Disclaimer: The following post is regarding a SIDS death and may be difficult to read for those who have walked through similar experiences
Memories have been flooding my mind today and I realized that life has gotten in the way of mourning. Perhaps this forum will help me express what is in my heart. I want to tell my side of the story. Even though I am more on the outskirts this was probably the most difficult thing I have ever had to walk through in my life.
It all began on a Sunday afternoon. Church was finished and I was rushing home to grab my cooler and outdoor chair. A few of the church staff were meeting up at a lake for an afternoon of laughter food and fellowship while just chilling for the first time in a while. Ministry had been stressful for a few months and we needed the down time. I rushed to grab the items out of the fridge, poured the ice into the ice chest and was getting ready to wheel them out to the car when I got the call.
One of my dear friend’s 4 month old granddaughter was not breathing. This was when my entire world stopped and everything changed. My friend and her family were 8 hours away on vacation. Immediately I thought of the baby’s mother and thought, “I have to be there.”
Working at a church for 9 years I have had several calls such as this. Each of those other times I thought, “should I be there?” Not always knowing if I was needed or if I should be doing something else to help. This time it was a compulsion. All I could think was that my friend could not be there so I needed to, for her.
We arrived and that was when it was confirmed for me that this precious life was gone. I watched grief in its rawest form. I saw the reaction of the baby’s mother as each person arrived at the hospital. I cried in the background as her and her mother embraced. I heard her weep for her husband who was being questioned by the police (this is routine for all infant deaths but it takes a lot longer than I had ever realized). I hugged anyone I could, I helped any way I could, I cried a lot. I passed on messages from my friend to her daughter in law.
The moment that the baby’s father was finally able to come to the hospital was one of the most heart wrenching scenes I have ever seen. To see a mother and a father embrace and weep…its indescribable to explain that moment. It felt as if by even being in that hospital with them was intrusive to a very private, very personal pain.
After about 7 hours in the hospital we all finally started dispersing. The next day my friends were back home and I was able to go and cry with them.
I have always considered this family as my own family. But the week of this tragedy really solidified that in my heart. My friends, my family, were hurting. I was with them every moment possible. Tuesday I went with the family to plan the service.
Once again, working at a church for 9 years I have sat in on many funerals, I have worked at many funerals, but I have never been there, knowing the family so closely, sitting in on the planning times, watching the family so at a loss as to how to even begin to plan something like this. It was very painful. Of course other families react exactly the same way, but knowing them so personally, so closely, it changed everything for me.
Wednesday was the hardest day of my entire life. Wednesday was the viewing. I planned on going because my friend wanted me there. It was only for family and close friends. I was going to be a support to her in any way I could. I planned on going in only if she needed me. I didn’t really want to see this precious baby with no life in her. I wasn’t sure it was such a good idea for the family to see this little one like that.
We arrived and the funeral director explained that the parents could go in privately first and then the rest of us would follow. The heart wrenching cries that came out of that room were torture. It wasn’t just the fact that they were weeping, it was that they were wailing. They were grieving in the deepest sense of the word and there was absolutely nothing we could do to ease that grief. In fact, I realized later, the expression of the grief itself is the only thing that can truly ease the grief.
We went in, I followed because they wanted me with them. I went from person to person just hugging, supporting, passing tissues. I wept watching the different people hold her and say their goodbyes. I watched as grandpas wept over this precious little child, I wept with the grandmas as they held her close. Aunts, uncles, and close friends…we were in there for a while.
After some time people started to trickle out. Their goodbyes said they would leave the room. Some lingered not ready to quite be done. At one point the funeral director asked me to check if everyone had the time they needed. I went outside and asked, some came in for one final time but pretty soon the room was empty.
At that point my friend and I were standing just outside the room and she asked me, “do you want to hold her?” It hadn’t even been an option in my mind. I was there for the family. I had only held her once during her short life. That wasn’t why I came. But as soon as she asked I realized I wanted to. At the time I thought I was doing it because she wanted me to, but I know now that I needed to. I began to cry and said, “I don’t think I can” but my feet were already moving toward the room.
I don’t know why I needed that. Perhaps it was because I was mourning with those who mourn. I needed the same healing they were finding in having that closure and that final goodbye. I held her and the first thing thought was simple surprise at her weight. She looked so much like a doll that I had expected her to be light. But she had the weight of a real baby. Reality hit. I held her and wept. I wept for my friend, I wept for the baby’s parents, I wept for me. I asked God ‘why’ knowing that this is one of those things that we never really know the whys. I touched her cheek, I kissed her forehead and wept.
That day forever changed my thoughts on viewings. I have always considered them to be a bad idea. I thought, “nobody wants that as the last memory.” But I saw something happen that day in this family that was amazing. As each person said their goodbye, there was a weight lifted. The grief that was so great before became mourning. There was less despairing tears and more laughter mixed into those tears. This family will forever be changed and will forever grieve for this precious little one, but now the corner was turned. It was no longer the solely painful grief, it was the “now we can remember and smile, even if we still cry” grief.
The next days were a blur, as we finished the preparations for the memorial service. I remember making the video and crying. I remember making the program and crying. I remember her grandparents bringing her ashes in to the office at the church, after they left I wept again. Each and every little remembrance brought more tears.
There is something about walking with someone in the most raw times of their grief. They thanked me for being there. I can never explain in words the honor that it is to be there for someone at that time in their lives. Grief is so private and personal that for someone to allow me to be there and walk with them through that I can only feel honored.
The following weeks of my life were very busy. I was in El Salvador within two weeks and then back home two weeks later. Somewhere in the midst of all of these big events I forgot that I walked through one of the hardest times of my life. Today I was reflecting with my pastor’s wife about why we all seem to be struggling with depression and it hit me, I haven’t had time to process.
So, for those handful of readers out there, thank you for letting me share. I think just typing up my story was healing for me. There are so many more minute details that it would take way too much space to blog, and even now I feel as if I haven’t quite put the period at the end of this story, but those moments, tragic and painful as they were, are precious in my heart. For it was intimate moments of grief with family, my family. I would never want to walk through anything like this again, but if anything like this happens again, I will not shy away. I will be there, less fearful of those deep painful moments of mourning, for now I know what is on the other side, healing and hope.