I was His ‘Ms. Carrie’ (pt 4)

It is my great privilege to introduce a guest blogger, our precious, ‘Ms. Carrie’.  This post is the last in a 4 part series.  This woman spent years training, feeding, cleaning, praying for, cuddling, and loving my children.  From the first day we dropped off our fat, round 10 month old Charlie Jo, to the last day I dropped off Nora and Graham… She was essential to us.  An incredible gift in the midst of a tumultuous, joy-filled season of child-rearing.  I am so grateful for her, so tangled up with her… Forever.

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GOD was with Graham, GOD was with Kristin in her office when she heard of the horror, GOD was with Evan when he unsuspectingly picked up my phone call.

I think of him everyday. Every. Single. Day. Every time I jog down the steps and round the corner, I see the place where his pack n’ play used to be. I’ll be crouching down to put some dishes away in the back of the cupboard and remember those frantic last moments of pumping and breathing. I think of him every time I see a copy Barnyard Dance and remember him looping his arm through the hole in the front cover and toting it around like a purse! I think of him in the early afternoons at the time when he and I would snuggle into the sectional, drink his afternoon bottle and play with my necklace.

I wish that day would have been different.

I wish that I would have gone down there ten minutes earlier and scooped up a wiggly little drool monster with a full diaper and a toothy grin. I wish the paramedics would have arrived sooner. I wish that I would have had a few quiet moments to say goodbye. The last time I touched him was chaotic and flustered as the paramedics swooped in. I wish I would have had the chance to hold him once he was gone, to feel the weight of his body against mine, to whisper in his ear and say goodbye. When people talk about needing closure, it’s no joke. I just wish I would have had a few moments with him instead of hours with the detective.

I wish I could have saved him.

I wonder… I wonder what he and his little buddies on either side of him did that last afternoon? Probably what they always did – pull themselves up so they were just tall enough to see each other over the sides of their pack n’ plays. Probably hurling their blankies over the side and giggling. Peering at each other through the mesh siding and poking their little fingers through the holes to touch each other. His last bit of fun before awaking in heaven was goofing off with his buddies. I bet he liked that.

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Being with Graham his first year of life was an honor. All the good moments along with the unglamourous ones. We did that first year of life together! This little soul that I only knew for eleven short months will be a tool that GOD will use in my life at every turn. God will continue to teach and minister to me through Graham’s life, forever. I will always be grateful for that. Was this a traumatic event? Yes, but it has led to so much more.

When well meaning friends say things like, “What a awful experience that must have been for you!” they don’t realize that this experience isn’t over. This is something that we will experience until we make our own journey into heaven. GOD will continue his never ending work in me, in Kristin, in Evan through this experience.

This experience never ends.

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I was His Ms. Carrie (pt 3)

It is my great privilege to introduce a guest blogger, our precious, ‘Ms. Carrie’.  This woman spent years training, feeding, cleaning, praying for, cuddling, and loving my children.  From the first day we dropped off our fat, round 10 month old Charlie Jo, to the last day I dropped off Nora and Graham… She was essential to us.  An incredible gift in the midst of a tumultuous, joy-filled season of child-rearing.  I am so grateful for her, so tangled up with her… Forever.

IMG_6741The next hour is a total blur. Calling Evan. Calling my husband. Cops filtering in and out of every room in the house. Fumbling through phone calls to the other parents to come and pick their children up. The kids sensing something was up and just wanting to be near me but the cops saying that they couldn’t.

I held Nora, they told me she needed to wait with the other kids but I said, no. I might throw up. A crime scene photographer shows up and starts documenting the house, room by room. The daycare parents start showing up, most of them with tears streaming down their faces. They won’t let me leave the kitchen, but I keep emerging every time I hear a familiar voice. We hug and I kiss their children and then get told to go back to the kitchen please. The cops take down info from every parent that shows up. I clean up the little puddle of vomit that Graham had left.

And then my cell phone rings and I see that it’s Kristin. Yes! This is the call that I’ve been waiting for – they finished the job of saving him that I wasn’t able to do and he was safe and sound! But that’s not what Kristin and I were able to celebrate.

