Death Does Not Negate Existence

**We are aware that our many of our readers’ hearts are wounded, and so we share with you that some of the beautiful pictures in this article may trigger remembrances for you.  We are not ashamed of the pictures, nor do we find them ‘disturbing’ but…we also know how easy it is to be taken.right.back.there and want to be gentle with your hearts.

You may be familiar with the story of a little boy in Ohio who just wanted to share a family picture with his classmates for a school project, and was callously and insensitively told that he must remove the picture because it was not appropriate.

Nicholas’s teacher, backed by the principal of the school, sent a letter home with Nicholas. The letter was not sealed, and Nicholas was able to read every word.

Which is one of the biggest reasons his mother, Cassandra Hess, took issue.

“I understand that this is not your average family picture,” she told me when I spoke with her last evening. “But I was surprised because up to this point, the school has been like family to us.  Everyone in his class knew that his baby brother died.  The picture was not one of the more sensitive ones we could have chosen.  You really couldn’t even tell Noah was not alive in this picture. But mostly? Mostly I was hurt for Nicholas because he could read every word his teacher wrote and it made him feel like he’d done something wrong.”

His teacher sent the note home, requesting that the picture be removed from the project.  When Cassandra went to the principal about it, the principal, in Cassandra’s words, was, “Rude and insensitive.  I was very surprised when she told me it was inappropriate to have a family picture with a dead baby on a project. She wouldn’t even call him Noah or Nicholas’s brother—just that a picture of a dead baby was not age-appropriate.”

As the editor of Still Standing Magazine, I come across hundreds and hundreds of stories of loss.  They all break my heart.  Every single story.

But this one really hit me on a very personal level in that Nicholas could be MY son, sharing his brother’s picture.  He could be YOUR son.  He could be the brother of so many, and I was appalled that his innocent efforts to remember his baby brother were so easily and insensitively crushed.

What message did Nicholas receive?
That Noah and his life were not picture-worthy.
That Noah was not ‘really’ part of the family because he was born still.

That because Noah died, he never really lived.

And that his school environment—the place where this could have been such a teachable moment on compassion and empathy—was trying to take his family story away.

I’ve said it before, and I mean it every time.

DEATH DOES NOT NEGATE EXISTENCE.

I taught elementary school for over 15 years. I know just how easily imprinted upon the heart of a child can be, and how things, once seen and done, can’t be unseen or undone. Cassandra told me that Nicholas sees a counselor weekly and she happened to be there at school that day. The counselor even spoke to the teacher and administration and emphasized that this could be an opportunity to empathetically guide the children through a tragic, but real (and all-too-common) life circumstance.

But, As Cassandra told me, “They didn’t listen.They were not backing down.  But, there is no compromise. This is our story and our truth and my son did nothing but show his love for his brother. He has that right.”

I contacted Cassandra because I wanted her to know we stood with her. I contacted Cassandra because I wanted Nicholas to know we stood with him…with Noah.  I contacted Cassandra because I wanted her sweet son to know that his honoring of his baby brother was one of the sweetest and kindest, most authentic acts of love I’d seen.

In Nicholas’s family—Noah is not “a dead baby.”
Noah is a son and a brother.

There are a million more things I can say about how much my heart is grieved over the way this was all handled—from Nicholas’s school’s insensitivity to the disgusting faces and terminology used by many of the news anchors who reported on the story—Cassandra told me one crew member from the many she’s spoken with suggested that a ‘compromise’ might have been to ‘cover Noah’s face in the picture with a cloth.’
YES.  It was suggested, to a mother who lost her beautiful son eight months ago, that his face be ‘covered with a cloth,’ so it wouldn’t be so ‘graphic.’

On a regular basis, I look at the last six years—when I lost my own son—and see how much more support and awareness and sensitivity there is for families who have lost children than there was just a few years ago. It makes me proud to be a small part of that movement—to let people know that even when the devastatingly impossible happens, you can continue to live and breathe—embracing all that this life you now live offers—and that includes the remembrance and honoring of your lost children.

But then, things like this happen and I cannot believe this is the attitude of so many still.

Cassandra is currently expecting another child—a little girl they’ve named Serenity Danielle and who is due in March. Serenity was a surprise pregnancy, but Cassandra says she feels Noah sent Serenity to them—not to replace him, because that is impossible.

Instead, they believe that Serenity is the embodiment of the Serenity prayer:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.”

They know that their lives will never be the same, and yet they show courage as they continue to live and love and find joy, all while never forgetting that their family includes a precious little boy named Noah Alexander.
That courage is what Still Standing is all about.

While some may call the pictures of Noah, ‘disturbing,’ or ‘distressing,’ or ‘graphic,’ we find them beautiful and are honored to share them. Cassandra and family, we stand with you.

We invite you to share yours as well in, comments and in sharing on your own social media sites.  Help Nicholas and Cassandra tell the world that Noah’s life can’t be covered up just because it may make some uncomfortable.  We are using the following: #deathdoesnotnegateexistence #stillstanding #breakthesilence

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    Lori Ennis

    Lori Ennis

    I'm small, but scrappy! I have a fierce passion for my family, friends and life in general...I'm a military spouse who has battled infertility for over 13 years, as well as the loss of two babies gone too soon. I love to laugh, and am grateful for every second I celebrate with the ones I love. You can find me at my blog Lori Does Maryland or on Facebook Lori Mullins Ennis or on The Twitter here Lori M. Ennis

    December 3, 2015
    December 5, 2015

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    2 Comments

    1. Reply

      Charles Morris

      December 5, 2015

      A most tender and delicate topic. I believe the behavior of the school princepal and just about everyone who seems challenged to confront and “look at death” is part of the taboo that surrounds death and the free and purposefull use of the words death and dying. I am touched by the discomfort Nicholas, Cassandra,her husband, their immediate family and everyone who has experienced any degree of this kind of behavior. Dealing with death of a loved one, anyone, has its unique challenges. Overcoming anything that resembles or feels like disrespect can deepen the pain. I remember being angry the world didn’t stop after my wife and son died, I know that my life was at a standstill. Over the years I have witnessed what I believe to be denial of this topic in just about every form imagineable. The more time I spend with this topic the more I sense that fear is the motivating factor. There are a variety of labels we can attach to the words of these seemingly compassionless actions. Knowing this did not make it any easier for me and suspect the same for the masses. Over time I developed compassion and an understanding of what I imagine stands in the way of an “open arms” approach to death, the survivors and the deceased.That resulted in acceptance, one of the elements, hurdles if you will, of my grief. In the beginning, acceptance was a passive verb. Once my grief was processed it became an action verb. Which, at long last, brings to my point, ” the courage to change the things we can”. We can continue to openly express our feelings, speak the words and share our experiences. By being a part of this expression, sharing the photos, being a part of the Still Standing movement and speaking freely about death and your challenges you are offering a view of something that most everyone will encounter. “They” can choose to reject or embrace this heartfelt offering. I suspect the openness people like yourselves have offered may have already changed many lives. I am thankful for your efforts and courage. Charles Morris

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