When I became pregnant in 1985, I had no idea that I would join the group of parents with an unexpected outcome. My son, Mark, was born at twenty-nine weeks gestation due to a placental abruption. His delivery was complicated further; he was a double -footling breech with a prolapsed cord. Mark weighed 2 pounds 21/2 ounces. His home was the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for the five days that he lived. My son was born on Sunday, July 21st, died on July 26th, and was buried on July 29th. After my son died, I could not concentrate and had trouble making even the simplest decisions. When I was pregnant, I was really looking forward to writing notes to the teachers and filling out forms signing my name as parent. The first time I got to sign my name as a “Parent” was on the permission forms for my son’s autopsy.
Thoughts and feelings seem to come in waves and, like waves, overlap at times and are unpredictable. Feelings that seem to be far away will surface unexpectedly. I was shopping at Target shortly after my son died. It was difficult for me to concentrate and at one point I was standing in the middle of the store wondering how all of these people could be rushing here and there buying light bulbs and toothpaste and motor oil when my son had just died. How could their lives and their world be the same when mine had changed so drastically?
I wish someone could explain to me why people enjoy seeing old photos of my grandparents, who are deceased, but shrink at the thought of looking at a picture of my son. The toughest day of the year for me is my son’s birthday. I had such hope on the day that year he was born. I never quite know how to spend the time. Do I go to work? Do I take a “vacation” day? Do I visit the cemetery? After fourteen year, you would think I’d know what would make me feel better, or at least okay.
People felt free to ask me when I was going to “ get over” my son’s death. For the record, people “get over” the flu, not the death of a child. I will learn to live with what happened and I will integrate my loss into my day-to-day life, but I will never “get over” it.
If I think of my life in terms of a time line, the zero would be the instant that my son died. Nothing in my life or way of thinking is the same. Oh, I still enjoy many of the same activities and have many of the same friends and interests, but I look at things differently.
I was amazed at the thoughtless things people said to me after my son died:
“Now you have an angel in heaven” I don’t remember anyone asking me during the pregnancy if I wanted a boy, girl or an angel.
“You can always have another baby.” Medically, we don’t always know if more children are possible. Besides, children are not interchangeable or replaceable. I can’t imagine telling someone whose grandmother has died that their grandfather can always remarry and then they’ll have another grandmother.
It took me ten years to design and purchase my son’s headstone. I think part of the reason it took so long was that I felt it would be the last thing I could give him. The stone is beautiful and I can’t help but to smile when I see it at the cemetery.
Sometimes I feel more comfortable with people who didn’t know me before Mark. They are not waiting for me to get back to “my old self”. I don’t have a terrible fear of dying anymore. For that gift, I thank my son. The year that Mark would have been ten, I was driving myself nuts, looking at ten year old boys. I kept watching them to see how they talked and laughed what they liked to wear how their hair was cut and how big their feet were. I think that I thought if I just looked at enough ten year olds, I could get a picture of what Mark would look like.
As a parent who has suffered through the emotional roller coaster of an unexpected outcome. I hope this article provides some insight to the thoughts and feeling a person may experience when their child has died.
Excerpted from “Grieving and Loving”,
International Journal of Childbirth Education,
Vol. 15, published by the
International Childbirth Education Association,
P.O. Box 20048, Minneapolis, MN 55420
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