I'm posting Mike's story tonight, fully with his permission. I just wanted to have down in writing his perspective of Carpenter's story. We talk, and we've been to group therapy, but it's so helpful to my journey to know the person beside me is not misunderstanding me, but he experienced this event in a slightly different way.
Mike's story, in his words:
My daughter, Olivia, was about 3 months old when I found out my wife, Annie, was pregnant with our second child. I did the math and figured out that I could have two kids born in the same year. They call that having “Irish Twins.” I knew that would mean a lot of work for Annie and me; but, I didn’t care. I was so excited.
We had names picked out within the month. If it was a girl, we were going with Miriam Adele Vorys. Miriam after her grandmother and Adele because we both love the name. If it was a boy, we were going with John Carpenter Vorys, II. He would be named after my grandfather. He would also be the fifth in a long line of Johns: John Vorys, John Carpenter, John Thomas, John Michael, and John Carpenter, II. I knew a lot of people would think Carpenter a strange name, especially in this day and age. I didn’t care. I was beaming with pride when I found out in January that John Carpenter Vorys, II was on his way to us.
I didn’t care that other people thought Carpenter was a strange name. Both of his grandfathers, his uncle, and I are all carpenters. His great grandfather was named that. It was a perfect fit. I did struggle with the question of “What will his nickname be?” I didn’t want to call him Carp or Carpie. Those were too strange. I wanted to go with JC but Annie wouldn’t go for it. Then, I thought of one of my favorite television programs: M*A*S*H.
In the series, the main character, Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce is nicknamed Hawkeye by his father because that was his dad’s favorite character in the book The Last of the Mohicans. Well, my favorite character in the series was “Trapper” John Francis Xavier McIntyre. Or “Trap” to those who knew him best. That was where I got Carpenter’s nickname. It’s just me who still calls him that. Just a special bond between father and son. Like Pierce’s dad called him Hawkeye or like my dad always called me “Buckwheat.”
So, Trapper was coming. We had the nursery theme all picked out: nautical--with a special emphasis on the Navy because both his great grandfathers were SeaBees and his grandfather served many tours on a “tin can.” We were getting clothes passed down by my sister in-law, Nicole, whose son, Roman, had grown out of them. We were so ready.
Almost a month later, I was watching Liv with my brother in-law Zack. Roman and Caroline (Roman’s sister) were playing with her. Nicole, who was pregnant with my new niece, Eleanor, was off doing an event with Annie. Annie had complained that she wasn’t feeling well and wanted to go home after she was done with the event. Anyone who has been pregnant before knows that there is nothing a pregnant woman can take for illness for fear of harming the fetus. Annie is tough and just decided it was probably a cold or something. It was February after all. While Annie was at the event, she tripped and fell. She caught herself before she landed on Trap. When she came back, she couldn’t warm up. I figured it was just a really nasty bug accompanied by a fever. We drove an hour in the van with the heat blaring. We got back and she was still complaining she was cold. I was worried at that point and took her temperature. 103. Not good. I told her to get dressed we were going to the emergency room. We packed up Liv and away we went.
When we got there, the staff couldn’t have been more helpful. Annie said she was 24 weeks pregnant and they took her back immediately. Annie, selfless as she is, didn’t care at all that she felt like crap. She kept asking, “How is he?” (meaning Trap). They put an ultrasound on her and couldn’t get a heart beat other than her own. They tried another machine and still no results. They called in the OBGYN and still no results. Then came the worst news I have ever heard, and probably will ever hear, in my entire life. “Your son is dead.” Of course they put that in some medical jargon that I didn’t comprehend. The point was still made: “Your son is dead.”
The doctor was comforting, as comforting as one can be in that situation. And then it occurred to Annie that because she was 24 weeks along, she would have to deliver Carpenter. Obviously, Annie and I were distraught. The nurses were great. They took Liv and watched her so that Annie and I could be alone. They wheeled Annie to the miscarriage/stillbirth wing of the delivery ward and got her set up with all the meds she could need. The anesthesiologist was amazing. He got Annie all fixed up. Then we just played the waiting game.
Meanwhile, I called my parents, Annie’s parents, Zack and Nicole and anyone else that was close by and awake at 10:30 at night. While Annie was being taken care of by her amazing nurses (I really can’t say enough good things about Jessica, Jenn, and Haley), a strange urge to pray came over me. Anyone who knows me knows I am not some Bible beating, holy water spraying zealot. However, I felt the need the talk to the big guy. I walked out in the hall, sobbing, and through the sobs, I talked to God. I told him that I don’t blame him for taking Trap away from me. All I asked was that he take care of my son while I couldn’t.
That’s another thing. Everyone tells you two things when you lose a child. First they tell you to “let them know if you need anything.” While nice and I appreciate the sentiment, the last thing I’m going to do is call Bob and say “hey man, how about you make me a casserole?” The second thing that they tell you is that everything happens for a reason. I hate hearing this expression. It makes me want to react violently. No, everything does not happen for a reason. What could God possibly need Trap in heaven for when he is 24 weeks old? If everything happens for a reason, someone owes me a damn good explanation.
