It’s quieter here now. Don’t get me wrong – our house is still in a constant state of noise and chaos. But there’s a particular brand of mischief, a little musical belly laugh, a silly face, a giant bear hug from tiny arms – all missing. It’s the kind of absence that’s tangible. Jude was only here for two years, three months, and twenty days, but his impact on our family can be felt right down to our toes. His death has shaken us to our cores.
Two years, three months, and twenty days is not enough for anyone. Long before any of our kids were here Craig and I talked about our somedays, and how we couldn’t wait to meet our family and see who they’d all turn out to be. Every day we were amazed by the size and originality of the personalities wrapped up in those tiny bodies, and we couldn’t wait for all of it. And then in the blink of an eye, Jude was gone. Just gone. Minor fever, cleared up with Tylenol, happy, laughing self, giggling as he went down for a nap, and gone. He didn’t get to grow up and decide who he wanted to be. We don’t get to watch him and help him along the way. There was no time for him to figure out what he wanted to do with his time here, to find his own adventures, to fall madly in love with anyone or anything beyond his own family. (But make no mistake – that little boy loved and was loved by his family with incredible strength.)
For months after he left us we walked around in a fog of uncertainty, with no idea what had happened, and no guarantee we’d ever have an answer. I spent my time endlessly replaying that day and trying to figure out what had happened, wondering if I could have done anything differently, calling and messaging friends with every terrifying ‘what if’ that came into my head while those wonderful friends and the medical experts we were in touch with listened and assured me that there was nothing we could have changed. It just happened, and no one knew why, and no one could have predicted it. We tried to make peace with the confusion until, on August 24th, we finally had an answer. Jude had died from influenza B. And there it was. The anger that hadn’t come when we had no idea what happened. The flu. THE FLU. He was vaccinated. We kept them home when they were sick or when we knew they’d be around someone else with flu-like symptoms. We did all the things we were supposed to do and he died anyway, and I felt an anger at the situation like I’d never felt over anything before in my life. What a stupid, pointless, preventable thing to die from. What a waste of a beautiful little person who we’d waited for and loved with every fibre of our beings.
But the anger wasn’t productive, and it wasn’t going to help anyone. I sat with it for a couple days while we made sense of what we had learned, and we started asking questions and talking to experts. We held off sharing this new information while we tried to understand exactly what had gone wrong. We knew people would have questions, because we had a lot of questions, and we wanted to make sure we knew what we were talking about before opening our mouths. With a case like this we knew reactions could go several ways, and we wanted to be able to talk about it with people in a way that would hopefully make this situation better for everyone in the future. Almost two full months later, we still aren’t sure we have it right, but flu season is here and we want to tell you what happened, and we want you to know why, and we want to help you prevent this in your own home and community to the best of your ability. There are hours of that day that I’m never going to be able to talk about. They are too raw, too horrifying, too desperate. I would give anything to never have had that experience. But I have, and now I’ll do anything I can to prevent someone else from going through it. So here we are, and I hope we can help someone this year. We’ll never know if there’s any impact, but we need to try. I wish someone had run a campaign like this last year. I wish someone had said something that convinced one more person to get their flu shot, one more person to stay home from work, one more person to keep their sick child home from kindergarten. One person in the chain that brought the flu to my home to have made a different choice, so we could still have Jude. We can’t have that, but maybe we can give that to someone else.
Jude’s flu shot failed him. We gave him every protection we could and it wasn’t enough. It’s a painful truth to swallow, but it’s the reality of influenza. It changes every year, meaning that every year’s vaccine is a best guess based on global influenza patterns. We know it isn’t perfect, but whatever they can give us can offer at least some protection. While we fell in the unfortunate side of the flu shot statistics last year, a lot of people were kept safe because of vaccination, and we’re grateful for that. Without vaccination there would be so many more stories like ours right now.
Jude didn’t die because he wasn’t vaccinated. He died because the overall vaccination rate is low, and as a society we have a very casual attitude towards the flu. We don’t really get how serious it can be, and how great our impact might be on the people around us. It happens all the time – a fever is treated with Tylenol and the day goes on. But the problem is that a fever indicates that the body is fighting something, and masking the fever doesn’t stop you from spreading that something to people around you. And so you go to work. Or your child goes to school. And five, ten more people get it. And they take it home, and they may have a baby at home, a pregnant woman, an older relative, someone with compromised immunity. Someone fighting cancer, someone unable to get the shot, at home and more vulnerable and more likely to suffer more severe symptoms.
More likely to die.
How was this possible?
So where does that leave us now? It seems like an impossible situation. Vaccination rates are too low and we need much better participation to achieve herd immunity. More people need to get the shot, and we’re hoping that people can see the potential impact their own shot could have for someone else. People need to stay home when they’re sick. I know how insanely difficult that can be. I’ve needed that pay. I’ve had one of those bosses that gave me a hard time. But we’re hoping to show people how quickly one sick person can become a classroom or a workplace full of sick people, and how quickly those people can pass it on to someone much more vulnerable. If one person had made a different choice. One person.
There might still be feet in those little boots. There might still be a head in that lion hat, happily roaring at every dandelion. Arms wrapped around that penguin, and throwing that Mickey Mouse at his brother.
It seems impossible, and we know that we’ll never know if any of this makes a difference, but we have to try in the hopes that we might save another family from being in our shoes down the road. Maybe one more person gets the shot that makes a difference, stays home when they’re sick, keeps someone more at risk than themselves away from that risk. Maybe.
Jude isn’t here anymore, and there’s nothing more we can do for him than this. We will continue to love him and tell his story. We will talk about the pointless reason he was taken from us, and hope that maybe something we do now will prevent this for someone else. We are all within a degree of separation from people who are more vulnerable to infectious diseases. I hope that after reading through this site you’ll find another way you can help to protect those people around you, and the people they love. One change could save a life like Jude’s. Help us.
When you get your flu shot this year, share it. Post it to Instagram and Facebook and Twitter and Snapchat. Tag it with #forjudeforeveryone and #flushot, and help us spread the word. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram. Talk about the flu. Ask people around you to have the shot if someone around you is more vulnerable. Stay home if you’re sick. Stay home. Talk. Talk loudly and help us change the conversation about this. It takes all of us to make this better. Remind people that you’ve done your part to keep your community healthier. Tell people about the people in your life who are at higher risk. Do it for them. Do it for the people you don’t know. Do it for the little kid whose shot might fail.
For Jude. For Everyone.
Let’s talk about the flu.