Even in the words spoken silently in my own mind, my thoughts of Harvey strike me as clinical. Height, weight, appearance. I can only reason that the condition of his brain, one of his doctors described it as having suffered a “hypoxic insult”, a phrase I find strangely appealing, leaves room only for speculation and in these raw moments, speculation amounts quickly to grief. The grief will come and keep coming but if I can arrange to have it arrive in measured drips and drops over time like the liquid from an IV bag, that seems preferable.
But that leaves me with facts are these:
- Harvey Richard Walker
- 8lb 13oz
- 22 1/2 inches
- Dark hair in fair quantity
- Button nose, big feet, narrow ass
- While unresponsive to light stimulation, eyes appeared dark but otherwise remained closed
Having never made a peep, the sound of his voice remains unknown as does what, if anything, he heard, felt, smelled or tasted
- Resembled his big sister
In case that he could have registered sensation, here are some things he would have experienced:
- The bright lights and general commotion of a hospital emergency room
- Tubes, wires and sensors at various levels of invasiveness
- The artificial lowering of his body temperature to forestall further organ damage
But as time passed, he would have become aquainted with his mother’s embrace, the voices of his parents, family and friends and the sensation of tears from his father’s eyes striking his cheek. Soon enough, he would have felt the relief of being disconencted, bit by bit from machines and the soapy warmth of his first bath. Not long after that he would have been comforted by being bundled in a clean blanket, held in his parent’s arms while being serenaded with lullabies. And finally, as his breathing tube was gently removed, he would have known the death we all hope for: peaceful, while sleeping and surrounded by love.
After donating his heart and eyes, Harvey’s cremated remains sit in a small tin in his family’s apartment, where we will, with time, figure out what to do with them as we will figure out what to do with our memories of and feelings about him.
Harvey has joined the large circle of babies whose lives ended before they would begin. Monica and I have joined the larger circle of parents left bereft by their loss. And you all have joined the still larger circle of those who, through thoughts and prayers, love and food, assitance and favors, and generosity of all descriptoin, help us to turn grief to hope and bitterness to gratitude.
There is a sentiment that, before having this experience I would have shuddered to even entertain. As the truth of our situation settled upon us, I struggled to keep it in the dark corners of my mind. It seemed to withering to comprehend. Too existential to do anything but harm. Of course, as banished thoughts all eventually do, it kicked it’s way into the light of my consciousness and, to my relief, I discovered it was all right. That it had no purchase on reality and was therefore harmless. So harmless that I can speak it out loud: “What a waste.””All for nothing.”
But if it is true for Harvey, it is true for all of us. Intellectually, we know that. In the grand scheme, our several decades are no more or less significant than his several hours.
Spiritually, or at least in the medium that transcends intellect, I cannot say why I do not fear those thoughts. Of course, in illuminating matters of the soul or spirit, words never have been suited to the task. Feelings are the things here, or lack thereof.
As my son felt no cold, nor discomfort, not pain, so too I feel no fear of those thoughts. I only feel what remains when fear is gone and if there are words for that, they are warmth, tenderness and love.
-Danny Walker, Harvey’s dad
Read by him at Harvey’s memorial service
Sunday, May 5th, 2013
Regents Center, Portland, OR