As soon as I entered the shop I saw what I was looking for: an exquisite, frothy, cream baptismal gown. It was rather expensive but that was irrelevant. I held the dress at arm’s length thinking about its size.

“Can I help you?” A woman with a welcoming smile approached me.

“I’m not sure this will fit.”

“How old is your baby?”

“Our baby is dead but he was full term. I want a beautiful gown to bury him in.”

The woman’s smile disappeared, her eyes filled with tears and she enveloped me in a warm hug. “I am so sorry. If it is too large, I can adjust it for you.”

I will always remember the compassion this shop assistant showed towards me. Although I was a complete stranger, she shared in my sorrow and went out of her way to make the difficult task of buying a burial outfit for our baby as easy for me as possible.

It must be very difficult for a person to know what to say when she hears that someone’s baby has died. Generally, people are not comfortable with death and they fear saying the wrong thing. This usually results in nothing being said at all.

 A couple of weeks after our baby Thomas died, we went along to a picnic. We weren’t sure going along to the gathering was the right thing to do, but we were urged to come along: “Don’t stay at home by yourselves. It’s not a good time to be alone.” I joined a group of women who were chatting.

“Hello,” they greeted me and resumed their conversation. No one mentioned Thomas. As I sat trying to keep my mind on what was being said, I could feel a couple of women taking furtive looks at me. Did they notice the tears threatening to fall from my eyes? And then Carol arrived. She walked straight up to me, touched my arm and said, “I don’t know what to say but I can’t say nothing as if nothing happened. Sue, I am so sorry.”

The ladies at our local shop are always very friendly. When I ventured out shortly after Thomas’ death, they were eager to hear news of the birth. (I hadn’t told them that our baby was unlikely to live after delivery.) The words, "Oh, you have a saint in heaven!” sprang to one woman’s lips. It was a reaction that I was to hear many times over the following weeks. It sounds like a comforting thing to say but I must admit that it didn’t help me at all in those early days.

A couple of weeks after Thomas’ death, I was cleaning the Venetian blinds. This is an excellent job to do when feeling angry: bang, bang went the blinds, bumping from one side of the window frame to the other, in time to my intense, angry thoughts. Suddenly, I hurled my cloth into the bucket of water and stormed out of the room in search of my husband, Andy.

“If having a saint in heaven is such a fantastic thing, why doesn’t  everyone want a saint in heaven? Would anyone swap their newborn for a saint in heaven? Of course not!”

In time, I came to realize, for myself, the gift of having our own saint in heaven. I thanked God that Thomas had lived long enough to be baptized and so we are assured that he is in the presence of God. But this appreciation came slowly over a period of time. In the beginning, the words, “You have a saint in heaven,” sounded like a platitude said by those who had no idea what we were going through.

Thomas had a diaphragmatic hernia which allowed many of his internal organs to move into his lung cavity. With the lung cavity occupied, there was no room for Thomas’ lungs to grow and he was born with only a fraction of his intended lungs. His lungs were too small to allow independent respiration. Because Thomas’ body was imperfect, some well-meaning people have said, “His death was all for the best.” How could it be for the best when my heart was breaking?

Six weeks after Thomas’ death, my grandmother came to visit.

“How are you?”

“Not very good.”

“It was all for the best.”

“No!”

“I had a daughter, Angela, who was a year older than your mother. When I was pregnant, I fell down the stairs and the baby’s spine was broken. Angela died when she was three weeks old.”

Later, I questioned my mother, “Why didn’t you tell me you had another  sister?”

“I didn’t know,” she replied. My grandmother had carried her heartbreaking story inside her for over 55 years.

In an effort to comfort me, a few women have confided that they too have lost babies. Hearing their stories made me feel less alone. I wanted to hear all the details: were their experiences similar to mine, did they feel like I did, would this deep ache of grief ever go away?

In the early days after Thomas died, the phone rang frequently. It was usually the same few friends. We had an understanding: if I needed to talk I would come to the phone but if I wanted to be alone, then a message could be given to the caller to say I wasn’t up to chatting. This system worked very well. My friends’ feelings weren’t hurt if I didn’t want to speak. They didn’t have to worry that their call would be unwelcome. I didn’t have to be anxious every time the phone rang.


Gradually over the weeks, the phone rang less and less. Sometimes, feeling sorry for myself, I felt forgotten: everyone else had gone back to their own lives thinking we were coping with ours. It wasn’t really like that, of course. Every now and then someone would be inspired to pick up the phone and dial our number just at the right time. How many times I would sink into that steep pit of grief unable to pull myself out. Then the phone would ring and in seconds I could feel a lifeline being thrown out to drag me back from despair.

Similar lifelines have appeared with the unexpected arrival of friends on our doorstep. One ‘bad day’ Gail stopped by. “I hear you have a special memory box for Thomas. Would you mind sharing it with me?” Gail had lost a son a few years previous and soon we were swapping stories about memory boxes. We even laughed when Gail told me how she’d photographed every casserole baked for her family, in the days following their loss. “I had to make memories out of something. There wasn’t much to show that our son existed. I didn’t have a baby to photograph so I took shots of funeral flowers and casseroles.”

I will be forever grateful to our loving friends who supported us after Thomas’ death. They weren’t afraid to talk to us. They didn’t deny our feelings or try to cheer us up by asking us to ‘look on the bright side’. They bravely shared their own experiences of grief in an effort to ease our feelings of isolation. More importantly, they gave us opportunities to talk. They showed remarkable patience as we worked our way through the same story over and over again. The help and concern these friends showed   didn’t last for a few days, weeks or even months but years and they are aware that our grief will never quite go away.