I remember her voice was calm and strong. “He’s gone Carrie.” Those words rang in my ears and jolted through my body. Kristin kept talking but it sounded like I was underwater. Nothing made sense. How could this happen? He was fine! Just hours ago is was completely perfect!

I heard the welcomed voice of one of my best friends who came to pick up her son. She hugged me tight and naturally assured me, “It’s going to be OK.” I jerked back and blurted “No it’s not! It’s never going to be OK anymore!”

Eventually all the kids were gone, the house was full of uniformed personnel. Nora was still on my hip. I kept asking to go and see Graham but the detective said they needed to take me in for questioning. I clumsily got my coat on and walked out into the frigid air to the detective’s unmarked car and off we went.

Back in that small room at the sheriff’s department, the detective’s questions just kept coming like a leaky faucet. “And so your cell phone rings and it’s Kristin, what happened next?”

“She told me that they were at the hospital and that they had worked really hard but that Graham had died.”

“Oh, so you know that he is dead?”

Why was she surprised that I knew of his death? Did she think that I was under the impression this whole time that he was alive and well? Wouldn’t I have been incessantly asking about how he was doing if I didn’t already know? Then it dawned on me, during these last four hours of being together, she and I had not ever talked about the fact that Graham had died. She was surprised that Kristin had called me herself.

After years of being surrounded by cases like this, I’m sure that it starts to feel systematic and calculated. Lot’s of he said, she said. Graham’s death wasn’t something that happened to Kristin and Evan. This was something that happened to US – it happened to all of us! Her cold, calculated suspicious approach to this life changing moment in our lives was nauseating.

But in the weeks to come, GOD’s presence, braided into each one of our stories, was the key denominator that this detective saw.

I was His ‘Ms. Carrie’ (pt 2)

It is my great privilege to introduce a guest blogger, our precious, ‘Ms. Carrie’.  This woman spent years training, feeding, cleaning, praying for, cuddling, and loving my children.  From the first day we dropped off our fat, round 10 month old Charlie Jo, to the last day I dropped off Nora and Graham… She was essential to us.  An incredible gift in the midst of a tumultuous, joy-filled season of child-rearing.  I am so grateful for her, so tangled up with her… Forever.

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And then we got to the point in the day when it all happened.

Every half hour I would make the rounds and check on them – cover them back up, rescue a loved stuffed animal that had made it’s way to the center of the room and make sure all was well. That point in the afternoon had arrived when I could hear the kiddos starting to stir. Random voices and the thud of them standing up in their pack n’ plays and then plopping back down. I crept down the stairs and scooped up three of them, folded their blankets, whispered for them to go upstairs and go potty and reminded them to whisper because some of their friends were still sleeping.

Three of my pack n’ plays lined the wall right next to the stairs, the middle one was Graham’s. It was unusual for him to still be sleeping because he was always one of my first ones up. Standing at the end of the pack n’ play, little fingers clamped onto the fabric covered top and making a large drool mark. He would catch a glimpse of me and grin from ear to ear because he knew I was coming to rescue him from naptime and he was going to get some animal crackers and a bottle.

But that afternoon, he was nestled into the corner of his pack n’ play, on his tummy and had his face up against his blue blankie. This was how he slept, he would bury his face in his blue bankie and Kristin and I would always find remnants of blue fuzzies stuck to his cheeks and in the little rolls in his neck. I placed my hand on his back and made gentle circles across his tiny frame to wake him up slowly.

Three circles. Four circles. Nothing.

I lifted the blue blankie up away from his face and it felt like a flood if ice water just rushed through my veins. A gasp that you only hear when something life altering occurs flew out of my mouth. His face was a pale blue. I lunged over the side of the pack n’ play and grabbed him up.

Now there are parts of this experience that are clearer than others and this moment is one that my body can just go back to in an instant. The motion of thrusting my hands up under his armpits and turning him towards me mid-air and then having his little body arch back limply over my left arm feels like five seconds ago. His heavy head flopped against my hand in between my thumb and the rest of my fingers and I looked at this face that was so perfect, but wasn’t.

Graham, GRAHAM, GRAAAHAM!!!!!! It was a frantic yelpy scream as I bounded up the stairs.

