asked Dan if he could figure out if we could take Nina to the hospital and he squeezed my hand before saying yes and walking outdoor.
Teague. I explained that they needed to finish getting dressed and to please stay in the bedroom until I returned with the rest of the kids. We were going to have a quick family meeting.
I then went into our bedroom and woke up Teddy, Adelae and Sosie. I told them I needed them to quickly go potty and get dressed. Teddy asked, "What's going on?" I sat next to him, holding his hand and explained that dad and I needed to take Nina to the hospital and that we needed him and the cousins to say goodbye and remind her how much they loved her. I will never forget how his perfect most precious face went pale when he asked, "Are things bad now mama?" I don't know how I didn't vomit right there and then, but by the grace of God I didn't. My heart shattered all over again, a millions times over and over again!!!!! This was so cruel!!!! Teddy and these kids should not be going through this!!!!!! This was beyond unfair. It was torturous!!!!!!! I pulled Teddy into my arms and hugged like I had never hugged him before. I took his face in between my hands and told him I really needed him to be brave, now more than ever. He buried his face into my neck and sobbed, "I don't want my sister to die!" If I could have torn through Heaven and given my life in exchange for Nina's I would have. I would have thrown myself before the Maker of Heaven and Earth and begged for mercy beyond mercy!!!!!!! But the Maker had chosen to not listen. He had chosen to take our angel instead and now I was left with the destruction before me!!!!!!!!!!! Why had He abandoned us????????????????????????????????
Instantly Sosie knew what had happened. She went pale, tears welling in her eyes. I helped Teddy get dressed and the girls finished quickly as well. We then all piled into Teddy's bedroom where I explained what was going on. I told the kids we all needed to be brave and remember all the good times we had with Nina, what a gift from God she was to us all. I then told them we needed to go downstairs and tell her goodbye and that we loved her and that if they wanted to give her a hug. I then added that after they were done we needed to meet outside and group up so we could go get breakfast.
I went downstairs and asked Todd if he was ready. He was kissing Nina's head and I knew what he was doing, trying to memorize her smell. He said he was, so I climbed up the stairs and asked the kids to come down. I took Teddy by the hand and walked him to Nina's side. I sat down next to Nina's right side (Todd was on her left) and had Teddy sit on my lap. What transpired over the next number of minutes will remain one of the most sacred moments of my life. From my lap, Teddy reached over and hugged his baby sister and whispered, "I love you Nina, I am going to miss you." When he looked at me, his eyes were blood shot, deepened by an unimaginable sadness. Silas was next, he hugged her tightly and told her he loved her. I had him and Teddy sit on the chair directly behind me. Teague walked up and paused. Todd tried to speak, but his voice caught before he was able to say, "It's okay Teagers....you can come up and hug her." As Teague approached Nina, Sosie starting balling, followed by Adelae. Little Teague embraced Nina and then stopped when he pulled back, looking at her as if he was trying to convince himself that was really his Nina, the same Nina he had loved and played with since he was one month old (Teague and Nina were only a month apart in age). Both Sosie and Adelae came to Nina's side simultaneously. Sosie wrapped herself around Nina's neck and kissed her cheeks before releasing the sweetest and most pained sigh I have ever heard and God willing will ever hear. At first, Addie quietly stroked Nina's arm, trying to command herself to manage the pain. She then leaned forward and hugged Nina and in the tiniest of whispers said, "I love you Nina!"
For months I had ached about how to prepare and support the kids for this very moment in time. Never had I imagined it would turn out like this but as I sat there next to our precious honey-girl, cuddly on her bed, surrounded by her brother and beloved cousins, I knew that we had been blessed. My plans were just that...... plans. Nina had died peacefully in her own home in her bed and was now surrounded by the children who cherished her most. Even though I felt abandoned, God had provided and the provision was perfect.
