Dedicated to my dear friend Kristin in memory of her son Matthew.
My headphone wasn't working so I found myself yelling at my phone alone in the car. It was Maryland and the last thing I needed was a ticket. I hadn't really wanted to call my mom, but knew she would be upset if I didn't tell her about my trip.
But you've never met her before, right?
I could feel my blood pressure mounting, my chest getting hot.
Are you sure you should go? It's such a long drive and I'm worried about the weather.
A baby had died. Wasn't it always worth the trip?
But, as I hung up and flung the headphone across the seat, I acknowledged that my mom was right. I had never met her before. In person, that is.
It was in the midst of a months long hire spree when we first interviewed Kristin. What I can recall most is that she was upbeat with an energy that shot right through your earpiece to announce I'll be a great addition to the team! She was hired in no time and I was assigned to be her trainer.
Only our manager worked in an actual office building with cubicles and a water cooler. The rest of us fanned out around her, little chickens to our mother hen, spread throughout this country and Canada, sitting at tables in our home offices, guest bedrooms or kitchens.
Kristin and I hit it off from the start. To be clear, she would have hit it off with the lowliest slug of office life, because that's just who she is. We became fast friends and colleagues, always willing to extend each other a hand for work and connecting about family life when we could. With only a virtual office space, it was sometimes challenging to build personal relationships, but ours came easy.
Kristin was pregnant with baby #4 when we started working together. As the consistently overwhelmed mother of two, I was in a constant state of wonder when I pondered her growing family, successful career, and world-traveling husband. I came to understand that she makes it look effortless because she truly adores being a mother and revels in her role.
Not too long after we started working together, Kristin learned that the baby she was carrying would be born with serious health complications. I remember scrolling through my Blackberry as we drove home from a family beach trip, skipping past all the actual work to pinpoint the ultrasound update she had promised to send me. I never found it because she didn't send it. A familiar sinking feeling developed in my stomach as I realized what that meant: not good news.
From right around that time I started believing that a force bigger than both Kris and myself had brought us together. Becoming labeled as a high risk pregnancy and facing the reality that the baby you are carrying may not survive was something I had experienced just a few years before I met Kristin. The first few weeks after my son's in utero diagnosis were some of the loneliest of my life. I felt honored and compelled to figure out how to be there for Kristin as she navigated that time.
Adorable baby Matthew was born after an extremely eventful delivery on September 18, 2014. He faced many pokes, prods and procedures during his first few months but seemed to be making progress. Kristin essentially moved into the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), setting up office and take conference calls from the family waiting area on the floor. Just imagine this for a moment - your tiny, medically frail baby in the NICU with no real idea of his future, three (three!) other children at home, and working mostly full time at your baby's bedside. She did this all with the beautiful grace that is singular to and defining of Kristin.
We were in close contact during these months. We still hadn't met in person as we live eight hours apart. We mostly texted - she sent me details that only a person with a medical background could understand. I would read them, cry, and text back. I had no words so I said the same things over and over again. l send my love. I am here for you. I am praying for you. I saw scariness and unknowns. She saw small steps forward and blessings everywhere.
In December Matthew underwent a surgery that his family hoped would be his ticket home for the new year. But instead of moving him forward on that path the surgery seemed to send him on a new one altogether. Things were bleak. When that terrible acronym, ECMO (a form of life support), came across on a text from Kristin I knew that we may be nearing the end.
Matthew died on January 14, 2015.
On my son's 4th birthday.
The day of the funeral I walked into the church with my colleague and a little note of apprehension in my chest. I hope she doesn't think I'm some stranger seeing her on one of the most vulnerable days of her life. But the moment she saw us she smiled in recognition. The first thing I said to her was: You are so much taller than I expected!
This story I'm sharing is not meant to be Matthew's story or the story of my friend's grief. Those aren't my stories to tell.
This is the story of a friendship. It's the story of two paths crossing at a very particular time. It's the story of noticing; choosing to see the connections between us and believing that we were brought together to serve a purpose to each other.
I've moved on to a new job. Kristin and I communicate much less often. She is bringing communities together for fellowship and fundraising in memory of her son. She's doing amazing things and infusing her spirit into the world. Her message - to love and embrace life - will always stay with me.