I flew into my kitchen, with Graham’s head cupped in my hand and his little face in my neck, where it had always been…that would be the last time it would be there. I laid him down on my kitchen floor, hand on his forehead, two fingers under his chin, tilted it up and put my ear down over his nose to see if there was any breath at all. His face was warm, but there was no breath. I placed my right palm down on his chest and began to pump up and down. One-and-two-and-three-and-four…..tilt the head back, two breaths, watch the chest rise and fall. Those countless CPR classes feeling more valuable by the millisecond.

Why isn’t anyone coming?!? Wait, you haven’t called them yet! I lept up and grabbed my cell phone off the counter, frantically keying in my pin and dialing 9-1-1, put it on speaker and continue pumping. It rang! And rang…and rang..and rang…and rang…and rang…Why isn’t anyone answering?!

“911, Do you need police, fire or ambulance?”

“AMBULANCE!”

After a pause that felt like a lifetime, a woman’s voice came on the line and asked for my address and what the emergency was.

“I went to pick him up from his nap and he’s not breathing! He’s not breathing!!! Graham’s not breathing!”

“Are you performing CPR?”

“Yes! Are you sending someone?”

“Yes, they are on their way right now. Keep pumping and breathing and I’ll stay on the line with you until someone gets there.”

Twenty eight-and-twenty-nine-and-thirty. Tilt his head, two breaths, watch the chest rise and fall. Over and over. Tears gush down my face, choking sobs and blurts of, “Graham please! Breath! God PLEASE!! GRAHAM PLEASE! GRAHAM!”

The voice on the phone came back calmly, “Carrie, you need to stay calm for him. You need to focus on what you are doing. You are doing great.” Then I heard a little gurgling sound – rolled him onto his side and a little trickle of his milk spewed out, but that’s a good sign!

“Are they coming?! What’s taking so long??”

“They are almost there, is your door unlocked?”

“No!” I rush to unlock the door and on my way back to Graham, I see them, the three little ones I had sent upstairs to go potty, Nora… leaning over the back of the couch, looking into the kitchen. They knew something awful was happening.

“Why isn’t this working?!? He is warm! His chest is rising and falling when I breath air into him! Jesus why isn’t this working?!?”

It felt like one of those stationary bikes that was connected to a light bulb and as you began to pedal the light would begin to flicker on and off and as you got to your max speed, the light would beam brightly. I was pedaling at 100% but Graham’s light wasn’t turning on!

There was a brisk knock on the door as it burst open and the paramedics rushed in. Thank you GOD, they are here and they are going to work their magic and save him. There were two of them, the man scooped Graham up and began blowing into his little mouth and the woman asked a few simple questions. Little did I know that would be the last time I would have my hands on that sweet baby, if I would have know, I would have kissed him and nestled his head into my neck one more time. I remember reaching up from my spot on the kitchen floor, grabbing her arm, “He’s going to be fine right? He’s going to wake up right?!”

“We are going to the best that we can, little guys are tough.”

I pleaded to let me ride with him to the hospital because I KNEW he was going to wake up. He was going to wake up and he was going to be scared because he had never seen those people before. He needed me to be there when he woke up.

But no, he had to ride alone.

I was His ‘Ms. Carrie’ (pt 1)

It is my great privilege to introduce a guest blogger, our precious, ‘Ms. Carrie’.  This woman spent years training, feeding, cleaning, praying for, cuddling, and loving my children.  From the first day we dropped off our fat, round 10 month old Charlie Jo, to the last day I dropped off Nora and Graham… She was essential to us.  An incredible gift in the midst of a tumultuous, joy-filled season of child-rearing.  I am so grateful for her, so tangled up with her… Forever.

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When I look back at Graham’s final moments, they don’t begin on that chilly February afternoon. Although we didn’t realize it, his final moments started months before that. Normal, everyday toddler happenings that were actually moments of preparation.

Toddler teething….drooly and uncomfortable and not to mention the never ending stream of tears! Who knew that Graham’s teething was going to turn out to be such a gift? His little tush fit perfectly in the crutch of my arm, my hand wrapped around that oh-so-squishable chubby leg and his head nestled into that part of your neck that God put there specifically to hold a baby’s head. I can still feel his little fingers, twisting around the back of my T-shirt sleeve and the ever present drool spot on the chest of my shirt. This is where Graham spent most of his days during those last weeks, latched onto me like a little monkey as I went about my daily tasks one handed.

