I went directly from the doctor’s office to the funeral.
Holding my breath, I lay on the table while my doctor moved the electronic stethoscope across my belly. Nothing. Nothing. And then… tip, tip, tap, tip tip tap… the steady rapid heartbeat of baby Ben. He was real! Stay there baby, stay and grow, I prayed. Choked with tears, I thanked the doctor and pulled on my yellow dress.
My parents met Erik and I in the parking lot and we joined the long snaking line for the viewing. Little Mitchell was just 5 years old, the baby of the family. Giggling and wrestling with his friends he fell from a hay ride at a church party and was run over by the massive tractor wheels.
The mothers in the vicinity screamed, “A doctor, we need a doctor.” Scott ran to help and found his own critically injured son– Mitchell died in his arms a few moments
As the line entered the building we passed posters covered with Mitchell’s smiling face– newborns photos, crawling, walking, riding his trike, grinning out from under his favorite red baseball cap. Tears streamed from every face, but I was shaking and sobbing, soaking through my dad’s everpresent handkerchiefs and wiping my face on Erik’s sleeve. This was the risk of parenthood– to love a child body and soul and then to lose him.
Reaching Mitchell’s parents, they began to comfort me as people at funerals often do, “We’re going to be all right. We know we’ll see our boy again.”
But as Scott looked behind me and saw my father, he too began to shake and sob. The two men embraced and wept with their whole souls. Over and over Scott repeated, “You know how you love your children. You know how you love your children.”
Many times since(too many times), I’ve watched my friends bury their children. A bit of my own heart breaks with them. Always, always, I’ve been aware of the fragility of life.
Last year, I wrote about baby Britton, his incredible parents and his profound impact on my family. We took hundreds of beautiful, priceless photos documenting his sweet short life. Later, when Zalia was healing we dreamt of forming an organization that would photograph babies in critical condition so that every parent would have the comfort of beautiful photos, of proof that baby existed.
Thankfully, someone else formed Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep(NILMDTS) and incredible non-profit that gifts professional photography to families of still-born and critically ill newborns.
On President’s Day I went to an all-day training session for NILMDTS. I couldn’t have been more excited, my portfolio had just been accepted for membership– this is why I built a website(they require one), this is why I became a photographer! But the training was difficult, sobering— most babies are not beautifully pink and perfect like baby Britton, some situations are toxic and even involve police. We went through list after list of privacy issues and legal ramifications.
So, I’m scared.
But I’m also looking forward to my first photo session at the hospital– because I truly believe that grief can be cut into bits and parceled out. My friend Pam told me of of standing on her front porch just days after her baby boy died of SIDS. She said she could literally feel the love and prayers and concern of her neighbors wash over her. “Every person who cries with me,” she confided, “takes away a piece of my pain.”
So please, don’t think I’m attempting any self-aggrandizement with this new pursuit. It’s truly a completely selfish venture– my own type of insurance policy that maybe if I help others grieve, maybe if I swallow tiny fragments of others aching, I will never have to taste the white hot agony of burying my own children.
Please Lord, bless us all.