What I Would’ve Told Myself on the Day of My Son’s Death

459
459
2

Dear Amanda,

Today is a day you won’t ever forget. It’s a day that will be etched in your mind for the rest of your life — a day that will change you forever. You have spent days in the hospital fighting contractions, praying to God, begging doctors to help your son live if he is born prematurely at exactly 23 weeks gestation.

Today is the day you will hold your firstborn child, Robby, a son, in your arms while he slips away from you. You will hold him, talk to him, kiss him and love on him. Then, the moment will come when you have to give him to the nurse so she can have him transferred to the mortuary. That will be the hardest thing you’ll ever do.

The pain will seem unbearable today, and I wish I could tell you the pain won’t be as intense when you wake up in a couple weeks, but I can’t tell you that. As I write this letter,  four years after his death, the pain is still just as intense as it was that day. However, I can tell you the pain won’t always be as constant. You will have days when you feel exactly like you do right now, empty and sad, but then there will be days you actually feel OK — even happy. As the months, and years go on, you will have more of those happy days. I want to tell you it’s OK to be happy. You will feel guilty at first when you smile, laugh and have fun, but always remember that Robby would want you to be happy.

Robby’s life will be short, and you will be angry at the doctors, at God and at yourself. You will eventually realize the doctors did what they could. They were just doing their jobs. They did the best that they could. You will realize it wasn’t your fault Robby died. You did everything you could. Most importantly, you will lean on God during the days, weeks, months and years after Robby’s death.

I know it’s hard, but try your best not to play the “what if” game. What if I had a different doctor? What if I had gone to a different hospital? What if this, what if that — there are so many scenarios that will run through your head, but at the end of the day, all of the “what ifs” in the world won’t matter because Robby will still be gone.

Be gentle with yourself. Grieve how you need to grieve. You will have friends and family who will stick by you through the good times and the bad, but there will also be those who aren’t strong enough to wade through the waves of hard days when they come. You will lose friends, and unfortunately, you will lose family. Some people will not understand your pain, so they will lash out and say terrible things to you and about you. People will tell you that you aren’t “getting over” Robby’s death quickly enough, but what they don’t realize is that you aren’t going to “get over” it. Robby is your son, and you will always miss him. Although you will lose some people from your life, it will be OK, because you will also make wonderful new friends along the way. You will make friends who will stand by you during your hard days and enjoy the good days with you.

Life will never be the same, and you know what? That is OK. If life were to go back to normal, it would be like saying that Robby’s life didn’t matter, and his life did matter.

Black and white family photo

Follow this journey on Plan B.

459
459
2

RELATED VIDEOS

TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

To the Other Dad in the Pediatric Ward

310
310
2

I know we didn’t talk much because we were both wrapped up in our own nightmares, but I wanted to tell you about a vague memory I have — probably one of the earliest burned in my brain. It must have been around 1973 because I was at prime lesson-learning age for a boy. My friend Tommy was over, and we decided to play marbles. You looked a lot younger than me. So in case you don’t know, those are spherical objects you must manipulate with your hands for entertainment because they have no electronics embedded inside. I know, sounds primitive.

The problem was that I’d been given a taw by my grandfather and Tommy wanted to use it. Back off, pal! My little self had no intention of sharing that new marble — it was way too special for me to be touched by someone else’s grubby mitts. This didn’t set well with Tommy, and a fight ensued that spilled over into the hall and eventually into the kitchen where my mother was cooking. My mother did not appreciate my selfishness.

Knowing I was in trouble, I closed my hand over the marble and shoved my fist in my pocket. An inquisition began during which Tommy truthfully laid out everything. For my part, wrong or not, I was stubborn enough to keep my clenched fist in my pocket and the two of them weren’t strong enough to wrangle it out. Frustrated, Tommy left and my mother gave me one more chance to give her the marble. I refused. My course was set. I had not yet been convinced of the propriety of sharing. When my father came home, I was enlightened — not only about sharing, but about respecting my mother. I am fairly certain I ate my dinner standing up that evening.

I have been married long enough that I share pretty well now. I do grimace if anyone wants to use one of my tools or even set foot in my shop. But most of the time I get over it. I also have an issue with the console of my truck. I really don’t want to share that space even with my wife’s little lipstick tube. I don’t know why.

This may sound rude, but I have something I don’t want to share with you. I will hold this tightly in my closed palm and do everything I can to keep you from seeing or touching it. I don’t want to share it with you. In fact, I would lock it in a vault, hire security and do nearly anything to keep you from it — because it is simply unbearable.

I don’t want to share this with you.

I don’t want you to know what it is to yearn for the return of something you can’t have.

