September 18, 2019
I should have known that it was a metaphor. June 10. The day was miserable from the moment I woke up. For June it was chilly. Torrential downpours, unrelenting all day. I was off to work to a day of meetings and more meetings – something I always dreaded because I had always felt that days like this were at once exhausting and unproductive. My husband was happily ensconced at home. While his health wasn’t great, he was in a good place and he was content. We had a nice routine and things were going along swimmingly. Both our daughters were now living in the south, just twenty miles or so apart. Younger daughter was a newlywed of less than a year and older daughter had just returned to work after the birth of baby #4, whom I will call “Baby J,” a sweet little boy. Hubby and I had been surprised when daughter and son-in-law had announced that Baby J was on the way. They already had two boys and when their third was a daughter, we felt sure they were “done.” But, if any couple is meant to be parents, these two are. They have so much love to give and in my daughter’s words “we just thought, why not add to the chaos?” We all happily anticipated the new addition.
And so, Baby J arrived without fanfare on March 2, but this is not to say he wasn’t loved; because we all adored him. His siblings were so excited and showered him with attention. The grandparents were thrilled of course. And the icing on the proverbial cake was that his middle name was my husband’s name, something that brought my hubby to tears, that’s how proud he was and how he and Baby J seemed to have a special bond from the very beginning. And, as my daughter had alluded, the chaos heightened. When you are child number four, there is no down time; in fact, it’s always go time. By a couple weeks of age, Baby J was going to baseball and soccer games with his siblings, the grocery store, church, you name it. A couple months after he was born, he even got on a plane to visit family in Colorado and there are photos to prove that strapped to his mother’s chest, he hiked in the Rockies. The kid was leading a pretty phenomenal existence. And he had so many people to care for him, teach him, love him and protect him. What a great life. It was a life he led with a perpetual smile. Such a sweet, sweet smile and amazingly sweet disposition. He never seemed to be unhappy. He gave all of us pure, unmitigated joy. And while he didn’t know it, he had so much to look forward to with the family that he had. His was a blessed life.
And then, he died. Just like that. No warning. No illness. No accident. He simply died. Baby J went down for a nap and did not wake up. On a chilly June day with torrential downpours. The call came through to the executive secretary’s desk outside the conference room where I was in my third meeting of the day. It was mid-afternoon. I was summoned out of the meeting by the secretary that there was an emergency call from my daughter. I typically did not bring my cell phone into meetings. Lesson learned. Now it never leaves me. The moment I heard my daughter’s anguished words through her inconsolable tears, I knew in that one moment that our lives had forever been altered. “Mom, Baby J died.” Seen in black and white, one cannot appreciate the level of anguish in her sobs. It was heart wrenching. I was 360 miles away and there was nothing I could do to ease this nightmare for her. Frankly the miles between us had nothing to do with it. A mother always wants to take away her child’s pain. In this case, I was useless, regardless if I was in the same room or on the phone.
The next several hours are a blur. I ran back to my office to call my husband. It was the hardest call I ever had to make and what I had to tell him was something I truly wished I didn’t have to do by telephone, but because we needed to hit the road ASAP, it would be the most efficient, because several things needed to be accomplished before starting the drive south. My husband, “Grandpa” was devastated and kept saying he wished God had taken him instead. And I know he meant it. He loved that little boy so much. The drive down that night was treacherous – heavy rains, hydroplaning, poor visibility – all interspersed with our conversation, tears and often painful silences. The theme was WHY? And WHAT? WHY would God do this to our daughter and son-in-law who are two of the best people we know and WHAT can we do to help them get through this? We had to get through it too, but we needed to focus on them first and foremost. Each of us silently pleaded for strength. And clung to each other throughout the days we spent down south and thereafter. It’s a pain like no other.
As ugly as the weather was on that most awful of days, the subsequent days we spent down there were absolutely stunning with warm temperatures and bright skies. Baby J’s death also brought out the very best in people. Friends, neighbors, co-workers and even complete strangers enveloped Baby J’s family with love, support, food, and much needed alcohol. And there was so much to do as anyone who has had to prepare a funeral knows. And, thanks to organization, and many hands on-deck, we got it done. I had one small melt-down at the neighborhood pharmacy picking up a few prescriptions for my daughter. Her doctor had also called in a prescription for a sleeping aid, which because it was a controlled substance, needed prior insurance authorization and so Mr. Pharmacist refused to release the prescription to me. At this point, our little Baby J had been gone for three days, the viewing was scheduled for the next day and the funeral the following day, and my daughter essentially had not had any useful or restful sleep. I told him firmly what had happened and all he needed to give me was enough to get us through the next three or four days and we could wait on the rest and that I wasn’t going to leave until I had four pills. He initially stood his ground, but this stubborn Irishman stood hers with such a glare on her face which I guess was intimidating because it worked. I walked out of the pharmacy with what we needed to give my daughter some much needed sleep for the days ahead.
One thing that struck me during this time was that daughter and son-in-law, while dealing with this unthinkable loss, were always making sure that the other was doing OK. This has always been the hallmark of their marriage and something I have always admired. They also made it a point to spend one-on-one time with Baby J’s siblings who were having a difficult time grasping the finality of this tragedy. Like I said, they are exceptional parents. I also need to mention my younger daughter and her husband here. She and her sister have always been best friends and for that I have always been grateful. She and her hub truly were the best support system for them during the early days of this nightmare and going forward. They love their nieces and nephews and provided a much-needed distraction for them when Baby J’s parents needed some alone time. I love them for that.
The visitation and funeral mass were jam-packed, I believe a testament to the kind of people my daughter and son-in-law are and the impact they have had on their community, but let’s face it, the death of a three-and-a-half-month-old baby touches everyone in a palpable way, an incredibly sad way. The hymns, the scriptures, the eulogies (delivered by Baby J’s mommy and daddy) were heart-wrenching and beautiful. It was truly a celebration of life – a short life, but a life of meaning and a life that touched all those who loved him.
That was six years ago. He would be starting first grade now. Baby J will always be that smiling little boy who would squeal in delight when his brothers made him laugh. This should not have happened, but I don’t have the right to question God’s plan. It happened. The horror of that day will never leave. I wish I could have done more to ease my daughter’s pain, but I know she doesn’t feel that way. We all remember that debilitating nightmare and somehow can still find joy in our lives again. We must, or we will wither up and have no purpose. But we will never forget it, because it was the worst day.