Bump and I met our next-door neighbors at an afternoon barbeque, two weeks before we moved in. She was heavily pregnant and he was chasing around two little boys, aged three and one and a half. The little guys stopped running long enough to grin at us, showcasing their gleefully stained faces and shirts. I think they were wearing ice cream, or maybe it was juice, and no one cared. They were happily sticky and very sweet, inside and out. We remarked that their children would be spaced exactly like ours, only their boys would be a year younger.
The neighbors' closing date was two weeks after ours, and they had to schedule their move around the baby's delivery. They knew the birth would be complicated - the baby had a heart defect.
We had just bought a house and moved, and we were exhausted. A year earlier, we had a baby within days of moving, and it nearly swamped us. The thought of doing all those things together made us weep. The additional stress of a sick baby was unfathomable. We marveled at their strength. Their burden.
Their boys bounded over to splash in our wading pool, and we celebrated the baby's successful surgery. While our children laughed on the playground, I was told of a small setback - the baby required the post-op ventilator for longer than expected. As Lumpyhead and Lula traded backyard toys with the boys, their au pair relayed that the baby was having good days and bad days.
The neighbor was always upbeat. Serious surgery, yes, but the baby had excellent doctors. He was cheery and optimistic.
His wife was more reserved. "How are things?" I would inquire quietly. "Okay," she would shrug with a smile, after a small pause. I backed off, never pressing, but you can bet I milked that au pair and the mother-in-law for everything they would spill. How is the baby? How are they doing? Do they need anything? What can we do?
I saw the neighbor walk by with her older boys in the stroller one day, and I envied her body type. She is one of those naturally thin people - I remember how slender her arms and neck were when she was eight months pregnant - and six weeks after delivery, she didn't have a speck of baby weight. "Genetic good fortune," I muttered to myself. Guiltily, I later realized her movie star weight loss could be due to, you know, STRESS. (Way to go, Insensitive Dumbass.)
Lumpyhead and Lula were psyched when the neighbor got us into the Toy Story double feature. But as he delivered the tickets, he was more restrained about his infant son's condition. The baby had contracted an infection, and the ongoing steroid treatment wasn't effective. His heart was in great shape, but the rest of his organs were struggling.
Bump saw the neighbor and his boys at the movie on Saturday, along with others from the neighborhood with whom the neighbor had shared tickets. They waved and exchanged pleasantries, and an ill-timed fire alarm gave them a chance to chat.
We have so much in common with these people: parenting small children, living in a new neighborhood, anticipating kindergarten in the near future. We like them. We are them.
The baby died on Sunday. He never came home to his family's beautiful new house.
I am heartbroken.
I am lucky.
I am grateful.
But today? I am mostly heartbroken.