When Candice went into labor with her first child, she never dreamed that she would soon be saying “good bye.” She has written about her journey of love and loss of her son Alex in the hopes to raise awareness for Hyplo-plastic Left Heart Syndrome. On Monday, she shared her story. Today she talks about coping with life after the loss of a child.
Read the entire series here.
Many people ask me how I did it. How I was able to survive losing a child. I will tell you this: it was not easy. I will also tell you that I didn’t survive it, God carried me through it.
You see even when I was pregnant I had this overwhelming feeling that something was wrong, but nothing was detected. I kept having odd dreams that there was something wrong with him. I also got intensive care insurance that would protect both me and my unborn son while I was pregnant.
While visiting West Virginia, my husband and I stayed in a hotel that was next to a beautiful cemetery. We were told that it was a place many take walks because it is so beautifully landscaped. We decided to give it a try. Where we cut across the cemetery to enter; there were hundreds of graves of children who had passed away. At this time I was seven months pregnant and I told my husband I could never imagine burying my child. I believe God was preparing me with each one of these moments.
The night before I was induced I looked at my mom and husband and told them that I felt like I was having a baby the next day, but that I wasn’t bringing him home. The next morning when we went to be induced I started sobbing before we got out of the car and told my husband we needed to pray. My prayer was simple. Over and over again I cried, “Whatever it is You are about to do, just prepare our hearts.” I believe he was doing just that.
Throughout our time at Duke I felt God’s presence. I somehow knew that our time was short with Alex. This for some reason didn’t freak me out, but made me enjoy every minute with him. I prayed many times on my knees sobbing in an empty hallway of the hospital praying for a miracle, praying for Him to change His mind. But I always felt His answer was, “no.” He made me okay with this answer. He put blessing after blessing in front of us. We met amazing people and made forever friends. We were able to be a part of a new surgery program where they removed Alex’s thymus tissue and used it to correct DiGeorge anomaly. Duke is the only Medical Center that performs this procedure. In the summer of 2007 we received a letter from Dr. Market telling us that the child who received Alex’s thymus tissue was alive and well because of him. We believe that although God didn’t answer our prayer of healing for Alex on earth, He did answer many other prayers, and ultimately He healed him.
Although I felt God’s presence when Alex was sick. I pushed Him away months after losing him. I was angry and honestly going a little crazy. I can’t even begin to count the number of times I paced the house not knowing what to do, or how many nights I laid in my bed unable to close my eyes despite how tired I was. When the morning would finally come I wouldn’t want to get out of bed.
Doing the day to day things was even hard. I can’t even begin to fathom what the water bill was like at that time because I would sit in the shower sobbing until the water turned cold. I would sit in his untouched nursery and rock in the glider smelling the only outfit he ever wore alive. I would sleep on the rug in his nursery. I would wake up to a baby crying; only to realize there was no way it was possible. I was alone. I didn’t want to laugh or show happiness because did that mean my heart was cold and I was moving on so quickly? I couldn’t talk to my friends and family about it because no one really understood how I felt and besides, I was supposed to be getting better.
I didn’t want to burden my friends and family with all my pain, when I knew it just made them feel helpless. My husband and I were grieving completely differently and I couldn’t talk to him either because he didn’t want to talk about it. I was spiraling out of control in my own mind and was angry that everyone else could move forward and I couldn’t.
I can’t pin point exactly when things started getting better for me, but one thing I did that was so helpful was read. I read book after book of other mothers who lost their children. For me this was comforting. I knew that I wasn’t alone. I could read about someone else’s experiences and know that although I felt like I was losing it, I was okay and other people go through this too in their grief. I read about how couples grieve differently and that because of this there was a high percentage of marriages that end in divorce (although statistics are stating otherwise now). This forced my husband and me to communicate and to “make it.”
We also began several traditions that first year. At the first Christmas we got the grandparents gifts that incorporated Alex, knowing they were grieving as well. The first year was a silver booty ornament engraved with his name, the second was a plate with the footprints of our second son in which one footprint was made into a reindeer and the other an angel, and one of the more recent a Yankee Candle with a picture of my two children holding Alex’s picture.
For Alex’s birthday we celebrate, this has gotten easier over the years and with the help of our children. Together we bake a cake or cupcakes and have a celebration. In the past we have gone to different kids museums or play places. This year we even had a close family come and celebrate with us. We also remember his “Angel Day.” We do this by releasing balloons. The number of balloons represents the number of years he has been gone. We each write him a note, including the kids, attach it to the balloons and release them. We feel this is a great representation of him leaving this Earth and reaching farther than we can see.
Some other things we do are: plant flowers each year in our “memory garden,” give hospital “goody bags” of the hospital stay essential to families we know in the hospital, we have provided hotel stays for friends whose children were in a hospital a good distance away, as well as financial support to other families in the same situation. Although we have created many little traditions over the years, the most important thing we do is talk about Alex. We share with our children who their brother is. We do not hide pictures, even the “bad” ones. We are honest with them about how he was born with a bad heart and was really sick. They often will talk about him themselves as if they know him, especially our second born, Xavier.
Here is what I know about grief. I know that it is different for everyone and that everyone has to find a way to handle their emotions and all that surrounds their child’s life. I also know that at some point you have to make a conscious decision: will I get out of bed today? Once you have decided to get out of bed, you have to decide how you will LIVE.
For my husband and me, we decided to live each day remembering our little man with good memories. We don’t mourn the loss of his life (although you may catch a few tears or sobs once in a while) but celebrate his life. We believe that God could have chosen anyone to be his parents, but He chose us. He chose us to love him, help him fight, and to ultimately achieve his purpose in life. We may not be clear on what his purpose was but we know that such a tiny little soul has completely changed our lives. Because of his life, we are able to talk to other parents who are dealing with loss. We are able to share with others the positives in life.We are not scarred by his death, but blessed by his life.