I failed to realize the timing of things until this past Tuesday. Two of my friends were strategizing how they were going to study for finals. My best friend looked at me and said "We should study with her, she is really good at cramming!" when a look of confusion was on my face like "how do you know that? We have never studied finals with her before?" My other friend turned to me and said "We studied together last semester." They went on talking but my mind was trying to figure out one thing, "Where was I? I always studied with my friend, what was I doing and why was I not there?" and then it hit me, "YOU WERE NOT THERE BECAUSE YOUR DAUGHTER JUST DIED! While everyone was cramming for finals last semester, you had an atomic bomb dropped in your lap and were making funeral arrangement for your precious 2 1/2 year old baby girl." My heart sunk passed my toes, I was standing in a crowded room, people were talking, studying, laughing but time had frozen for me. Was it really at this exact moment last semester that my daughter was still alive and in only 4 days I would find out that she drowned.
HAD I ONLY KNOWN, how differently I would have treated those last 4 days. How I would have chosen to fail all of my finals just to sit around and watch barney, play dress up, eat ourselves sick with sweets. We would have played outside, gone to the park, or just gone ahead to Florida like we had planned. I felt like I wanted to pass out when I heard a voice that seemed far away ask me "Shannon are you ok?" I snapped out of it to see 3 of my friends starring at me and one of them ask "Here do you want to try and practice it this time?" "NO" I sternly responded and ran out of the classroom, locked myself in a stall, and sobbed uncontrollably. It felt like I was reliving her death all over again.
I have been dreading this Saturday. I have been so heavy hearted knowing that exactly at this time last semester I would have already gotten an obscure text message from my step dad saying something that was jumbled and panicky. That in this moment I still didn't know my daughter was dead. The text message made no sense. Something about my mom being at the hospital and McKenna left in the pool. At the time I thought that my mom had been rushed to the ER and they needed me to pick up McKenna from her house. I had no pit in my stomach, no motherly instincts, no feelings or warning that I had already lost a child.
I tried to call my step dad but he would not answer, I sprinted to my husband and said "Something is wrong, I think we need to go pick up the kids from moms. I am not sure what is going on but I got a really weird text message." Zach quickly read the text then jumped up and immediately ran out the door, his fatherly instincts seem to be telling him something that mine were not. I felt tightness in my chest and a sense of worry but never thinking that anything so awful could be awaiting me. I continued to try and call my mother, my step dad, my grandmother. No answer. Finally my grandmother called me back, she was screaming and crying on the phone to the point where I could not understand her. My husband who was already speeding by this time turned on the emergency lights and started flying down the street. After I was able to calm my grandmother down she said that she didn't know what had happened but that something was terribly wrong and I needed to get to the hospital immediately. Now a voice in the back of my head was whispering to me "don't let your mind go there, don't' even think it, you don't know anything yet so don't put yourself in a panic. Just get ahold of someone, get to the hospital, and find out what is going on"
I finally realized I could just call the hospital, a secretary answered the phone and I quickly asked "Do you know if my mom is in the ER, I got a strange text message and I think something might have happened to her, can you check for me and just let me know if she is there?" we exchanged information and she told me "No, I don't have anyone with that name". Then that whisper in the back of my head that had told me not to panic was now screaming "ITS MCKENNA, IT'S MCKENNA!" I kept my voice calm and said quietly "Well I'm a little confused because this is the hospital I was told she was at maybe the information is under my step dad?" She looked up his name as well, "No I am sorry I don't have anything for that either. Do you know who they came here with?" I could feel a golf ball forming in my throat, my heart pounding out of my chest, my ears ringing, my husband frantically speeding down the busy street. "I think my daughter might be with them..." and there it was, the missing piece of the puzzle.
"Is she a small blonde headed little girl?"
"Hold on a moment please"
A nurse picks up the phone. "Are you McKenna's mom?"
"Where are you at? Are you on your way to the hospital?"
"Yes, I am. What is going on? Is my mom there? Let me talk to her."
"We can't put your mom on the phone right now we just need you to get here immediately"
Zach is now running red lights and driving like a complete maniac.
"CALM DOWN ZACH, YOUR GOING TO KILL US"
He completely disregarded me, I think he already knew what my mind wasn't even willing to venture on.
The nurse continued, "Ok, well tell them when you are here and they will let you in right away."
"Please tell me what is going on, can I talk to my mom, is everyone ok?"
"Hold on please"
A doctor picks up the phone "Are you McKenna's mom?"
"Are you close to the hospital we really need you here now."
"I am about 10 minutes away, please you are making me very nervous, if you can't tell me what is going on over the phone then please put my mom or someone who can tell me something, I need to know what is going on right now!"
There was a very long pause, well at least it seemed that way in my mind.