Those teeth were why I held him 90% of the day. Those teeth were why he spent many of his naptimes on my chest watching HGTV together in the afternoons. Those teeth were an immeasurable GIFT of time together. Unbeknownst to me, those teeth were the start of Graham’s and my goodbye.

Fast forward to the early evening of February 11, 2014 at the Douglas County Sheriff’s department. In a small room with no windows, florescent lights, a little round table and two chairs – one of which is suspiciously tucked into the corner of the room – that one’s mine. I kept my winter coat on because the room was ice cold and my whole body felt shaky.

Somehow it felt like the coat sheltered me from these very unfamiliar and unnerving surroundings. It felt like a movie set – the surveillance camera up in the corner, the two way mirror that I know had people on the other side drinking coffee and scribbling notes on their clipboards – notes about me….voice intonation…facial expression…body language… Take a deep breath and don’t flip out.

“Carrie, I want to go over everything from the moment you woke up this morning to us sitting here now. Don’t leave anything out. Every little detail is important. We just want to get a clearer picture of the events of today.”

I could tell the detective was trying to make me comfortable but she was doing an awful job at it. This is not where I should be. I should be at home or with Kristin & Evan or with Charlie and Nora, ANYWHERE but in this room with this woman! Deep breath, you need to get through this.

“Well, the kids arrived in the morning.”

“No, start from when your alarm went off in the morning.”

“Oh sorry. Ok so my alarm went off and I got up and got dressed, made coffee, flicked on the living room lamps and turned on Curious George and waited for the first knock on the door – which would be the Engels. They were always the first ones.”

“Did you look forward to them coming?”

“Yeah, of course I did! I heard the knock on the door and opened up as they shuffled in, along with a gush of wind. The kids were bundled up in thick fuzzy blankets.”

“Why didn’t they have coats on?”

“Uh…umm…because having kids wear bulky winter coats in their car seats isn’t safe.”

“Did the Engel kids ever wear winter coats?”

“Of course they did, but coming in and out of daycare they just bundled them up in the blankets to make it easier.”

“Ok, continue.”

“So, I opened the door and said “Hi! Good morning guys!” in a hushed voice. Helped Nora get her boots off and then held my arms out for Graham. Kristin kissed him on the top of his head, like she always did and he reached out for me and cuddled into my shoulder like always. Then she said “Thanks!” She always thanked me. In the mornings and the evenings. Then she left for work. Nora sat down to watch cartoons and wait for her little friends to arrive and Graham and I got stuff set out for breakfast and I had a cup of coffee.”

“How many cups of coffee did you have? What did you put in it?”

“I had one cup and I drink it everyday…..so the other kiddos trickled in over the next hour or so and they all had breakfast, washed their hands and faces, went potty and then we headed downstairs to the basement to play. The kids played nicely and…”

“Wait, what was each child playing with?”

“Ummm What?!?

“What were each of the children playing with?”

“I don’t remember! Have you ever watched children? How could I keep track of that?! All I know is that there was nothing abnormal about playtime this morning. They all played nicely together and it was just a normal morning!”

We went hour by hour at this pace. What we ate, what we played with, where Graham was when I took someone else to the potty. After a while I began to feel a slight bit of defensiveness because it seemed as though all of her questions were slightly accusatory, pointed and looking for a certain kind of response. Was she trying to put words in my mouth? I don’t know, but it felt like she had an agenda.

Did Graham get dropped at all that day? Did he drink breast milk? Did I hold him when I fed him? Did I rock him to sleep? Did he always sleep with that blanket? Who brought that blanket? Did you check on the kids while they slept? Why didn’t you put your hand on their backs to check on their breathing? Did you sleep at all? Did you get along with the Engels? Where you ever resentful of Graham? Did the Engels co-sleep? Did the Engels spank their children? Did their children go to the doctor regularly? Did you ever witness them endangering their children in any way?

Time felt like it was creeping by at a snail’s pace….and her questions just kept coming.