The lovely part about my business travel is the fact that the majority of my trips are to historic Old Town Alexandria. There are so many worse places. My hotel is within walking distance of the Metro, my customer, dozens of restaurants, an awesome olive oil store and there’s a Starbucks in the lobby.
Yes. I pass a Starbucks each morning. Without stepping a foot outside.
The Starbucks really tipped the scale in favor of this particular hotel.
Yesterday morning I was getting my grande non-fat iced chai when I saw a new mother pushing the tiniest little baby girl in a stroller.
My heart stopped. Her baby was so small.
The barista was moving incredibly slowly. I debated the feasibility of abandoning my drink and running in the opposite direction.
But that seemed a little overly dramatic.
The woman walked up behind me to collect her decaf coffee. I ached as I watched her sleeping baby. Her perfect sleeping baby. My soul withered, sinking a bit more deeply into the vapid nothingness Samuel has left behind.
I’ve said this before, but there are two options in life. One is to embrace bitterness. The other is to find the beauty, the humor, the loveliness of all that is life, even through your own all-consuming pain.
I do not want to be the kind of person who chooses bitterness.
“She’s precious,” I breathed, while my soul, shrouded in grief, screamed, “Please see my insane pain. Please. I lost my baby. It’s been just over three months since he died. Please, please, please see my silent agony. Your daughter is so perfect. So tiny. And my son. My son, my baby, is dead. With so little hope for another child to bless my world. Please do something to comfort me in all this sadness because you have exactly what I want and I am so jealous.”
But grief is a strange beast. Invisible to others is the pain that eats at your soul.
So she didn’t hear my pleading screams.
“Thanks,” she sheepishly grinned at me. Her daughter scrunched up her delicate face and made that grunty, croaking cry that only newborns can make. Not shrill. Not demanding. Just a moan of discontent, so easily assuaged by her pacifier and a few gentle pats from mom.
“How are you doing?” I asked her, empathy overcoming my selfish desire for her to somehow compensate for what I have lost.
The mother’s shoulders sank. In fatigue, in exhaustion, in frustration. I don’t know.
“It’s such a big change,” she admitted. “And she’s a content baby. I shouldn’t complain, but – gosh – she only sleeps three hours at a time. I’m so tired,” she said as she raised her decaf coffee in reference. “I pretend this has caffeine.”
She was struggling. Like me. Not the same as me, but struggling nonetheless. “Ah,” I sighed. “I remember those days,” thinking back to the cuddly newborn twins I set an alarm to feed every three hours. Remember the all-encompassing exhaustion. I searched for something wise, something comforting, to say. I debated about informing her she needed to enjoy her baby because mine was dead and I’d love to be sleep-deprived. But motherhood is so difficult. So hard. And, regardless of what you do, the guilt is so extreme. This woman didn’t need that from me, didn’t need my sadness piled on top of her crushing fatigue.
“You know, it’s so hard to soak it all in when you’re getting sleep in three-hour chunks, isn’t it? And you so want to revel in every single moment,” I reminisced as I picked up my tea, finally, from the counter.
“Yeah,” she sighed. “Yeah, you do.”
“She’s beautiful, though. Precious. My best to your family. Truly,” I said in farewell.
I cried silent tears as I walked on the uneven brick sidewalks to my first appointment.
And then I took a deep breath. And faced my day.
But there are people who embrace my grief. So many of you. Perhaps this new mother didn’t hear the screams of my heart, but you have. You have. And for that I am so very, very grateful. Your messages, your gifts, your prayers, your thoughts, your meals, your hugs, your words of love. I may not have responded, but I am so incredibly thankful that you have not forgotten us. That you have faced your fears or your pain or embraced our pain as though it were your own. That you have cried for Samuel as you have held your own babies. Lee and I are so very fortunate, so very blessed, to have people such as you to surround us – both in person and from afar.
And there are others. Other parents who have lost their little babies. I know this. Samuel is buried beside their children.
I have shed tears for these babies. For their parents.
And now I will share these families with you.
Gabriella Lee Diaz. "You'll be in our hearts forever. Love you, Mommy and Daddy." Likely the only thing her parents could give her, the promise that they would keep her in their hearts forever. And they have. They still visit Gabriella. They remember.
The Chappelear twins. Joshua Allen and Benjamin Wayne. Joshua lived less than a month. Benjamin passed away two months after his twin brother. Their parents. Losing twins in the span of three months. First one son, then the other. Both gone after three months.
And then their sister, Alesha Nicole. Yes. Their sister. Born four years later. She lived a single day. Their parents buried a baby girl after fighting three months for their twin boys just four years before. Were there babies in the four year span between lost children? Or did it take them all of that time to recover enough to try again?
Colin Gartley Wright. "Forever cherished and loved." His life marked by a single pair of footprints on his memorial.
The Murphy triplets. Robert, Tyler and Ella. Triplets. All lost.
Jansen Turner Sanders. Son of Amy and Wendell. "I pray thee Lord, my soul to keep."
"God's finger touched him and he slept." Terry Michael Nixten, Jr. Just over two years old. A sweet little two-year old boy. Lost in foreverness.
And then there's Janet Arline Day. Six years old. "Walk softly for an angel sleeps here." How did her parents bear losing their six year-old girl, bright and glowing in the prime of childhood? Walk softly. Janet is sleeping.
"Our precious baby, greatly prayed for and loved." Sweet baby Benjamin David Rowland. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God." For they will see God. The baby for whom they had prayed. They baby they loved. His parents trusting that he would see God.