"I hate to tell you this over the phone but your daughter is dead, she dro..... in the po..... they tried...... but it was too..... "
I could not hear him anymore, I could not remember what he just said, I did not know what was going on or why we were driving so crazy. I looked at my husband in a 100% confusion and asked "What did he just say? I can't remember what he said, he was trying to tell me something very important. I think I hung up on him. Did you hear what he said? What is going on? Do you think something is wrong with McKenna? What did he say? I didn't hear him!!!"
Zach didn't say a word, minutes later we flew into the ER parking lot and he dropped me off in the front. "Go inside Shannon, I'm going to park." I ran inside and immediately I was asked again "Are you McKenna's mom?" "Yes, where is she, is she ok?" "Did the doctor talk to you?" "He did but I don't remember what he said. Where is my mom? Where is McKenna? What is going on?" They opened the ER doors, I was quickly led down a long hallway where a very tall doctor approached me. I had never seen this man before but his face has been burned into my memory.
Avoiding eye contact and walking next to me as if we were on a casual stroll he asked me if I wanted to sit down. "No, just tell me what is going on, I am here, I am McKenna's mom, what did you say to me on the phone, take me to my daughter!!!" My husband was now running down the hallway, the doctors eyes were everywhere but on me, we were walking toward a room. "I'm sorry but your daughter is dead" He went to continue on to say something else as we walked closer to the room but I grabbed his shirt and stopped him from walking any further, then grabbed his arm and turned his tall body to face me. "LOOK ME IN THE EYES WHEN YOU SAY SOMETHING TO ME. DID YOU JUST SAY MY DAUGHTER WAS DEAD?" He froze and looked caught off guard then took a deep breath. Now looking in my eyes he said, "Yes, I am sorry, she is dead. We tried to recessetate her but I think she was gone before she ever made it to the hospital.".
The door opened, Zach was now by my side, my mom was standing over her in a bikini wrapped in a towel. My grandmother holding her, both of them crying and my mom screaming "I'M SO SORRY SHANNON, IM SO SORRY" Zach shouted in a tone I had never heard before, 'EVERYONE GET OUT" in the blink of an eye they were all gone and there we were alone with McKenna. My mind could not comprehend the situation. She did not look dead, honestly she looked 100% fine. I turned to my husband "No, she is not dead, she is fine, this is just a big misunderstanding" we heard the door open and turned to see 2 officers entering the room.
"Are you the mother of McKenna"
"Yes I am"
"Do you know what happened here?"
"No, I don't. It's finals week at school, the kids went over to my moms while I was studying."
"Do they normally do that?"
"Yes... CAN SOMEONE PLEASE TELL ME WHAT IS GOING ON???"
I had this conversation several times before I could even begin to fathom the words behind it. I still can't bring myself to talk about what else happened at the hospital that day after we walked into that room. There is no worse nightmare to a parent, no darker moment, no greater fear then the loss of a child. Today I am reliving that nightmare, right around this exact time is when I spoke to the nurse, the doctor, the officers, and for the very first time saw my dead daughter. I don't know why I am writing about this but here it is. The sadness and reality of my situation. The video that keeps replaying in my head. I wish I could wrap this up in a happy ending but that's not the truth. I can't deny the pain in my heart, I can't block out the memories of seeing her limp body, I can't forget the fear in my husbands eyes as we both held each other and thought "surely this can't be real!".
I was suppose to go to my first counseling appointment today but unfortunately it ended up not working out. Dominic did get to go and this is what he drew in the pictures below. This is our reality, so PLEASE, when you meet someone who has lost a loved one and they seem fine. Don't assume they are, don't be afraid to ask them if they are ok even if they are looking you in the face and smiling. Don't be scared to share a happy memory of the deceased because there is nothing worse then never bringing them up.
There is no comfort in silence.
Never hearing someone say their name or no one asking "how you holding up?" makes everything worse. It makes you feel forgotten, you worry that people have forgotten that you are still struggling. You worry that people have forgotten about one of cutest things that walked this earth and that makes them seem like they were never really important. You worry that people just see it as some tragedy that happened to you but fail to understand that it is so much more then that. McKenna is fine, it is us, the ones who were left behind that are suffering and don't know what to do with the sadness and pain of it all. We are empty shells proceeding through life as if all is normal and it's not.
You don't want to burden others with your sadness but at the same time, people HAVE A HEART, SHOW YOUR LOVE, SHOW YOUR MERCY. I don't care if it's been almost 4 months or 40 years. Nothing takes the sting of death away. Not time, not family, and definitely not SILENCE. So brake the silence, don't be afraid to show you care, don't worry that you will make them mad or sad, even if they respond with "yes, I'm ok" or nothing at all , I guarantee you, at the end of the day instead of saying to themselves before they go to bed "Not one person even cared enough to ask me if I was ok" they will lay their head to rest and say "Someone cared about me today, someone remembered my baby".
Happy memories of swimming in the pool together.
Happy memories of jumping on the trampoline.
Happy memories of eating together at the dinner table.
Dominic finding her in the pool the day
"McKenna passed away"