I asked Joe to have the kids follow me outside. I ran out to find Eileen and Mario and ask them to get the cars ready to take the kids to Anna's Bakery. As I walked out, I saw Yvonne and Sander running in. Yvonne looked panic-stricken, tears running down her face. Again, since this day I have apologized to everyone I commandeered but I think that if ever I deserved an all encompassing hall-pass, Monday was the day!!!!! I leaped toward Yvonne and demanded that she STOP. In a forceful tone, I told her to calm down; that we needed to proceed with care and caution with the kids. "Is she dead?" Yvonne asked. Yvonne had loved my children since birth. She and I have cared for each other's children as if they were our own. The haunted look in her eyes reminded me that the adrenaline rushing through my veins was poisoned, that my baby girl was indeed gone, dead. Nina was dead. I had known for 6 months that we were walking down this awful path but now it was real. How could my honey-girl be dead? I had just kissed her a couple of hours ago. Now she was gone.
I had Yvonne and the family follow me into the porch. Joe and the kids were already waiting. Dan came out and told Eileen that we couldn't take Nina to the hospital, that the protocol was to call the funeral home. I asked that he find out if Todd wanted to join us on the porch or stay with Nina. From indoors, Todd said he wanted to stay with Nina. I knew what I needed to do. I leaned up against the condo wall, the same wall Nina had painted with sidewalk chalk, the same wall she had leaned her bike on, the same wall she had she had counted for hide-n-seek so many times, and told every one to gather around. I thanked the kids for being so brave and loving to Nina and explained that even though our hearts were broken and we were sad, we needed to be thankful for all the time and fun we had with Nina during the past 6 years, that she was a precious gift from Heaven and that she was now and forever our Angel. I asked the kids to gather in so we could pray. I closed my eyes and prayed:
I then told the kids how proud I was of them and reminded them how much Nina loved each and every one of them, how they had made her so happy and loved her so well. Then, I explained that they should all go the Anna's Bakery shopping center and have breakfast. Immediately, Teddy shook his head no. I asked him if he wanted to go and he hung his head low, whispering "No." Sosie immediately chimed in as well as said that she didn't want. I looked at Addie who was pleading without a word to stay. I asked all the kids if they wanted to go or stay and practically in unison they said they wanted to stay. We were a family that had lost the greatest loss and I understood why they wanted to stay. I wanted to shield them from pain but it was no longer possible. This pain was theirs. It was realer than I could have ever mentally prepared myself for. They owned it and would wear it forever just like I would, so it made perfect sense that they wanted to remain intact as a family in the middle of the storm.
I delegated breakfast and taking the kids to our neighbors place. The Lauers were out of town and had offered their place for our family to use. It was now our safe haven! I took the kids inside and sat next to Teddy. Immediately he started to cry quietly. Silas sat next to him, tears in his eyes as well. "Mom, is Nina okay now?" I kissed him and said that she was in Heaven and that she was more than okay, that she was perfect, that she was his angel. He buried his face into my chest. We talked for a little while before Teddy told me he didn't want to talk anymore. I asked him if they wanted to watch some tv and they said yes. Niels joined the boys on the couch and we flipped through the channels until we found Underdog. Joe came into the house and I asked him if he could sit with the boys so I could go check on Todd and Nina.
The courage and love exhibited by these kids in the face of death was breathtaking. I had worried and worried but now everything was sacred. They had loved Nina in life and now were loving her with even greater depth. I was so thankful!!! I was so humbled!!!
The remainder of the day was filled with continuous sacred moments.
Our friends and Todd's parent's arrived shortly after we took the kids to the Lauers and poured their love into Nina one last time. As I walked into our condo and found my dearest friends (Eileen, Sharon, Crystal, Larisa, Katie, Mi Na) huddled around Nina, quietly crying and kissing her, my heart burst with unyielding gratitude. Nina had spent the last moments of her precious life in her home, not tied up to machines and cords in a cold hospital room. We didn't have to make the decision about when to snow her with extra medication so she wouldn't know she was going to the hospital. People didn't have to come say goodbye in an unfamiliar room. Instead, everyone got to return to the place (the living room mattress) that had been Nina's headquarters for 6 months. From that spot, she had commandeered an entire battalion of people who loved her. From that spot, she had kicked our butts in Wii. From that spot, she had laughed her gorgeous and infectious giggle. From that spot, she had yelled at me "Bad mama!". From that spot, she had fallen over from laughing at her brother's antics. From that spot, she smacked us over and over again. It was perfect, albeit painful beyond explanation, that from that spot Nina had gone to Heaven.
Our family and friends had carried us through this journey and throughout this day they continued to do so.