"An angel in the book of life wrote down my baby's birth and whispered as she closed the book, 'Too beautiful for earth.'" Jordan Michael Totten. A baby who lived just two short weeks. Two weeks Jordan's parents fought for their baby. Two weeks. And then Jordan was no more. Too beautiful for earth.
Tammy Williamson. "God's greatest gift returned to God." What pain these parents must have felt, losing their greatest gift. Their greatest gift. And how amazing that they could feel that Tammy was a gift. A gift. Not something to which they were entitled, but a gift. How many of us feel this way? Especially when we possess the gift no more.
Zachery W. Bell. "In our arms for a moment, in our hearts forever."
And then the Anderson babies. David Eugene. Born in 1969. He lived for two days.
His sister. Heidi Eileen. Born in 1970. She lived two days. How did her parents watch a second baby live but two days? Did they know? Did they sit there in agony as they watched a second baby slip from this world, a second baby who died after two days of life?
And their third child, another daughter. Carrie Dene. Born a year later. She lived three days. A third child. Who lived three days. These parents lost three babies in three years. 1969, 1970, 1971. Can you imagine their world? There isn't a fourth grave marker. Perhaps their fourth child lived. Perhaps they couldn't bear the possibility of a fourth loss. Perhaps. Perhaps. Perhaps. We won't know.
"Our sweet little boy." A baby boy who lived nine days. Mommy and Daddy love you, Nicholas Dean Elkins.
And then there is Candace Alexandria Bell. A baby girl who was born in 1993. "So small. So sweet. So soon." A baby with heartbroken parents. Parents who still visit her grave, almost two decades later. Can you imagine grief overwhelming enough to last two decades? Twenty years of missing their baby. Who will I be in twenty years?
Daniel Steven Price Gonzales. A baby born at 9:48 am. A time that was significant enough, important enough, for his parents to engrave it on his memorial. Was is all they had of him? How long did he live? Minutes? Hours? And parents, people who said, "The day you left, you took our hearts with you." Parents without their hearts, gone with their baby boy. A family loving him from both nearby and far away: "Mommy and Daddy, your grandparents, uncles and family, with love in Guatemala."
The Dodd twins. Nicole and Rachelle. "Our little angels sleep here." Born in 1982. A few months after I was born.
And their sister. Born just over eighteen months later. "Our little angel sleeps here." Roxann Dodd. Her parents probably thought it would be easier, safer, to carry just one baby. That twins were too much. That a singleton would gestate enough to survive. But, instead, they buries a third sweet baby girl. Did they try again? Did they give up hope? Did they move on? It's been thirty years. Where are they now?
Jackson Matthew Brown. A boy known as "Baby Jax." A baby who fought for just under five months. His parents knew their little boy for five months. And then they had to say goodbye. Forever. A baby who possessed the "strength of a lion and spirit of a lamp." He left behind his heartbroken mother and father: "If love could have saved you, you would have lived forever." But love isn't enough to save. Despite love, we have lost our babies. Despite love, we have placed them in a cemetery. Despite love, we have had to move on.
"Although you never breathed our air or gazed into our eyes, that doesn't mean you never was. An angel never dies." Jaylin M. Jeantine. Parents who memorialized her existence with such eloquent words.
Rhian Victoria Reynolds. She didn't even live a month. "In our arms for a moment, in our hearts forever."
Emily Jo Clausen. "The crown without the conflict." A baby who died just before her first birthday. Had she been sick the entire time? Was her death unexpected? Instead of planning her first birthday party, her parents planned her funeral.
Little twenty-one day-old Zachary Aaron Tontz. "I have not forgotten you. You are carved on the palm of my hand." His parents have not forgotten him. Thirteen years later, they still visit his grave. They have not forgotten you, Zachary.
"Walk softly, an angel sleeps here." Baby Antoinette P. Raglin, gone after less than two months. Two months. Less than a month before Christmas. While everyone was celebrating, the Raglin family mourned their precious child.
And, sadly, there are more. Many more. These are the ones that touched me. These are the babies for whom I have cried. Every time I visit Samuel's grave, I mourn with these mothers and fathers. I cry over their stories, or, at least, I cry over what little I can surmise of their stories.
Lee and I agonized over how to memorialize Samuel. How do we choose something that isn't like everything we've seen? How do we make Samuel's grave as unique as his story? As unique as his moment? As unique as our love for him? As unique as our sorrow for him?
We spent many, many weeks searching and researching and philosophizing. And then we spent many, many days tweaking the design. "Tweaking" as in asking the man from the monument company questions like, "Can you move that graphic over a few millimeters and rotate it a tiny bit to the left?" And then clarifying, "Oh, wait. Not THAT far to the left. Can we see what it would look like a little less left? And with the second text phrase above it?" And, after seeing the new version, saying, "Um. Yeah. Can you move the text back down, but shrink it a little to be the size of the other text?"
They were very patient with us. Even when the babies tried to break five monuments in under ten minutes of running wild in their showroom. Monuments are granite. Apparently even granite isn't impervious to Arielle and Josiah.
How do you epitomize your son in a few short words or phrases and one small graphic? Lee and I agonized over this question for days. How do you say that he was born alive, that he was enough of a fighter to live when he should have died during labor, should have been stillborn? How do you say that he was desperately wanted and insanely loved? How do you explain his tiny perfect little body, too small to survive all that life required? That he tried to grow even when his mother couldn't provide what he needed? That he was sweet and silent and content?
The answer is that you cannot say these things. You cannot communicate all that is in your heart.
But you can say something.
And that is what we did.