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  1. I read this last night, and I was weeping when I finished. I cannot imagine. :( I truly am sorry for your loss... I would not wish that on anyone. I think of my daughters, and I cannot imagine the pain. I think they would have to put me in a padded cell... because I don't think I could endure it. Sue I think you are so brave and strong. You amaze me lady! I hope to be able to meet you one day and just give you a big hug.. I am so proud to call you 'friend'. My hubby asked me (last night) why I was crying.. and I told him about Thomas. He looked upset, shook his head sadly, and walked in the next room. He literally had no words. It's hard to know what to say. But my heart aches at your story. And I wish I could do something. One thing I CAN do, is pray. <3

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  2. Susan,

    If you'd known me 12 years ago, you wouldn't have called me brave. I was so frightened. I thought I'd never be able to endure the pain. And I begged and begged God to spare me this trial. But He didn't and I found out that all things can be endured with His help. I am certain that you would have survived too if it had happened to you and not me.

    Losing a baby is one of the hardest experiences a mother will ever live through. It's a pain I wish I could shield every mother from. I know the depths of that sorrow and the near despair. But I also know the great love of God and He has taught me many things such as trust and compassion. I think of those mothers who didn't know what to say to me all those years ago, those mothers who caused me pain with their words and actions. They didn't mean to hurt me. They just couldn't imagine what I was going through. And now I am grateful that (hopefully) I can help others a little because I have been there and understand. At least I know a few things NOT to say!

    Thank you Susan for reading my Thomas stories. I very much appreciate you taking the time to share my son.

    God bless!

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  3. Sue,
    Thank you for this post. I am having such a hard time with the "It was God's will" or "What a blessing, you have a saint in heaven" comments. Of course it is a blessing that my son does not cease to exist and that he will never really die as he is more alive than we are, but his dying is not a good thing. It is so painful. Babies were not meant to die and this wasn't part of God's original plan in the garden. Through Christ's suffering all suffering is redemptive and has a purpose, but suffering is not a good thing within itself. I have hope that God will bring good out of it or He would not have allowed it, but it is so hurtful to hear that my son dying was the most loving thing God could for me. Especially from women who are holding healthy babies.

    I waited 2 years for my 3rd son and have such a desire for a large family. We homeschool and are surrounded by big beautiful Catholic families. It is hard to be the smallest family on the co-op roster with two living children. It is hard to accept that God may not have that big family in His will for our family. It is hard to accept that more children are not a gift that God wants to give me right now.

    I am going to a support group with 2 other moms and last night we talked about choosing healing and accepting gifts that come from the existence of our children. I know God wants to bring good from this and that I have to allow Him to heal me. I also know that my beautiful son is such a gift even though he was not the gift I thought I was getting. I am trying to come up with ways to make my son's life meaningful and looking for what the Lord may be calling me to from this experience. I am thinking of making bereavement boxes for the hospital and doing other random acts of kindness in memory of my sweet boy. When I am feeling less grief I also would love to do some more pro-life work as all babies matter. I also feel the need to create so I have been writing and am feeling the desire to explore my long forgotten hobby of photography.

    Being 9 weeks out from my son's death it is hard to imagine that healing is possible, but like you I just keep saying "Jesus I trust in You" and "Thy will be done." I keep reminding myself that God is good and faithful. I am hoping someday my heart will catch up with my mind and that I will mean it.

    Thank you for your posts. This world of grief, baby loss, and sub fertility is so isolating and one I wish I wasn't a part of. You often put many of my feelings so beautifully into words. Thank you for writing and giving me hope that my life really isn't over and that God will heal me too.

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    1. Sarah,

      Other people's words can be so hurtful. I guess they mean well and just want to cheer us up by saying something positive, but it never works. It is much more helpful to accept our feelings and let us grieve.

      "Babies were not meant to die" I remember thinking that. Mothers aren't supposed to live longer than their children. Children aren't supposed to be in heaven praying for their mothers. They are supposed to be here. And they should need us. It's all back to front.

      Choosing healing? I think there does come a time when we feel we can't stay still forever. I wanted to move forward because the life I was living was too difficult. I knew I couldn't face the grief for the rest of my life.

      Keeping busy... homeschooling, spending time with our other children, big plans to get fit, embroidering a cross stitch for Thomas... I also thought about helping others...

      I was asked to write a booklet, together with a doctor, for other mothers expecting babies with diaphragmatic hernias. I didn't end up doing that because it was too soon. I needed more time to work my way through the pain. I realised I couldn't help others until I was no longer so much in need myself.

      "I am trying to come up with ways to make my son's life meaningful and looking for what the Lord may be calling me to from this experience." Yes, I suppose we want to say, "God didn't allow my son to die for nothing. His short life lives on in this work I am doing." I guess I write about Thomas for the same reason.

      I think you will be surprised by where your son will lead you. I am sure God's plan for his life is bigger than you can imagine. His life is already meaningful but how that will be expressed is still to come. I never imagined I'd be blogging about Thomas and doing so much work in the area of grief.

      Sarah, it is still very early days. At certain times looking after ourselves is all the work we can do.

      Your heart will catch up with your mind. It will just take time. Maybe that time seems a long time coming. I used to say, "God, you know how I am feeling. You are allowing me to feel this way so I will try to accept it. But You will need to help me." He did help me, and I know He will help you.

      I keep praying.

      May God bless you.

      Delete

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