I asked Todd if he wanted me or him to take the boys to the beach. They needed to get out and run around. The girls wanted to stay. I understood. Todd said he, Robert and Joe could take the boys for a hike. I was glad. Sitting around was not how the boys needed to spend their day. They needed a boy-kind of way to process their grief. What was better than running around on the beach?!?!?
My friends and the girls (Sosie and Adelae) helped me bathe and dress Nina. I wanted her to look beautiful, the way she always liked to be. Just a few days ago (last Tuesday) we had gone shopping at Gap Kids with Todd and Yvonne where Nina had picked two new dresses and a beautiful pair of shoes. We dressed her in her beautiful blue flowered, spaghetti strapped dress. All I can say is that Nina looked peaceful, radiant, with the most beautifully angelic smile on her face. As we bathed her, I kissed her over and over again. I leaned in extra close to her head and tried to memorize her smell. Her stinky head. How I loved her stinky head!!!!
As the boys and daddies went to play and hike at the beach, our friends all gathered around Nina. Sosie and Addie sat on either of her side, stroking her little arms, that were now getting colder by the hour. We sat around and shared our favorite memories of Nina. We cried and we mostly laughed as we remembered the spunky ray of sunshine that was our Nina. My heart and soul wept like the crashing Niagara Falls but I also felt great peace and love. Nina had brought us infinite love but SHE was also well loved!!!!!!!!! The room full of people that very moment reminded me of that!!!!
The remainder of the day was filled with such sacred moments. Everyone who had supported us through this journey had an opportunity to love on Nina, in her own home. Todd's parents came before the guys and boys left for the beach. Gordy's weeping filled the condo and he assured Todd and I that Nina was in Heaven that very moment. The Brennans, the Marbans, the Vineals, Holly, and the Becchios all wept as they kissed Nina one last time.
At one point, before they left for the beach, Teague and Sander came in with Yvonne. They boys had written a story about Nina that they wanted to read to me and Nina. I had then huddle around me as I read, telling them that Nina could hear their beautiful words from Heaven.
Eventually, I called the girls back in. I couldn't stop kissing Nina, especially her lips. We bathed her, I cleaned her little nose out with q-tips one last time, and then I had us all take turns rubbing Kiehl's lotion on her perfect body. Once we got her dressed, Addie combed her hair one last time and Sosie put her make-up on again one last time. Nina was surrounded by the group of women who had loved and nurtured her through her greatest battle. I held her curled hand and sobbed as I thanked them all for the profound love they had poured into me and I explained that although for a very long time I felt abandoned by God, I knew He had never left my side, each and every one of them was evidence that God loved me. I then turned to the girls and proclaimed my never ending love for them. I promised that I would spend the rest of my life supporting and loving them, that they had carried Nina and me like no one else, that their capacity for love and grace reached beyond understanding and I apologized for all the time-outs I had given them over years and all the times I had lost my patience and I promised to guard their hearts forever, just like I had promised Nina 6 years ago when she took her first breath.
Sosie and Adelae blew my mind this day! The only other person that surpassed them was Teddy!!! I am forever changed because of these children!!!
When my parents arrived my grief came crashing again. The 5 of us hugged in the kitchen, my mother begging the question why and my father fervently telling me how much he loved me. For an hour we all sat around Nina, sobbing. I held my mother and rocked her as cried out in pain, the pain of a grandmother and mother. Nina's journey on this earth was complete and now with her Vovo, Vava, Uncle Bruno, Auntie Michelle and baby cousin surrounding her, her passing was whole. I turned to Bruno and Michelle and reminded them how the only person Nina had kissed at her party (when they were leaving) was the baby!! As everyone said goodbye, Nina didn't want kisses, but she reached for Michelle and the baby and gave the baby belly the most beautiful kiss!!!! We sobbed as we remembered how much Nina had loved that baby boy and I told them that she would be his angel all the days of his life!!!
Eventually, the funeral home called. They explained that there was no room in the car for any adults to ride with Nina but that we were welcome to follow them. This was NOT an option. Instead, I informed them we would bring Nina to them. There was no way in hell my baby was going to leave her house without us. We all gathered around Nina and said one very last goodbye. Then, Todd, Elieen, Sharon, my mom and I lifted her into her favorite Hannah Montana blanket and wrapped her up tightly. Earlier we had asked Teddy if he wanted to come. Everything was now about following his lead. He had declined and had asked that I take Nina and Todd stay with him.