Then the family started showing up. Zack and Nicole showed up first. Our friend Mandy watched their kids so that they could come in the middle of the night. They were great and took Liv home so that we could get what rest would find us. Zack actually later joked with me saying “Hey, at least he doesn’t have to go through life as an Indians fan.” There was question as to whether or not we wanted to see Trap when he was delivered. Annie and I weren’t sure. Then, Zack said something that I will be eternally grateful for. He said “If you see him and wish you hadn’t you can try and forget it. If you don’t see him and wish you had, you will regret it forever.” So we decided, when he came we would see him and spend some time with him. My parents came the next morning though inclement weather forced them to return home shortly after arriving. Annie’s parents came later that night. We had been calling them repeatedly and finally they got the word and cut a vacation short to come be with us. Other family came and went. The support we got was amazing.
Later that night, most of the family was at the dining hall of the hospital. Annie, her parents, and I were talking in the hospital room. The doctor came in to check Annie’s progress and asked her parents and me to step into the hallway. We obeyed. I was talking with Randy and Karen when I heard her doctor say “We need to get dad in here.” The nurse came to the door and summoned me. I walked in. I took three steps forward. I looked at Annie. I looked down on the bed. I saw him. I saw my son. Trapper.
My knees went weak, my eyes flooded instantly. My breathing shallow. My heart racing. Looking for someway to save my son. A father’s primal instinct. To protect your children. I felt like I failed as a father when I looked down at my son’s lifeless body and knew that I didn’t protect him. That I couldn’t protect him. That I couldn’t bring him back. The doctor looked at me as I felt like I was about to faint. He immediately told the nurse to grab a chair and he all but shoved me down into it. I’ve never cried like that before. Everytime I think about my son laying there I remember how I described it to my wife who, thankfully, couldn’t see because of how she was laying in bed. I told her it was the most horrifically beautiful thing I have ever seen. On one hand, you are beside yourself with grief. On the other hand, that’s my little buddy laying there.
Haley cleaned Trapper up and put him in a beautiful little gown that some very sweet lady had made. Annie got to hold him. I got to hold him. I remember how his forehead felt against my lips. I started whispering to him. I told him about who he was named after. I told him to listen to his great grandparents in heaven and do what they say. I told him how much I loved him. I told him to watch over his big sister and his mommy. I told him how much they love him too. I told him I would see him soon.
His gown ended up being his baptismal gown as a father from a local Catholic church came by and did a lovely baptism for him. We had a few more days with him in the hospital and then a woman came to our room. She was going to take Carpenter’s body and have him cremated. Letting the body of my son go out of a room only knowing that he would be brought back as ashes goes against every grain in a father’s body. My whole being wanted to rebel against the thought. But, a few days later, the woman came to our house and gave us a little box with his ashes in it.
We had a burial service a few weeks later where we buried the ashes at the Catholic church Annie and I attend. All of our family and a few of our friends came. I will never forget how heavy that shovel felt when I took the dirt out of the hole. To this day when I look at that shovel, it feels like I’ve been kicked in the gut. Nicole actually went into early labor and gave birth to Eleanor that day. I am so grateful she made it ok. What a cute little thing she is too. What a testament to what a great friend and brother Zachary Linville Huffman is. His daughter was being born and he still came to our son’s funeral. Zack, if you ever read this, I love you and will always be there for you if you ever need me.
We kept some of Carpenter’s ashes. Anyone who knows me knows that the Cleveland Indians are not just some baseball team a guy roots for to me. They are a way of life. They are part of me. I am more than just some fan. I was born in Cleveland and I feel like it is my birthright and privilege to pull for the Tribe. I am going to my first ever Indians game in about a month. I looked at Annie with more determination than I think I’ve ever had about something and told her “I don’t care if I am taken out in handcuffs, I will scatter some of his ashes on Jacobs Field.” After all, that is where I want to be scattered when I die. Most of all though, Trap and I will get to watch our first baseball game together. Although, he’s watching them from heaven. Every night they win, I tell Annie, “your son did it again.” Every time they lose (which is quite often) I just tell her “Carpenter must have gotten tired and went to sleep.”
I still miss Trap every day. I see his presence throughout the day. Whether it is a touching scene in a movie between father and son, a song like “Watching You” by Rodney Atkins, or, as my wife likes to see, a butterfly landing near us. She always says Carpenter sent the butterfly for us. I pray for him every night. I ask God to rest his soul and grant him peace and happiness.
I use my son’s memory as a motivational tool. Even when I’m working out, I’ll think to myself “Hey Trap? You want to help daddy for a minute?” Or I’ll imagine him watching me and being proud of me. I wish so badly that he were here with me but I know he is in a better place. I know he loves me as I love him. I go to where we buried his ashes and talk to him like I’m talking to a friend. Mostly it is about Indians baseball. But I always tell him that I love him and to never forget that. I also tell him to watch over his mommy and big sister. Then I leave him with the phrase “A Son Never Forgets.” A.S.N.F. I got that from a movie I like called Men of Honor.
I think a lot about all the things a father teaches his son and then I think of how I’m not going to get to teach Trap how to do that. My dad taught me how to build a house, how to change the oil in a car, how to shoot a gun, how to clean a fish, how to tell a joke, and how to cheer for a hopeless baseball team. He also taught me right and wrong, how to treat a lady with respect, how to thank a veteran for his service to his country, and how to be a gentleman.
Hopefully, one day, I’ll have another son. But even if I do, Carpenter will always be in my heart and everyday life. He will have a place in this family even if Annie and I have 1,000 more kids. Hopefully, someday I’ll see him again but until then, I will have to take comfort in the following sentiment from the prayer card at his funeral:
Heaven will hold you before we do and keep you safe until we come home to see you.