Blowing Dust Off Boxes

Most families treasure memories of shared experiences and holidays, stories and anecdotes that make us laugh, piles of photographs waiting to be put into albums…..  In our family, we each have a “special box” containing various treasures we’ve collected throughout the years. Perhaps a first pair of shoes, some special cards or letters we’ve received, some of the kids’ poignant pictures or photographs and other various mementos. We each have one box.

Cody, our son who lived for only nine hours and six minutes, has two! Two boxes of mementos from a life that lasted a mere 546 minutes.

Every year on his anniversary, I allow myself some time to remember my son who was earthside for such a short time, to reflect on the impact his death has had on our lives. The grief gets easier to live with as time goes by, and these days I usually find that compartment of my heart buried beneath the busyness and joy of sharing life with my husband and four living children. On this day, however, I give myself the gift of some personal time and space to blow the dust off the boxes, open the lids and reflect on all the keepsakes collected there.

This year, on Cody’s birthday, which happens to also be the anniversary of the day he died, I took some photos of the various box contents, and thought I would share them here for posterity’s sake.

Unlike our special boxes, Cody’s are not filled with memories of anything he did in his life; instead, they are filled with memories of our pain, our loss. The photos I have are photos of my son on life support, of us holding our dead baby, of Cody in his coffin, of us standing in shock and horror at his graveside.

However, there are other treasures, too. Treasures that shine like little lights of love; messages of love and care from dear friends and families who reached out to us in our sorrow, who walked alongside us when we could not bear to walk alone; gifts that were given, pictures that were drawn, words that were shared to encourage and support us on our path through pain.

Cody’s “Special Boxes” (which are actually falling apart after nineteen years! I think it may be time to get a little wooden box that will hopefully last a bit longer, but still be light enough to carry in case of emergency):

Cody's two treasure boxes -  mementos of a short life
Two treasure chests – mementos of a short life
Tiny treasures from beginning to end of a short life: the pregnancy test strip, and his hospital wrist band.
Tiny treasures from beginning to end: the pregnancy test and his hospital wrist band.
A precious, precious keepsake. The ultrasound photo of Cody in utero looking out at us.
A precious keepsake. The ultrasound photo of Cody in utero looking out at us.
Cards from Cody's hospital cradle, detailing his birth info
Cards from Cody’s hospital cradle, detailing his birth info
Our only photograph of Cody prior to him being on life support. This was taken moments after his birth (after he had been "bagged", trying to get him to breathe better - he stayed with me like this for the next two hours - two crucial hours when he should have been in the nursery receiving specialist attention).
Our only photograph of Cody prior to him being on life support. This was taken moments after his birth (after he had been “bagged”, trying to get him to breathe better). He stayed with me like this for the next two hours – two crucial hours when he should have been in the nursery receiving specialist attention.
The next time I held Cody in my arms, he was dead.
The next time I held Cody in my arms, he was dead.
Not quite the family portrait we had been expecting.
Not quite the family portrait we had been expecting. And how I managed a fake half-smile is beyond me.
I never got to wash  Cody's hands, or wipe his fingerprints of dirty windows, but I do have this. Not quite the same, huh.
I never got to wash Cody’s hands, or wipe his fingerprints off dirty windows, but I do have this. Not quite the same, huh.
Newspaper notices: a birth announcement, a death announcement, and a funeral announcement.
Newspaper notices: announcing a birth, a death, and a funeral.
Pages from the "baby book" everyone gets from the hospital when their baby is born. In our case, pretty much all of the book remains empty as it was never needed. A poignant reminder of what could have been....
Pages from the “baby book” everyone gets from the hospital when their baby is born. In our case, pretty much all of the book remains empty as it was never needed. A poignant reminder of what could have been….

Blessed by the kindness and compassion of others….

