COMMENTARY: A year marred by personal tragedy

Michael Sudhalter

Michael Sudhalter

Two thousand and fifteen was supposed to be one of the greatest years of my life.

And up until the afternoon of Nov. 18, it had lived up to that billing.

This was my first full year as editor of the Fort Bend Star, and I was proud of the accomplishments that we were achieving in the community.

My wife and I were married on April 11 in front of a small but festive group of friends and family near Weimar, Texas.

A couple weeks later, we tallied 1,200 miles in a Volkswagen convertible — experiencing a great deal from the cities, beaches and mountains of California in seven days.

By early summer, we started thinking about baby names for our first child, and a visit to the southern Louisiana town of St. Martinville proved to be helpful.

Just as we were pulling up to the legendary Evangeline Oak tree, a song named “Evangeline” came on the radio.

It was a sign!

My wife and I decided that if we had a baby girl, we’d name her Evangeline and call her “Evie”.

By early July, we discovered that we were going to have a child in March 2016.

We were both so excited with each and every medical visit and appointment.

The most memorable one was the revelation of the gender. The process took a little longer than we thought, but the ultrasound ultimately revealed that we’d be having a little Evie Sudhalter.

Soon-to-be grandparents and other relatives sent baby outfits and planned baby showers, while we started buying furniture and converting our guest room to Evie’s Room.

The afternoon of Nov. 18 was supposed to be another routine appointment in a long line of them. This one was an Anatomy Scan.

But our lives changed forever when the doctor entered the room and told us the shocking news five months into our pregnancy.

He informed us that Evie didn’t have a heartbeat.

Our own hearts sank to the floor, and as he gave us a few moments of privacy, I didn’t know what to say or do to comfort my wife.

So, I just held her as we both cried.

Soon, the doctor returned and informed us that we’d have to return to the hospital later that day and go through the labor process to deliver a baby that would be stillborn.

One of the most challenging parts was arriving at the maternity ward seeing families who were about to have a baby, and knowing that we weren’t going to have ours.

It was difficult to watch my wife in so much pain — both emotionally and physically.

When Evie was delivered, the nurses brought her into an adjacent room and asked us if we wanted to see her.

I debated internally over whether I should. On one hand, a visual would make the tragedy that much more difficult to overcome.

Ultimately, I decided to enter the room. I couldn’t have done it without the support of my mother-in-law, who accompanied me.

I was able to hold Evie for the first — and last time.

You could see one of her eyes and some facial features, along with some very tiny feet.

It was one of the most difficult moments of my life, but as I told Evie of our hopes and dreams — and now sorrows — for her, it was a strange juxtaposition of both wanting the moment to end and dreading the moment’s conclusion.

So, before leaving the room, I held my daughter and took 18 consecutive deep breathes. The number 18 is significant in the Jewish faith in which I was raised.

Arriving home was not easy. We knew it would be difficult to enter Evie’s room. Both of us broke down crying while looking through a small box the hospital provided us — footprints, photos, hospital bracelets.

The outpouring of support from friends, family and work colleagues was nothing short of amazing.

One of my wife’s friends organized a schedule for our circle of friends to pick a day and deliver a homemade meal and provide some much-needed social interaction, and a caring ear.

Prior to learning the tragic news, my wife and I had planned a Thanksgiving road trip to visit my parents in the Midwest.

Celebrating Turkey Day wasn’t easy, but kudos to my parents, who drove more than 11 hours to be there for us in our time of need.

We found out that a rare virus was the cause of our baby’s death. Doctors told us that we’re likely to have a successful pregnancy when we decide to try again.

But nothing can bring Evie back, and she will always be our first child.

In the future, when people ask us how many children we have, Evie will always be included in that number.

I hope that by sharing our tragedy, we can let parents who have experienced similar situations, to know that they’re not alone.

We have been able to focus on living our lives, but the pain is there and always be.

While nothing can take that pain away, staying active, finding positive distractions and being social makes daily life a lot easier.

For months my wife unsuccessfully requested that we add a dog to our family.

I was opposed to it for a long time, but we discussed the matter during our hospital stay.

When we visited the animal shelter, I saw her smile for the first time since the tragedy, and the addition of Flutie (yes, named after the 1984 Heisman Trophy winner) has been the best thing for us emotionally right now.

One of the biggest lessons that I take away from this tragedy is to never take anything for granted.

Also, to try and always be nice to people. You never know that others may be going through at any specific time.

I want to dedicate the rest of my life to being a person that my daughter would have been proud to call “dad.”

Here’s hoping for sunnier days ahead in 2016.

3 Comments for “COMMENTARY: A year marred by personal tragedy”

  1. Charles Adaway

    Michael I am sorry to hear about your loss.

  2. My heart goes out to you.

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