The Anguish of Seeing into the Future

Torment has taken up residence in a part of my soul.  Most of me is OK.  Life does go on.  The people around me would probably describe me as a bit sad, distracted, able to come out of it, and then returning, in quiet to this terrible place of loss, and also of confusion…. the work of “framing” the experience of Tuni’s brief life and her death.  And then, central to my anguish, is The Dream.

The canal

The Canal

This is the canal I saw in my dream the night of 10 August 2013.  The photograph is taken from the window of the Operating Theatre during her surgery on 13 August 2013.

I dreamed there was a canal in front of me.  It was night.  On the other side, dead babies were being put into this canal one after another, floating downstream in the murky water.  I was standing on this side, holding Tuni in my arms. Seema was with me and   I was screaming and screaming, “No, not my baby.  She is different!  She is different!”  My baby would not be put into that canal! I can still feel and hear myself screaming.  I’ve not stopped screaming from the center of my being.  I can’t.

Monday 12th August we admitted Tuni and took her to her room.  I looked out the window, and there was a canal, but not exactly like the dream…. Still, I was upset.  Yes, I thought of taking her out…. I spent the afternoon with her.  I’d hoped for some “quality time” with her but she slept most of the day.  I guess it’s what she needed. I lay next to her and took pictures of us with my phone.  It was a time of just being in the present, and the peace of being with a sleeping child.

Tuni sleeping the day before surgery

Tuni sleeping the day before surgery

She woke in time for me to feed her.

Feeding Tuni

Feeding Tuni

In the evening the massis she most enjoys came to replace me.   They played most of the night and in the early morning Tuni fell asleep.  She was still asleep when I met up with her in the pre-op room.

I had asked the surgeon if I could watch the surgery and he kindly agreed.  In the morning he met me in the pre-op room and then took me around, showed me the cardiac icu (It has a different name there) and introduced me to doctors in the lounge.  I changed out of my sari and into scrubs… hair covering, and mask.  I felt right at home.

Back in "scrubs" after many years

Back in “scrubs” after many years

Surgery went well for the first hour.  The shunt was in place and they were starting to close.   I was about to sms downstairs to Seema and the rest of Shishur Sevay  that I’d be down soon, when suddenly her oxygen concentration fell….. I sensed everyone in the room was shocked to see the numbers on the screen fall. I felt like the hand of fate had just gripped the surgeon, frozen us in the space and time of the dream,  It seemed like the moment one problem seemed resolved, there was another.  The shunt developed a kink, a blood clot was found, even though the heparin had been given.  Her heart stopped and they got it going again.   Over the next five hours they put her on heart lung machine, pacemakers….. I’m not sure what else.  It was quiet and the doctors talked in Bengali,  I was just grateful to be there, but also frozen in re-living the dream.

I was spending most of my time at her head, looking over the drapes, and just resting my hand on her forehead.  There were staff there who wanted me out and tried some ploys I resisted…. but then finally another surgeon insisted I break for lunch, as they had brought lunch to the floor for me.   I dutifully sat in the Doctor’s Lounge and ate the sandwich and pretended I was in a normal situation in a normal life. Once back in the OT  I put my hand on her forehead.  It felt pasty; she was alive but her spirit was no longer there.  I stood there silently screaming to the universe in protest.

I went to the window of the OT and saw the canal, the one I’d seen in my dream.  I took pictures of the canal, and the reflections of my bangles.  I took pictures  and silently went on screaming.   In the dream I’d screamed that my baby was different, so that was enough to me to believe that maybe she was close to death but hadn’t really died.  And that is how it played out over the next 16 hours.

Tuni went to the cardiac unit and we came home around six pm.  About two hours later the anesthesia dept called and said Tuni had arrested, and they were working on her.  Seema and I, and her son rushed off back to the hospital, about 45 minutes away.  In the taxi we talked about the possibility of her death.  In the Hindu tradition, children up to five are buried, not cremated.  We arrived to find that she was now doing better, her heart going on its own.   We came home, and the next call was at 7 am the next morning.  They were working on her again but didn’t think they would be successful.  They said to come in.  Tuni lay there with an ever so slight smile on her face.  I just held her and cried and cried, as I have so often since she died, as I cry now as I write about this.

Holding Tuni after she died

Holding Tuni after she died

The conflict in the dream about where she would be buried played out in reality.  The hospital and everyone else told Seema that the place to go was the burial ground in Topsia.  I can’t explain why, but my baby was NOT going to be buried in Topsia.  I don’t like the area.  I think Seema thought me quite mad, as I kept insisting I’d heard about a Hindu burial ground on the road the girls take to school each day. I was sitting in the car, Tuni’s body in my arms, determined that she was not going to Topsia.  However it was Jojo, Seema’s son who found the Hindu burial ground near us.  I’ve written about it in an earlier post.  The next day, when Shanti Devi came in the morning she talked about the Topsia burial ground, and the wild animals who inhabit and desecrate it.  I just knew….. sometimes I just know.

