Sure, it’s the title of a Nicholas Sparks book (that I haven’t read) and subsequent movie (that I haven’t seen), but it is also how it felt making the empty drive from my parents’ place back to our home. People often speak of empty arms following infant loss, though they overlook the empty bellies. This drive was originally supposed to take place after a baby shower and a babymoon trip to Colorado. I was supposed to be 34 weeks pregnant on this drive with a belly full of kicking baby, but instead I was holding a box. My belly was empty, and my arms reminded me why.
Both of us were crying as we pulled out of my parents’ driveway; taking an extra long stop at the intersection before turning down the road and onto the highway. Not long after we left, Nick pointed out that it was 9:26 am; we were on the road exactly one week after Rayna was delivered. We survived the first seven days!
We opted to take a different route back home than our normal, shorter route. We wanted to keep our surreal bubble intact for as long as possible. The long route took us through the state capitol, so we toured the building and walked in parts of the city. We ate Chick-fil-a for lunch on the drive.
Often our drives involve a lot of changing the radio station. Too much of the newest Taylor Swift song? Seek. Nickelback? Seek. Commercial break? Seek. This time was different. Before we even arrived at my parents’ on the drive down, when life was still normal and Rayna was still kicking, we were listening to a radio station that stayed in range for a long time. It was still on when we left the hospital without our daughter. We couldn’t change it. Ten days earlier we would have changed the station when “The Last Ride” played for the seventeenth time. On this day we turned up the music when we heard the first notes of the piano melody. I would try to sing along, It’s been a long week, without you my girl, but choked up and couldn’t make it through. Yet even through the tears I found comfort in the words, in hearing the song playing at the time I needed it most. I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again. This station stayed on until it was clearly gone, only crackles left. We both cried. About a radio station. I think we left the radio off after that.
More tears were shed when we crossed over the border, ever closer to our house and further from our safe bubble. We have a song we sing when we drive into a new state, and even through our tears we were able to sing this song and told Rayna about the song and her mommy and daddy’s silly little habits.
I had a feeling of dread the entire drive home. What would it be like to go home? To see our neighbors? To re-enter real life? What would it be like to see the nursery we had begun to set up? We wondered if we would need to mow the lawn, buy groceries, water the plants? Yet, all of those things felt like way too much. The tears and stress of the past week, and the drive, left us feeling worn.
Nick is consistently good at remembering sentimental things, and was great to find meaningful moments during our drive. We drove past the home we rented when we were first married, to show Rayna. We had so many plans to share special places around our city with our future children—with Rayna—such as driving past this apartment or walking around the place we were married. We knew she wasn’t really with us, that what we had were merely remains of her physical self, but it was comforting to talk to her, to tell her about our beginnings.
Driving past our first home also meant we were only minutes away from the home we purchased with our future in mind. It took mental energy to remember to breathe, I was crying and hyperventilating, and then catching my breath for a moment before it all started again. It was worse when we turned the final corner onto our street, and I clutched her box even tighter to my arms. We pulled into our driveway and both sat in the car for several minutes before finding the courage to move toward the front door.
Then, we gathered our courage and crossed the threshold with Rayna’s box. We now had Rayna home.