I don’t want you to live in the past because the present only brings pain and regret.

I don’t want you to lie hour after hour staring at a dark ceiling because you can’t turn off your mind long enough to sleep.

I don’t want you to look into the tear-stained eyes of your wife wondering if she will ever smile again.

I would do anything to keep this from you.

I don’t want you to have to tell your precious child that they are going to die and watch as they process the information.

I don’t want you to say goodbye, that you will see them again someday in another place. Likewise, I don’t want you to yearn for the hastening of that day because this life without them is too hard.

I don’t want you to smell the dirt of your child’s freshly dug grave.

I don’t want to share this burden of guilt as a father and husband — guilt like a thick winter coat buttoned and zipped so tightly you cannot remove it whether it is justified or not.

I don’t want to share this with you.

I will buy you a thousand marbles and even give you the special taw I withheld. I don’t even know you, and I would do anything in my power to keep this away from you — not to share this thing…

But if we must share it, we will shoulder it together and do everything within our power to keep our fists in our pockets so that no one else gets to see… Deal?

"Game of Marbles" by Karl Witkowski
“Game of Marbles” by Karl Witkowski
310
310
2
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

To the Mom I Wish I Never Had to Welcome to This Club

378
378
2

Today in my Facebook feed, I saw five pregnancy announcements. One of these stated “Now that we’ve seen the heartbeat we can announce…” I silently raged here. OK, OK, I was loud. A heartbeat does confirm you’re carrying life. It does not guarantee you will meet your baby or take him or her home.

I carried three beautiful, angelic lives within my body. I saw the “safe” heartbeat three times. Yet, I did not meet my children, carry them to term, take them home or mother them. Seeing a heartbeat doesn’t guarantee life beyond the womb. A heartbeat is not a “safe” point, and neither is gestation that meets or exceeds the 12th week. All my children were lost at 15 weeks and beyond. I do not understand why people assume these points are “safe.” I desperately want to expand our family, for a baby to call mine. Loss is so common that one in four pregnancies end in miscarriage. Next time you think to use the term “safe” in regards to gestation or heartbeat, think of me. Think of how hurt I was to think I was safe.

If you find yourself or a close friend joining these horrid ranks as a grieving parent, please know you are not alone. I am the one in four. Now you are, too. Don’t let anyone tell you your baby was not a “real” baby. No matter the gestation of your loss, it was your baby and very much real. They existed. A doctor may say you “aborted.” That term, while medically sound, does not mean you actually aborted. Your baby was very much loved and wanted. You had hopes and dreams for your child, and it is OK to grieve the loss of a life that was much too short. Regardless of your gestation, whether it be 4 weeks along or 34 weeks, your loss is very much the same. It will never be lesser than because you were earlier. Do not try to compare the difference between the two. It is still a loss of a wanted, loved and hoped-for child with dreams you, as their parent, had.

Take as much time to grieve as you possibly need. I am four years out from my first loss at 18 weeks and still miss my child as much as I did then, if not more. If this was your first child, do not let anyone tell you that you are not a real “mother.” You carried life within your body. You nurtured that little soul within you with love, dreams and hope. You might get horrible comments from people. I’d like to tell you they stop, but they might not. You will want to snap back at them, but trust me when I tell you, you are bigger than that. I believe you are strong enough to survive the loss of your precious child, and you can withstand comments people make out of ignorance, usually with good intentions. Will they bother you? More than likely. Will they understand? No, because they may have not had the same experience. It’s because death is a taboo and misunderstood subject, and add in that the death was a child, and the subject might become more taboo and lonesome than before.

Dates, oh the dates. You will want to forget the due date, knowing how much you looked forward to meeting your baby(s). The whole month will be hard. The date you lost, and the date you birthed (if different) will be etched on your memory. While these days will be sad, rejoice. Celebrate your babe’s life; however short, it was meaning and worthwhile.

I wish I never had to welcome another mother in to this club, but please reach out. We are all around you, we love you and we understand.

378
378
2
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Why I Believe in Miracles Even After My Son's Death

6k
6k
8

I have serious issues with the word “miracle.” It makes my stomach turn, heart palpitate and knees weak. When I hear it, it evokes a visceral response — mostly because of the context in which it is spoken. Someone gazing into the eyes of a precious baby melting with joy, “Oh! What a miracle she is!” Yes, I believe life is a miracle. Life is hard yet fragile, precious and not promised, but a miracle none the less. Somehow, it takes death to make the sanctity of life even more clear.

“Pray for a miracle and he will be healed.”