Todd carried Nina out of our home and placed her into my lap. We all cried!!!!! From our bedroom window, I saw Teddy's shadow, his pointy-dointy sticking up. He watched the entire thing from the dark upstairs bedroom. I called Todd and told him to go ask Teddy if he wanted to say goodbye one last time. Earlier, he had declined. This time, he did. Todd carried him downstairs to the car, where he climbed across me and hugged his little sister for the last time. Tears fell as he told her "I love you Nina!" and lay his head on her chest for the final time. I kissed his perfect lips and told him I loved him beyond measure and that I would be back soon. Todd carried him back into the house.
Inside the Pilot, Bruno drove and Michelle sat in the front passenger seat. Nina sat in my lap, with my mom to her left and Eileen to her right. My dad sat in the back row. As we pulled out of my complex, we all sobbed. There are no words, in any language, to describe the pain we all felt. It was searing and turned our souls inside out.
As we drove, I kissed her and talked to her. I grabbed my iphone and created a play list with her favorite songs. We drove all the way to the funeral home, sobbing and singing to Taio Cruz and Usher. Nina had lived life with gusto and vibrancy. Her ride to the funeral home, albeit marked by unearthly heartbreak, would be no different!!! I was determined about that!!!!!!
Once we got to the funeral home, Scott (the funeral home director) met us out back. Eileen opened the door and I stepped out, carrying Nina alone!!!!!! I had brought her into this world, with excruciating pain and suffering. I alone would carry her into this sad place, with the greatest pain and suffering of all!!!!!!
I followed Scott through hallways until we came to a back room. He tried to help me but I snapped and said I could do it. Nina weighed 70 pounds and felt even heavier but she could have weighed 200 pounds and I still would have carried her in!!!! No one would ever know the weight of the pain I had carried since August 19th and would carry for the rest of my life.
I carefully lay her on velvet gurney. I kissed her entire face, her hands and precious feet. We all kissed her goodbye and I instructed Scott to take care of her and that we would bring new clothes and shoes tomorrow. As we walked out, I felt the pain wrap itself around my neck. I turned to my brother and said I needed a moment and started to run. I ran into the darkness and before I turned the corner I screamed the loudest, most painful scream any one in Santa Barbara has probably ever heard and God willing will ever hear again!!!! My scream tore through the Heavens, that I am sure of!!!!!!! It was a scream that surpassed all screams, and echoed across this awful world. I ran and ran and ran. If God had not known my pain He knew it for sure now!!!! As I ran, I saw Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church on the left hand corner. I ran to front doors and tried to open them. Closed!!!! Of course they were closed. In my greatest sorrow, the doors to church were closed!! Perfect!!!!!!!
I ran across the street and tore through the green fields of Kid's World park. Fitting that I was there. All along I heard footsteps behind me. Eventually, the footsteps gained on my and a pair of strong arms wrapped themselves around me. They were my father's arms. He grabbed me and held me, sobbing, telling me he loved me, longing to take my pain away, reminding me of the Grace God above was pouring into me, telling me what a glorious and mighty mother was I, how valiant and brave and courageous I had been all these months and how I needed to press forward because Teddy was waiting for me at home. He hugged me, never letting go, as we walked to my mom, reaching her before she collapsed to the ground. Within a couple of minutes (Bruno had hopped into the car with Eileen and Michelle and followed us) Bruno had run toward us too. The four of us hugged and cried in the empty darkness of that park. My parents had come to this country to give us the best life possible and now, 37 years later, we held each other in the greatest suffering known to mankind.
As we calmed down and walked back to the car, I thought of a conversation I had a few weeks earlier with my friend Katie Levinger. She had told me that the pastor at their church had given a sermon about the original Hebrew meaning of the word "blessing". She explained that it wasn't what we thought of as the meaning of blessing today in modern times, that is a good thing. In fact, the original meaning was the complete opposite. It meant to be consecrated by God through great suffering. It was fitting that my entire life mantra, as long as I could remember, had been to suck up my sorrow and step toward blessing with a grateful heart. As I walked hand in hand with my parents and brother in the cold dark night, I felt so abandoned by God...... but the fact.....the truth......was that I was BLESSED!