Wednesday, January 7, 2015

going before the judge

You know how there are these things in life you have to do, but you really don't want to do them?  Jury duty ranks pretty high on that list for me.  I've been a registered voter since I was 18 years old, so that means I've been in the jury duty selection pot for a good 15 years.  And living in Baltimore City there are plenty of opportunities to get called for duty.

In fact, I think I've been called pretty much once a year, every year, on the dot.

Sometimes I have a valid excuse for not being able to go.  For a few years I was able to milk that whole "I'm a college student and can't miss class" excuse.  Then I was out in the real world and had to suck it up, buttercup, and attend.  And there is NOTHING fun about jury duty.

Last year I was summoned for duty on May 2nd.  I remember getting the summons in the mail and thinking, "jackpot! I'll be excused this year!"  I was mid-way through a rocky pregnancy and had a legitimate reason not to attend. I even had an appointment on April 30th, and my doctor would've gladly written the note to excuse me from duty.

But I never made it to my appointment on April 30th.  Reece was born and died that morning.  

So naturally two days later, the furthest thing from my mind was jury duty, or the fact that I was missing it.

I'm sure at some point I received a letter scolding me for my non-attendance, and directing me on the next steps.  I'm also sure I completely disregarded that letter. That month was a bit of a blur.  At some point over the summer I received another letter, this one a little more reprimanding...I needed to call the Jury Commissioner's Office AT ONCE or there would be major consequences.

Here's the thing.  It's a shitty shitty shitty thing to have your baby die (putting it mildly, obvs).  But all of the "extra" things that you have to take care of, after the fact, are excruciating.  Having to retell the story, that your baby died, to a stranger, over and over and over again, is maddening.

And I'm sure you're thinking, "well, you don't have to do that often, right? Surely there can't be THAT many messups,..." you would unfortunately be sadly mistaken.

Four weeks after Reece died I received a letter in the mail from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene congratulating me on the birth of my baby, but scolding me for not have his state required hearing test completed.

Had to call and tell them my baby died.  

"We are very very sorry for your loss, Ms. Mirjafary."

Yep, so am I.

Two months later I received an ambulance bill for $400.  It was addressed to "Newborn Mirjafary."  Apparently my 0.5 mile ambulance ride from my home to the hospital was covered by insurance, but Reece was considered a separate patient, and his ride was not covered.  They were attempting to charge me for it.

Had to call and tell them my baby died. 

"We are very very sorry for your loss, Ms. Mirjafary."

Not as sorry as I am, but thank you.

A month later I received a packet from my insurance company titled, "Welcoming your new addition!"  It contained instructions directing me on how to add my new baby to my insurance.  It seems they were very concerned that I had not yet done so, since they had received claims showing that he had been born but I had not yet taken the appropriate steps to have him covered.

Had to call and tell them my baby died. 

"We are very very sorry for your loss, Ms. Mirjafary."

Yep, seems as if I've heard this before.

The examples could go on and on.  And this is just the "official" stuff.  The things that if you don't correct, you will be billed for, or reprimanded via letter AGAIN.  The things that have dire consequences if you don't handle it.  Which feels impossible after losing a baby, because I mostly felt like I couldn't even handle daily LIFE, let alone all the extra responsibilities that go along with it.

Like jury duty.

So one day back in the summer, I geared myself up for the phone call to the Jury Commissioner's Office.  The kicker is, you have to do these heart wrenching tasks when you're having a "good" day, because if you attempt to do them on a "bad" day, you won't make it through the phone call. I know this from experience.

I called.

"Jury Commissioner's Office," a woman answered.

I started, "Hi there, I'm calling because I missed jury duty back in May.  I had a medical event occur which prohibited me from attending, and I'd like to try to reschedule for a new date"

"Do you have documentation that you were in the hospital?"

"Yes, I do have documentation.  But I wasn't in the hospital on the day I was supposed to serve, I was in the hospital on April thir-"

"Ma'am, you will need documentation that you were unable to attend THAT DAY.  Not the day before, not the day after, THAT DAY," she interrupted.

I felt my cheeks start to flush and the tears burning in my eyes, "but...I need to explain to you, I...I was in the, it was two days before..." I knew I was stammering, but the words just wouldn't come out properly.

"Ma'am you'll need to come before the judge to explain this situation..." then she started to give me more direction but I couldn't follow.  I couldn't even try to follow. I couldn't. Even. Try.

"My baby died on April 30th.  He was born prematurely and died.  So yes, while I wasn't still in the hospital on May 2nd, I couldn't make it jury duty on May 2nd.  I couldn't even make it into a grocery store on May 2nd.  I could barely dress myself on May 2nd.  Is that sufficient?  Do you need documentation of THAT?"

There I said it.

It came out way harsher than I expected.  When I have to explain this to strangers, I usually try to say it softly, drop the news delicately. No one wants to hear about babies dying. It's horrible to hear. People don't want to hear horrible things. It's upsetting. It makes them uncomfortable.

But believe me, it's always more uncomfortable for the person who had to live through the loss.  And while I didn't want to have to drop that bomb on her in quite that fashion, the last thing I needed was to be made to feel like some sort of irresponsible delinquent.

She quickly gave me the number to fax my medical records. She shot me a quick apology.

"I am very very sorry for your loss, Ms. Mirjafary."

Sigh.  Aren't we all.

Flash forward to December.  I received a letter that I needed to come in to the Jury Commissioner's Office on a specific date at a specific time.  Failure to do so could result in a fine, or imprisonment, blah blah blah.  So yesterday, that day came. While Sadira got the day off from school to enjoy the first snow of the season, I had to trek downtown amidst the snowflakes to discuss my fate with the judge.

I had only told a few people about this ahead of time.  I knew they'd be irate on my behalf that I had to go in.  I knew they'd say, "I am so sorry, this is totally not fair that you have to do this," because they did, and they're right, and I agree.  I feel the same way, but it doesn't even remotely compare to the feeling of unfairness I feel that Reece isn't here. That he didn't get to live, and I didn't get to keep my baby.  That's the ultimate unfair, these are just the knife-twisting details.

But the good news was, I felt like I could handle it.  I couldn't say that a few months ago.  Just the thought of having to tell a whole courtroom of strangers that my baby died would've sent me into a panic.  But yesterday, I felt prepared.  Not looking forward to it, by any means, but at least ABLE.  I am able to do this now.  That feels like progress.

So with a deep breath I walked into the court house, through the metal detectors, into the court room.  And waited my turn.  And when it came, I stood before the judge, with a manila envelope that contained my hospital discharge instructions, a bill from the hospital, and Reece's death certificate.  It was everything that I had faxed into them months before and I figured that would be adequate "documentation."

The judge took a look at my file and started shuffling some papers in my file that he had.  He looked up at me, like he was going to speak and then paused, shuffled through my paperwork a bit more, and then gently said, "Ms. Mirjafary, I'd like to offer you a new date."

I was initially caught off guard and wasn't sure how to respond right away, and I guess he saw that, because before I could say anything, he finished his thought, "I'm reading what you faxed over, and I assume you'd rather not have to explain to this entire courtroom, so I'd prefer to simply offer you a new court date.  No fine will be imposed.  Is that alright with you?"

I managed to say, "Yes. Thank you."

That was all I needed.  Just a small shred of compassion on a difficult day.  I collected my papers, accepted my new date, and left the courthouse to spend the rest of the snow day with Sadira.

Compassion. I'm reminded of that quote, "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."

Be kind. Be compassionate. Be hopeful.

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