Those words and many others like it were uttered to me throughout my pregnancy. People around me were convinced they would see a grand miracle take place before their very eyes. One that would restore their faith and breathe hope back into a broken world. Convinced that my son would be born healed and completely healthy. Until he wasn’t.

“Maybe if you prayed harder, he would have lived.”

Those words were declaimed to me in riotous indignation after my son’s death. Like somehow I had killed him with my lack of faith. Somewhere along the line I became unworthy of a miracle because I didn’t pray hard enough. I didn’t have enough faith. I didn’t believe enough. I was so baffled that someone could actually believe my son’s death happened because I didn’t pray hard enough. Did they honestly think that was true? More importantly, were they right? Words spoken by a dear friend of mine say it best:

“There is no stronger prayer than that of a mother asking God to spare her baby’s life.”

When we made the announcement about our son’s life-limiting condition, I felt that many people brushed over the seriousness of it with words of hope, faith and prayers for a miracle. I, of course, wanted a miracle to happen. I prayed, I screamed, I begged and I pleaded for a miracle, but a part of me knew. I just knew he wasn’t going to be healed no matter how much I wanted it. No matter how much I prayed for it, medical reality hung over me like a dark cloud. It cast shadows upon my hopes, my heart and upon my faith.

After a while, prayers and hopes of healing turned into simple prayers. Prayers that graciously asked for what we wanted most — time. Prayers that acknowledged the inevitable, but still begged and bargained for days, hours, even minutes of time. I prayed we could hold him in our arms alive. That in itself would be a miracle to us. That was the miracle and the hope I began to ferociously cling to.

I believe miracles happen every single day. They just may not be the miracle you had hoped or prayed for. How hard or how much you pray doesn’t determine if you are granted a specific miracle. Because if the strongest prayer is that of a mother asking for her child’s life to be spared — there wouldn’t be such a thing as a grieving mother. Our babies would outlive us all. And we would never know this anguish.

Some may think a miracle didn’t happen for my family, but it did. My son was and is the miracle. Because even in death his life continues to manifest such power and such hope. Beyond anything that I alone could explain. The lives he has touched, the impact he has left — it is all pretty miraculous to me. How one tiny little baby, who never took a breath, could reach the hearts of others and speak to them in a hundred different ways is nothing short of a miracle. Not exactly the miracle everyone had in mind. But I now know there are different kinds of miracles. Little ones that present themselves in unexpected ways. We just have to be able to see them through the disappointment of not getting the miracle we wanted more. I had to rid myself of the false idea that miracles only come in grand gestures of divine intervention. Because sometimes miracles dwell even where there are crushed hopes and dreams, and those are the ones that are so incredibly hard to see.

Even after enduring the loss of my son, I still believe in miracles. Just not the way I did before. Instead, I look for the miracles others don’t see. The ones that are graciously placed in front of me every day that others wouldn’t give a second thought to because they aren’t big enough or grand enough to be recognized. The ones people typically don’t see because they are far different from their idea of a miracle.

When I was pregnant, a silly little fortune cookie told me, “Believe in miracles.” So I did. I just wish I would have known what it really meant. Because my miracle came beautifully wrapped up in a feeble baby boy who fit perfectly in my arms. He was tiny and his life so very brief. But he is no less a miracle. He is my miracle. And I will never stop believing in the power and hope that continues to manifests in his life.

A photo of an ultrasound with the words "Believe in miracles"

A version of this post originally appeared on All That Love Can Do and also on Huffington Post Parents.

6k
6k
8
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Why Answering These Normal Parenting Questions Is So Difficult for Me

215
215
4

“Do you have any children?”

“How many children do you have?”

“Is she your only?”

“Is she your oldest?”

These all seem like simple and normal questions. However, when you’ve lost a child, these questions can be uncomfortable and gut-wrenching.

I remember the first time I was ever asked this question. It was a month after my son Robby had passed away, and I was out getting my bangs trimmed. I’d never been asked this question before, but yet here it was, and it blindsided me, and I felt like I’d been hit in the chest when the lady doing my hair so very innocently asked me
“Do you have any children?”

I just sat there for a few moments before answering through streams of tears that yes, “I had one child, but he had died.” She told me she was sorry, and then quickly finished my bang trim, and I left.

After my daughter Ellie was born it made the question a little bit more difficult to answer because there were so many variations of the questions that could be asked. However, whenever it came up I managed to stumble through my response saying I have a daughter and I had a son but that he was gone.

