I took a deep breath as I walked to the building. I knew that this wouldn't be easy. I knew what today meant. I knew it would hurt me to my core. My sandals clapped against the sidewalk as I approached the building. A subtle queasiness kicked up inside of me.
A white paned door greeted me. I grabbed the brass handle and pulled. As the door swung open toward me, the force of some suction made me lean back to regain my balance. Going into the building seemed to take my breath away so I inhaled deeply again.
A young girl, maybe 6 or 7, skipped across my path on the sprawling green carpet in the entry way. Her silky brown hair bounced on her shoulders with each step. I smiled at her and momentarily forgot my purpose for the day.
As I scanned the room, I found another area where poster boards covered in pictures decorated the room's horizon. Upon entering the room, I took another deep breath. I didn't know what I should do next so I headed for the pictures. I knew I had to see the pictures. A lump welled up in my throat, and tears began to brim in my eyes.
Then, I saw those familiar chocolate eyes, Antonio's eyes. He had flashed them to me on the day we met. He was happily devouring some treats, and his mom, Sheri, proudly pointed to him dressed up in his Halloween costume. His siblings were gathered around him, guiding him. Sheri said, "Isn't he handsome?" I nodded in agreement, and then I pointed to him to show my daughter, Grace, that we were finally getting to meet Sweet Antonio. Sheri's bon bon.
I panned the first poster board, and saw love emanating from each image. Ricardo, Sheri, and their older children encircled Antonio in many of the images. I smiled through the tears and panic I was experiencing on the inside.
While browsing the memories captured in the photos, I could hear laughter and talking on a video tape playing on a screen in the background. For some reason, I couldn't bring myself to watch though.
The service would be starting soon so I figured I should find some of the other Liver moms who said they'd be there too. Along the back wall of the chapel, there was a brown organ in the corner. I headed for that spot since all of the pews were filled already. Luckily, I found Kristen, Havalah's mom, there too. She pointed to Sheri in the front row, and said, "If you want to talk to her, now is a good time." As I approached Sheri, she was embracing a woman I didn't know. The embrace lasted a few minutes. I smiled at Sheri. From my perspective, it seemed Sheri needed the embrace. She needed human touch. She needed the soothing from that hug.
Sheri's arms crossed over my shoulders. I could feel her trembling, and I'm sure I was too. She hugged me tightly, and whispered, "Can you do something for me please?"
"Yes, anything," I replied.
"Get me the pictures of Antonio from Halloween," she said while exhaling.
"Will do Sheri. Anything honey. I'll never forget him...ever. Please know that." I didn't know what to say, but she seemed content with my response. Then, she sat down in the pew next to her daughter, Aurora, and took careful time to introduce me to her husband and children. They are a beautiful family, but their expressions said it all...pure pain. I wanted so much to make their terrible nightmare go away, but like most helpless bystanders, there was little I could do except get those pictures for Sheri.
"Ricardo, Jen has two girls, Grace and Meghan, who have Alpha-1," came from Sheri. It took my breath away that she was able to recall the details in such a time of shock and stress. Sheri is simply amazing.
I approached the front of the chapel. Antonio peacefully graced his tiny white coffin. I nervously smiled at him and all of his stuffed animal frogs. I will remember him in life though. His exhuberance. His inquisitiveness. His love for his mommy. His beautiful brown eyes. His beautiful 3 year old self.
The service began shortly after.
Tears would periodically well up in my eyes. As a liver mom, I wanted to be there, but being there brought out my worst fears for my daughters. Antonio was only 6 days older than Meghan. I quickly pushed the thoughts out of my mind as I would probably lose it if I let them come completely to fruition.
Haunting music played. Sheri trembled as the lyrics clearly had meaning to her. I had to find a spot on the wall to stare at so I could stuff down the urge to wail along with her. After all, another member of our liver family was gone. Antonio joined Hunter, Jayli, Gracie, Jackson Riley, Dillon, and all the liver angels. Heaven has another angel, and well, we all want him back.
For the rest of that day, and periodically since then, I have to take deep breaths. I hope that Sheri and her family are taking slow deep breaths to breathe their way through what may be a lifetime of breath after breath to get through. I can only imagine.
Antonio, I will never forget you little man. May you rest in peace.