Watching a friend experience the loss of their baby and the grief that remains can feel so helpless. Unfortunately, there isn’t a “one-size fits all” approach to support a grieving friend through loss, but there are many ways to be supportive. When my daughter died at 33-days-old, it was the first loss of this type…
I have a son. His name is Maxwell, but we call him Max. Growing up I always knew if I had a little boy I would name him after my Grandpa Max. I never got to meet my Grandpa because his life was cut short, but the stories shared about him were ones of a man of integrity and honor, an entrepreneur who put his family first, a man whose personality could light up a room and someone who befriended nearly everyone he met. I had hopes and dreams that my Max would hold some of these qualities, too.
Those hopes and dreams and so many others were shattered on March 12, 2013, when my beautiful first born was stillborn.
I will never forget seeing his face for the first time, nor will I forget the feeling of holding him in my arms. I had never felt so full, I had never felt so empty. I never knew love could be so deep and raw, or that it could hurt so bad. I never knew how much I wanted to be a mom until I had to face being his mom without him in my arms.
In those days my mind did not stop, it twisted and turned like a tornado. The debris left in its path were emotions of every kind: guilt, anger, sadness, pain, yearning.. Every second seemed like an eternity, yet time was moving so fast. In the midst of all of the chaos and disbelief a list of all the things I would never be able to do was being built in my mind.
I did not know how to continue to live a single day without him, let alone face holidays and birthdays and milestones. I certainly didn’t think I could face a child with his name. It would be too painful. Shoot, I didn’t think I would ever shop at TJ Maxx again.
Four and a half years have passed and I’ve somehow found my way to carry on and live for both of us. There are still good days and not so good days, but I have found a balance between living with the grief that will always be a part of me and the love that forever carries on. Losing Max nearly killed me, but loving Max has been lifegiving. Fears still creep up and I still ache for a little boy to run through my house and call me, “Mommy.” There are still days where my spirit is not as bright because life isn’t the way I want it to be. I have two girls now and they’re amazing. But since they were born, I have known that one day they would have a classmate or friend with his name. It happened this year. I heard his name in the hallway. I ignored the cubby with his little monogramed backpack hanging in it. I tried hard not to look at him in the class. This sounds ridiculous, right? Maybe to some,but to a loss mommy, not so much. Anyway, I made it through the summer session without having to face the three-year-old — what a relief.
Then I got the list of kids who would be in my VBS class. There I was, scrolling down the list, excited to volunteer and I had to stop. There was his name: Maxwell. My stomach started to churn, my head started to spin, and I thought for sure I wouldn’t be able to do this. But, I decided there was no time like the present, and I was co-teaching with a friend so if I had a breakdown, she would be there for me. The first day arrived, and so did Maxwell. I had to say his name a lot. At first it was hard, then bittersweet, and then it kind of made me laugh. Maybe I could do this.
Then, it happened. We were preparing for the next activity when I heard a voice say, “Can you tie my shoe please?” I looked down into two deep brown eyes looking up at me and I must have had the craziest look on my face. Time stood still. He sort of looked at me funny. But I bent my knees and reached down, pulled the long laces tight and tied his shoes with a double knot. He turned and ran to get in line and I was still on the floor speechless. Again, some would say, “You tied a kid’s shoe, big deal,” but I can only dream of tying my son’s shoes and on that day I was able to tie a little boy’s shoe and his name was Maxwell.
The next day in music it came time to do Tony Chestnut — you know, one of those songs with 10,000 hand gestures that gets faster every time your repeat a verse. I’m not overly coordinated, so I am usually waving the wrong limb at the wrong time. As the song picks up momentum I look across the room and lock eyes with none other than you-know-who. He’s watching every move I make, studying and mimicking me. I thought I was doing pretty good, but knowing he was watching got me out of sync, which also got him out of sync. I started to smile, he smiled. I started to laugh, he laughed. By the end my head was thrown back laughing so hard I had tears rolling down my face, and he was laughing just as hard. I’ve never had a dream of Max. I’ve always wanted to but it has never happened. Every now and then I’ve sensed something has been a sign of his presence with me but nothing consistent.
But in that moment, I heard a little boy’s voice in my head and in my heart: “Look at you, Mommy. Good job. You did it Mommy, you did it.”
From that moment on, I stood a little taller, held my head a little higher and realized I conquered one of those fears that had been nagging me for 4.5 years.
So, friend, know that whatever your fears are, whatever anxiety or worry you carry deep within, whether they are deemed rational by the world or not, you can face them. The mountain may seem unconquerable and your spirit may feel weak, but somehow there is a child that will lead you through to the other side.
Who knew that tying a pair of ratty shoe laces and acting out a silly song would lead to the mending of my heart and a piece of joy that had yet to be found?
If I can do this, you can do this. We are in this together.