Then one day, it happened. I was in a rush trying to buy some socks for Ellie at the mall. I was stressed out about something, I can’t remember what now, and the sales lady was trying to chit chat with me. Next thing I knew, she asked me if Ellie was my only child, and before I could stop and think, the word “yes” slipped right out of my mouth. I felt like such a terrible mother and person at that moment, and for days afterwards I beat myself up. I felt as if I’d let my son down or had pretended as if he didn’t exist. It took me a long time to realize that it was OK. I was not denying his existence; I was just trying to get through that exact moment.

I now have standard answers for these questions, and I’m not ashamed to admit I did spend a lot of time practicing these out loud.

These questions almost four years later are still uncomfortable, and they still take me off guard. However, they’re not just uncomfortable for me; they’re uncomfortable for the person who asks the question as well. I get all different kinds of responses from obvious discomfort to looks of pity. I don’t mean to make others around me uncomfortable or sad, but this is my life. The fact is, I have two children, one in heaven and one here in my arms.

Amanda's daughter holding a picture of her brother

215
215
4
TOPICS
,
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

When Grief Is Like Another Child You Must Take Care Of

402
402
0

We are coming close to the two-year anniversary of the loss of our 6-year-old daughter, Jennifer Lynn Kranz. Her name matters.

I keep expecting it to get easier, like at nearly two years I should be adjusted to this new life I was handed. But deep down I know I am still in the very early stages… and I realized…

On Feb 12, 2013, as she took her last breath, I birthed another presence in our family: the grief baby. Grief is another child I must take care of.

Child loss is like birthing a baby. It is something you must nourish and care for the rest of your life. Something that, as it ages and changes, never stops mattering.

At first, you experience the newborn stage, up every two hours with a crying and needy baby so you don’t even realize you are tired. You are on autopilot. It’s part of you, like another limb. You can never put this baby down or it screams for you to pick it up… to rock it, gently, constantly.

At night you want to sleep, but it seems this newborn hasn’t gotten that memo yet. It seems to need you the most at night. People and meals are at the ready. The days can seem to drag on forever, but the time between now and when this new presence arrived seems so fast. As author Gretchen Rubin said, “The days are long, but the years are short.”

Time passes. This grief baby grows.

At six months out, you can put the baby down and walk away to cook dinner or go to work. You might look at your partner and want them to do more in helping you care for this still young and needy babe. But the truth is you each have very different ways of soothing this baby.

You think you have a routine, a good bereaved parent schedule. But then the grief baby changes it all up. Now it is cutting new teeth, and it’s like you have a newborn again. But you arent used to it anymore and the exhaustion is deeper and more cutting.

Time passes. This grief baby grows.

Now it’s a year old. This first birthday is a big deal. A lot of people remember. You aren’t sure what to expect since you have never had a birthday for this little one. The next day it seems suddenly older to you. So much more grown up.

A year. A whole year. Days were long, but the year was short. Yup.

You think now you should have this whole grief-baby-parenting thing down. You might put pressure on yourself. Other people might start looking at you like you shouldn’t be so tired. A 1-year-old should be sleeping through the night by now.

You might try to dress up your grief baby… put a bow in its hair or pick out the perfect outfit. But it won’t stay like that for long. It will notice the hair bow and pull it out.. it will play in the dirt and muddy up the clothes. You try to keep it looking put-together, but it never lasts long.

And grief baby grows and changes.

Sometimes you get so mad at this baby of yours. It never fails: every moment you try to take for yourself, grief baby seeks you out and climbs right on top of you. More independent now at nearly two years old… but also much heavier… and louder.

You think you have a good handle on it and know what triggers it. But you don’t. Grief baby needs you right in the middle of lunch, because another little girl with long brown hair walks in the restaurant wearing a sparkly dress. Your grief baby wails unexpectedly and you are embarrassed.

Be gentle on yourself; your baby is still a baby. It’s OK if you can’t control it. It’s OK to cancel plans because the baby just needs a nap.

This grief baby that was born as I kissed my first baby goodbye will continue to grow. One day it will even be 6 years, 4 months old. And after that this grief baby will have outlived the one that gave it life: Jennifer.

It will live beyond that. It will be a teenager… I wonder what it’s like to have a grief baby learning to drive?

And then it will get older. Twenties and 30s. By then we will be past the days of tantrums in the grocery store, but it will still be my baby. We won’t talk daily, but when grief baby calls I will answer the phone. Because no matter how much time passes it will still be my baby…

It will have a presence in my daily thoughts and take a prominent seat of attention on its birthday and holidays.

Time passes. This grief baby grows…

Mom with toddler daughter in pink dress
Libby and her daughter Jennifer

402
402
0
TOPICS
,
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Real People. Real Stories.

8,000
CONTRIBUTORS
150 Million
READERS

We face disability, disease and mental illness together.