***Today’s blog post is an extension of my post from a few weeks ago - The SimbaCam and the Red Button - where I dive into an analogy regarding grief that I’ve identified most with. If you haven't yet read that post, click on the link above and read that one first. There will be links back to here.***
I’ve made the drive from Bismarck to Fargo dozens of times over the past 20 years. It’s an easy drive, about 2 ½ hours in length, going pretty much due east on I-94 for 200 miles. Yet, even though the drive is familiar, driving through Fargo will never be the same for the rest of my life. Actually, it will never be the same again for both Rachel and me. We first realized that a few months after Anders died in the spring of 2019, but it hit me hardest that August.
I was driving my car to Fargo along with Jake, my brother Reid, and another of our friends. The gothic architecture of the new hospital came into view as we started to enter the Fargo metro area. The new hospital is right next to the interstate and ten stories tall.
For years, when I coached summer baseball, I would drive the team bus to Fargo three or four times each summer. I watched the building of that hospital from the breaking of the ground until it opened for service. On many occasions, I wondered if I would be able to get a tour of the new hospital as it looked like a cool complex and building.
I didn't know that one day I would be in the hospital, with my son as a patient.
As the hospital appeared on the horizon that August day, another familiar silhouette appeared on the roof: an air medical helicopter. The closer we got to the hospital, the more detail became clear. The blades of the helicopter were slowing to a stop. I saw the door open and a gurney lowered from the deck of the helicopter and onto the roof. Crew members were escorting the gurney towards the hospital doors. A few members of the Fargo medical team came out of the hospital to meet the new patient.
If I would have been walking when I saw the helicopter on the roof, I would have stopped in my tracks. But I was behind the wheel of my vehicle and I needed to focus on driving. I felt a wave of panic building up inside of me as my chest started to tighten. I felt an all too familiar feeling coming across my cheeks and eyes and I once again started to tear up. Again, I was experiencing the ball smashing the button of pain and loss again - and it wasn’t something I had time to prepare for.
I tried to adjust my sun visor so that it blocked my view of the medical team and the helicopter, but that didn’t change the fact that I knew it was there. Even though I didn’t know the person that was being transported into the hospital, that did not matter. What mattered is that Anders took a helicopter ride just like that.
Rachel and I weren't at the hospital when the helicopter landed with Anders. Driving into Fargo, I was clued into what that arrival looked like. An adult hospital bed, carrying Anders's small body, was pushed across the roof helicopter by a medical team, and into the PICU. As I drove, I knew how that journey ended for us. We said goodbye to our son who died in a room that overlooks the interstate we drive on each time we go to Fargo.
Jake, who was sitting in the passenger's seat, could read my face and knew that I was going through a tough moment. He asked me a random question to divert my attention from the roof of the hospital. It was an incredible and loving thing to do - a kind act from the best of friends, but I couldn’t get it out of my mind.
Since August 2019, I have been to Fargo many times. Each time I drive by the hospital, those three days rush through my mind. Since I know that I will see the hospital on the horizon, it no longer takes me by surprise. Nonetheless, I still think about our time spent there.
Driving by the hospital has become another part of the routine; verification that what once pierced my heart, now hurts less. Time moves on. The ball gets a little smaller each day.
But there are still times when the ball hits the button again - like it did two times in the past few weeks in Fargo.
There was a time when another helicopter was on the landing pad of the hospital. While it wasn't as jarring as the first time, it still brought me back to Anders.
Then, two weeks ago, Rachel, the kids, and I were on a trip to visit her brother and his family. When we were driving back, we stopped at a park in Fargo to let the kids play for a while and burn some energy. I was taking a picture of Linnea preparing to go down the slide as Elias chased after her when I looked up from my phone and into the distance. Standing tall on the horizon was the hospital. A few moments passed.
Then I took another picture, this time showing the contrast of the two locations. Two of our children were playing on a playground in the shadow of a hospital where their brother took his last breath.
Each time I see the hospital I get sad because I miss Anders. But then I think about the incredible 11 months I got the chance to spend with my son. Those 11 months make me so happy. His smile. His giggles. Even the times when he would wrestle with all his strength to prevent me from putting a diaper on him. I receive so much joy thinking about those things.
My thoughts often end thanking God for how much I have in my life - even when it simultaneously feels as if I have lost just as much.