I do so much to try and keep my son’s name alive and spoken, and his love felt.
But it’s so hard to reach into my mind and remember him. He’s slipped away from me. Sometimes at night I sit up and wonder if I made him up. Was he a perfect dream followed by the worst possible nightmare? Was his laugh as magical as my mind tells me it was?
This is a special kind of hell. It doesn’t leave. It doesn’t fade. It follows you all day and into the night. It wakes you up, doesn’t let you sleep and haunts your every breath.
I miss my baby.
When I got the call Thursday June 11th at 9:15am, I thought they had the wrong number and almost hung up. They said something was wrong with my kids and I responded that they were fine – they were with my mother. I was so sure that everything was fine. Then my mom got on the phone. With her voice cracking she told me to go to the hospital. She said, “Be safe, but hurry. Something is wrong with the kids.” I tossed my laptop to the side and ran out of work, calling my husband as I ran. “Get to the hospital,” I said, “you work closer.”
As I drove I wondered what bone was broken and on which one of the kids. Did Hope climb into her brother’s jumper again and hurt him somehow? Did Hope jump off of something and break a bone? I prayed and asked God to be with my kids and to keep them safe.
Dread flooded over me as I turned off the highway. There was construction and I struggled to find parking, which made me start to panic. I jumped out of the car and ran… it seemed like forever. The hall to the emergency department was all white and boarded up. causing my emotions to intensify. There was a security guard at the end of the hall; as I got closer he stood. He asked if I was the mother of the baby. That’s how I found out it was my son who was hurt.
The guard guided me to the room where they had my son. There was a wall of white coats all standing outside of the room. A scream and cry came from inside; it was my husband. A doctor came forward and grabbed my face as he told me, “I’m sorry we tried everything we could.”
There lay my six month, 3 week and 5-day-old son, dead.
To say my world came crashing down is an understatement. My life stopped.
To hold your lifeless child in your arms and, with everything in you, try to wish life back into them is soul shattering.
The first few days after are a blur. People coming in and out of our house. Everyone saying the same line or sitting in silence. What do you tell a mother and father who just lost their infant son?
Two days later, I lost it. I started screaming at my husband to take me to my son. I hit and punched him; I cried and begged him to please, just let me go. My mom and aunt stood crying, watching me shatter. They all begged me to calm down but my mind couldn’t handle any more. My husband gave in and took me to the coroner’s office. There was a group of officers there for training and one man heard me crying and came out into the lobby. I offered him money to allow me to go be with my son. He faked trying to open the door for me and finally said I could sit in the lobby as long as I like. I sat there for two hours. I just wanted my son to know he wasn’t alone.
Grief is something no one can know how they’ll handle until they are going through it.
I grew up with a mother in grief. She lost her second child- a son as well – 29 years prior to my son’s death. I grew up going to the cemetery for birthdays and watching my mom hold my brother’s pajama suit. It was all she had left of him. She didn’t make it obvious and she was an amazing mother, but I always knew something was missing.
Growing up like that changed the way I’ve handled my son’s death and my surviving children. I decided in the days after that nothing would change for my daughter. I haven’t hid my grief; she sees me cry and knows her brother is in the sky, but I have tried my hardest not to dim her light.
We made the decision not to see our son at the county morgue and wait instead to see him at the mortuary where we could touch him again. That was the hardest three days. I stood in his nursery smelling and touching all of his things until I got the phone call that he was ready. Monday midday we got the call. As we were about to head out I told my husband to grab a hand impression kit we had. He didn’t think they would let us use it but I didn’t plan on asking.
It took us a long while to work our way over to the crib where our son lay. I crawled over because I didn’t want to see his face. I just reached in and held his hand. He was so cold and no longer felt like himself. There have been moments along this journey where the reality just comes crashing down on my heart… that moment was one of the first. I lay down on the couch in the viewing room and held my son for the last time on my chest. He was a comforting weight and if I looked at him from the right angle he still looked like himself.
No one came in to disturb us so I decided it was time to sneak out our mold kit and mold his hands. They turned out so beautifully. But as the days went on and people came through our house, my husband got scared that the plaster would break. He started looking for a way to preserve them. Rocky Mountain Bronze was the only place willing to do a small job like ours, and we drove up the next day.
Afterwards we told the mortuary what we did; a month later they called and asked if we were willing to do the same for a family who lost their father. We agreed, and we weren’t expecting what began from there. We decided to commemorate our son’s life through Alex’s Precious Hands. We make molds of children’s hands free of charge for families who have lost their children. In June it will be 2 years and we have cast 24 sets of hands.
Grief isn’t easy and there is no set way to handle it. Some days you just have to survive.
The first few times you’re happy again you feel like you are betraying your child or like you’ve moved on. But there is no moving on after the loss of a child. You just learn how to navigate your new life.
For me, volunteering, talking about my son and my feelings have been what gets me through. I started volunteering for a local, nonprofit child loss awareness organization, Angel Eyes, and have worked on almost every event they have put on in the two years since Alex died. It helps me being around people who know my loss even if we don’t speak about it.
Don’t get me wrong I still have horrible nights when my eyes burn from tears and I question everything. I sit up wondering how I can make it another day without my son. I watch videos of him laughing and scroll through his pictures wondering where he went and why do I have to live a life without him.
A few months after Alex died I couldn’t stand the quiet and I asked my husband if we could try for another baby. It took him a few months to agree. We now have our 9 month old rainbow baby, a little boy named Christian. Being pregnant with him was extremely difficult; I suffered a lot of depression and anxiety. My midwife was amazing and let me go in as often as I needed so she could find his heartbeat and an ultrasound if I was worried. I’ve tried not to let myself drop into a dark hole but it isn’t easy. Our rainbow has laryngomalacia, a case that requires surgery, and he has been on oxygen for 3 months now. I spend my nights up nursing him and watching him breathe and making sure his cannula is still in. But I try and stay in the present and find the beauty in each day because I don’t want to look back and see that I wasted any time.
Alex was with us for 6 months 3 weeks and 5 days. It seems like such a short time but I am not the same woman I was before. Some days I can remember him without a photo but those days are few and far between now. I don’t remember his smell, the feel of his plump little cheeks beneath my lips or the sound of his laugh. People don’t mention him as often now and their lives have moved on. Some people think I have too but I will always have one foot stuck in the time before Alex died, and one in the time after. I have learned so much being a mother and now as a grieving mother. I try and find the silver lining to every storm cloud because the days come and go so quickly.
Motherhood is beautiful, terrifying, hard, lonely and, above all, the greatest blessing I have ever known. Thank you Hope, Alejandro and Christian for allowing me to be your mother. It is the honor of my life.
Saralyn Ward is an award-winning writer, wellness advocate, and mountain mama. She is the founder of The Mama Sagas, writes for several publications and hosts a regular parenting TV segment on Colorado's Everyday Show. When she's not huddled over edits, you're likely to find Saralyn climbing peaks or skiing down them, and reminding herself that the two little girls that call her mom are not the boss of her.