I miss Tuni terribly.  In the Hindu tradition I’m supposed to let her go, so she can travel unhindered by ties pulling her back.  I’m not doing very well at that.  I pray for her safe journey while I also call for her to be back in my arms.  I tell myself I did everything I could, but I still feel inside I let her down, as I’m sure every parent feels when a child dies.  I had a bit of “reality check” as I was looking through pictures to use for this post.  This one is from the OT.

Tuni in the Operating Theater,

Tuni in the Operating Theatre.

I think I’ve resolved that I did all that I could.  It’s hard to look at that picture and not feel I did what I could, and so did everyone else who tried.

I decided to post my favorite picture of Tuni.

Tuni with her sisters, right at home at Shishur Sevay.

Tuni with her sisters, right at home at Shishur Sevay.

I think about her a lot.  I ponder all the obvious questions about destiny and fate.  She was an incredible light that filled us, all of us who knew her, all of us who got to know about her.  Suravi  Changlani, who interned at Shishur Sevay wrote a beautiful tribute to Tuni.

Suravi's Trubute to Tuni

Suravi’s Trubute to Tuni

Dreams such as this one are not new to me.  When I was delivering babies I would sometimes have dreams about the baby’s condition.   I published an article about my dreams in Mothering Magazine, sometime around 1980.    I once dreamed that I went to the home of a patient of mine in labor and there were three chickens wandering around in the kitchen.  I’d never been in her home.  When I went there later in the day because she had gone into labor, there were three wishbones on the kitchen window sill.  But I’ve also had times of just knowing about things that would happen.

Looking at the pictures for this post, and thinking about the last few days of her life, I think now that the dream came from her.  She needed to tell me.  She needed to let me know, for her sake, for her not to feel so alone as she faced death.  She needed me to be her mother.  She always knew her life would be short.   I’m someone that babies can talk to when I’m asleep and I hear what they are saying and I remember.  She needed a mommy to tell.  Tuni needed me to bury her in a safe place.  Somehow that must have mattered to her.  She let me know.  I listened and did as I was asked.

I’ll close this post with a quote from my report to the Child Welfare Committee,

“Tuni would not have survived without surgery, so she had a chance at life here. We take comfort that this child once tossed away in the bushes found love and family at Shishur Sevay.  While her medical chart in Asansol read “Baby Unknown” her chart at Medica Superspecialty Hospital read “Tuni Harrison.”  She died with a name, with a mother, sisters, aunts, uncles, and with dignity.  May all this help her on her journey back to the Gods.”

Sometimes I just can’t stop crying.  I miss her so much.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. arundebnath
    Sep 23, 2013 @ 02:01:00

    Mother Michelle
    I did cry for the loss of Toni for the most part of your wonderful post on Toni’s life and death. It’s easy for me to console you in saying, ‘don’t cry’ mother, but cry you will. Still I would say to a mother’s heart, don’t cry as death is not the end of the story. It’s just the beginning of another [unknown] story. This is nothing to do with incarnation or other Hindu beliefs but it’s a scientifically proved fallacy accepted by the physicists world over. This is how our world was born with the death and destruction of unknown number of starts following the Big Bang. It may not be easy for the mere mortals to find consolation in this universal truth of life and death and creation of something else at the end of life. But you can be certain :
    Little Toni
    However Little she was
    However short a life
    Little Toni lived
    Little Toni WILL
    Make a Little contribution
    In the building of
    Something else
    Like our
    Little Planet Earth
    May not so Little with
    Little Toni’s

    Love to Mother Michelle for her love for others.


    • Dr. Michelle Harrison
      Sep 23, 2013 @ 19:28:48

      Arun Dear, I am always so happy for your comments. I totally agree with your universal truth. She is/was known to me, and we will be together again. I just miss her being here with me. Writing this post finally left me feeling I did carry out what she needed. She was not expecting me to save her life. Her entering my dreams was to say what she needed, and I did that well. I’d thought the issue of her burial was just a side issue, but it was central, her death with dignity, her funeral with love and dignity, and even her burial in a protected place. It’s hard to love so much….. but I wouldn’t want to be any other way. I couldn’t anyway… just how I am. Come visit soon! Michelle

      On Mon, Sep 23, 2013 at 2:01 AM, Shishur Sevay


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September 2013
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