It was a little after 4am in Las Vegas on January 22nd, 2011. A few of us were sharing laughs about the night we had just experienced and waiting for our room service in the lounge area of our 2500 square foot suite at The Encore. In the previous 24 hours I had flown in a private jet, got picked up by limos on the tarmac, watched my friend win more money in an hour than I make in a year, and enjoyed VIP bottle service at XS. It was as if I was living in a dream enjoying a lifestyle well beyond my means. Then my phone rang and my life changed forever.
(My initial reaction was that of excitement. I figured Char had awoken a little early and asked Vanessa if he could call me. I looked at the caller id and see it’s my Mom. My stomach hit the floor.)
“Mom, why are you calling me?”
“Bry, Charlie is sick. Vanessa is with him at the hospital. He’s been having seizures and they can’t get them to stop. You need to come home.”
I don’t remember too much after hearing those words. I remember breaking down in the shower. The brevity of the situation crashing down upon me as I tried to digest what the hell was happening back in Chicago. I tried to tell my friends to stay and that I’d find a commercial flight home. They would have none of that. I was in trouble. I needed help. And there was no way a single one of them would let me go it alone. (I have the best friends a guy could ask for. And I love all of you. Thank you for all you’ve done and continue to do.) I finally got a hold of Vanessa. I could hear the desperation in her voice. “He’s coded twice. They’re giving him a spinal tap. Please get here as fast as you can.”
We had to stop twice on the way back to refuel. I was able to get scattered reports from family members about Charlie- none of which had good news or encouraging updates. Just a bunch of unanswered questions, fear, and tears. When I finally got to the hospital, Charlie was getting a MRI so I was unable to see him. They told us to wait up in the PICU and that he’d be up there in a little bit. I couldn’t wait in the room so I stood by the elevator and waited to see my son.
I will NEVER forget the moment his bed came out of the elevator. “That is not my son,” I said to no one in particular but to everyone around me.
The nurses and doctors, most of whom are Vanessa’s friends and colleagues, started sobbing when I said that b/c they knew too. The lifeless body with empty eyes on that bed was not my Charlie. It was a body that once hosted the beautiful spirit of my son. Dr. Belmonte approached me with tears filling his already red and puffy eyes. I asked him, “If he lives, will it be in a vegetative state?” Frank –I’m referring to Dr. Belmonte as Frank here b/c it was Frank, not Dr. Belmonte, that answered my question- looked me dead in the eye and answered me as a friend, fellow father, and man. “Yes. It is very likely that he will be in a vegetative state.”
I knew it was over the instant I saw Charlie on that bed. There was never a glimmer of hope for me. I could tell just by looking at him. I couldn’t feel the energy or aura that defined Charlie. We sat by his bed all day and night. Family and friends that were visiting were telling me to hold out hope and that there was still a chance he’d come around but I knew they were either trying to make me feel better, delusional, or both. The next morning they did more tests on his body. I remember the doctor pushing so hard on his abdomen that I got angry b/c I thought he was hurting him. Charlie didn’t flinch. (I’m told he didn’t flinch when he received the spinal tap either. This haunts the doctor who performed the spinal tap to this day.) They did more tests desperately seeking some sort of reaction. All produced the result I knew they would. Completely brain dead. They told us we could keep him on the machines but there was no chance of a recovery. We had to make a decision no parent should ever have to make.
Charlie officially died the instant we turned off life support on January 23rd, 2011 but in my eyes he was dead before I even got to the hospital the day before. That was not my son hooked up to those machines. That was Charlie’s body but that was not my son. Vanessa and I were allowed as much time as we wanted to be with Charlie. We stayed with him for hours but it felt like 30 seconds. We held him. We read to him. We washed him. I remember picking him up and holding him with his arms draped around my shoulders and trying to squeeze the life back into him as I uncontrollably sobbed. I also vividly remember the big bump on the back of his head near his neck. It’s where his skull cracked from the pressure of his brain exploding. A while later we finally had to say our goodbye and left the room where I literally felt my son die in our arms. I have not been the same since.
That is not my Daddy.
My Daddy isn’t crippled by guilt. Not a second goes by where he doesn’t beat himself up for not being home the one morning I needed him most. My Daddy doesn’t get anxious going to work, hanging out with friends and family, or meeting new people. He never knew what anxiety felt like until January 23, 2011. Now he can’t walk 10 steps without thinking if the person who just passed him notices the pain in his eyes. My Daddy isn’t afraid to love deeply and without fear of loss. He never feared anything. Now he checks on Danny in the middle of the night to make sure he’s breathing.
Nope. The man you see hiding behind the shaggy hair, scraggly beard, and sunken eyes is not my Daddy. He’s a man wounded and forever changed by losing me. He’s a man that cherishes my memory and agonizes over my spirit and life being trivialized or forgotten. He’s a man that can’t look at his wife without being absolutely crushed by the fact she had to experience that fateful morning alone. He’s a man that hates himself with an unforgiving and unquantifiable intensity because he was not there to help me. Because of this hatred he is sometimes blinded from all of the good still left in his life. The man you see will never be the man that was my Daddy again. . . but he’s promised me to try to let his love flow freely and deeply. It’s going to be extremely difficult but he’s going to will himself to do it. He can’t give up. He won’t give up. He’s going to do it for Vanessa. He’s going to do it for Danny. He’s going to do it for my new sibling on the way. He’s going to do it for me. THAT is my Daddy and it’s why I love him.
Here is a video of Charlie when he was 20 months. I miss him so much.