Mementos from the absolutely incredible NETS (Newborn Emergency Transport Service) team who airlifted Cody to Camperdown Children's Hospital. There was one who went well beyond the call of duty, a nurse, whose name was also Karen. She came to our little hospital with the NETS team, travelled back with Cody, held him while he died (after the life support tubes were removed, subsequent to seven cardiac arrests), and then stayed at the big city hospital long after her shift ended, so that she would be there when we arrived. I don't think we will ever forget her.
Mementos from the absolutely incredible NETS (Newborn Emergency Transport Service) team who airlifted Cody to Camperdown Children’s Hospital. There was one who went well beyond the call of duty, a nurse, whose name was also Karen. She came to our little hospital with the NETS team, travelled back with Cody, held him while he died (after the life support tubes were removed, subsequent to seven cardiac arrests), and then stayed at the big city hospital long after her shift ended, so that she would be there when we arrived. I don’t think we will ever forget her.
Our one and only "birth congratulations" card. It was such a novel idea to give us a card, celebrating his birth, considering he had already died when it was written. It was a wonderful card to receive, because it honoured and validated his life, not just his death.
Our one and only “birth congratulations” card. It was such a novel idea to give us a card that celebrated his birth, considering he had already died when it was written. It was a wonderful card to receive, because it honoured and validated his life, not just his death.
Another thoughtful gift, brought to the funeral by a friend. We still have it and it looks as good as the day he brought it, because it was never played with. :(
Another thoughtful gift, brought to the funeral by a friend. We still have it and it looks as good as the day he brought it, because it was never played with. 🙁
I only have a photograph of these mementos, because they are buried six feet under, with our precious boy. How thankful I am for our dear friend who hand sewed the outfit we buried Cody in.
I only have a photograph of these mementos, because they are buried six feet under, with our precious boy. How thankful I am for our dear friend who hand sewed the outfit we buried Cody in.
We could have buried Cody in this outfit, which I had bought for him during the pregnancy, but we decided we wanted to keep it. I'm glad we did. Sometimes I have held it and caressed it, just to feel close to the one I never got to cuddle much.
We could have buried Cody in this outfit, which I had bought for him during the pregnancy, but we decided we wanted to keep it. I’m glad we did. Sometimes I have held it and caressed it, just to feel close to the one I never got to cuddle much.
We still have the recording of the funeral service and the transcript of our eulogy. Also the "Lifetime Memories" book from the funeral agency that has records of Cody's birth, death and burial, along with signatures of people who came to the funeral. Precious things!
We still have the recording of the funeral service and the eulogy transcript. Also the “Lifetime Memories” book from the funeral agency that has info about Cody’s birth, death and burial, along with signatures of people who came to the funeral. Precious things!
Cards, cards and more cards. Such an outpouring of love and compassion. All treasured, all kept, all appreciated.
Cards, cards and more cards. Such an outpouring of love and compassion. All treasured, all kept, all appreciated. There is more, of course, that people did for us. So much more!! From accompanying us to the funeral parlour, to helping provide care for Travis, to providing groceries, many tissues and soft shoulders…..
What a treasure children are! Some of our "little friends" (who are now big people!) gave us cards and pictures they had made.
What a treasure children are! Some of our “little friends” (who are now big people!) gave us cards and pictures they had made.
Often when we went to the grave during the first couple of years, we would find little gifts there. We never knew who had put them there. Some of them we were able to keep. Only today I got a message from a friend who I haven't seen in years, but who walked those early days with us. She said: "The girls and I used to visit when they where little.  Im embarrassed to say that they usually popped one of their McDonalds toys on… So if you where wondering why they where their it was us!" :)
Often when we went to the grave during the first couple of years, we would find little gifts there. We never knew who they were from. Some of them we were able to keep. Only today I got a message from a friend who I haven’t seen in years, but who walked those early days with us. She said: “The girls and I used to visit when they where little. Im embarrassed to say that they usually popped one of their McDonalds toys on… So if you where wondering why they where their it was us!” 🙂
The plaque at the grave only mentions Travis, our oldest, because he was the only one who was already born when Cody came and left. This is an inscription in a little book we had ready to give him as a "congrats on becoming a big brother" present, along with a picture he made for Cody, after he died. Travis was 22 months old. He's now nearly 21!
The plaque at the grave only mentions Travis, our oldest, because he was the only one who was born when Cody came and left. This is an inscription in a little book we had ready to give him as a “congrats on becoming a big brother” present, along with a picture he made for Cody, after he died. Travis was 22 months old. He’s now nearly 21!
Whilst we did receive an immense amount of support in many ways, there were some who expected we should be "back to normal" within six weeks or so, others who seemed to grow tired of our grief a while after that. Not so my beautiful sister-in-law who surprised us with this hand-made cushion on the one year anniversary of Cody's death. She has since gone on to suffer the untimely early death of her husband, and I hope she has been as blessed by others as we were by her.
Whilst we did receive an immense amount of support in many ways, there were some who expected we should be “back to normal” within six weeks or so, others who seemed to grow tired of our grief a while after that. Not so my beautiful sister-in-law who surprised us with this hand-made cushion on the one year anniversary of Cody’s death. She has since gone on to suffer the untimely early death of her husband, and I hope she has been as blessed by others as we were by her.
In addition to the support we received from friends and family, who were dealing with their own grief, we used to attend a local support group for bereaved parents. It was both a help and a hindrance. Sometimes, listening to other stories was really depressing! But it was good not to feel so alone in our experience, to know there were others walking a similar path. Over the years I often thought of training as a grief counsellor or parent support person, as a way of giving something back, but I have chosen instead to focus on loving my own children well, and responding to situations and opportunities as they arise in my life. For now, anyway.
In addition to the support we received from friends and family, who were dealing with their own grief, we used to attend a local support group for bereaved parents. It was both a help and a hindrance. The ladies who ran the group were incredible! Sometimes, though, listening to other stories was really depressing. But it was good not to feel so alone in our experience, to know there were others walking a similar path. Over the years I often thought of training as a grief counsellor or parent support person, as a way of giving something back, but I have chosen instead to focus on loving my own children well, and responding to situations and opportunities as they arise in my life. For now, anyway.

Giving something back…..

During our first year of grief, when I also happened to be pregnant with our precious third son, Brady, we volunteered to be interviewed by Richard Glover on ABC Radio, about parental grief and subsequent pregnancies. They apparently received many calls and emails from people thanking them for what we shared, so I trust it was worth it! We have a tape of the interview, but I now have no way of listening to it. Can you still buy cassette players, lol?
During our first year of grief, when I also happened to be pregnant with our precious third son, Brady, we volunteered to be interviewed by Richard Glover on ABC Radio, about parental grief and subsequent pregnancies. It was nerve wracking and emotional, but hopefully it was worth it! We have a tape of the interview, but I now have no way of listening to it. Can you still buy cassette players, lol?
We also spoke at our church once about our grief experience, particularly within the context of our faith. We have a copy of that tape, too. It seems we really must procure a cassette player! Some of the feedback from people who heard us speak was so encouraging. It felt good to be giving something back after all that everyone had been giving to us.
We also spoke at our church once about our grief experience, particularly within the context of our faith. We have a copy of that tape, too. It seems we really must procure a cassette player! Some of the feedback from people who heard us speak was so encouraging. It felt good to be giving something back after all that everyone had been giving to us.
When our local library put a call out for donations to their annual Book Day appeal, we decided to give a children's picture book with a difference: a book about the death of a baby but from a sibling's perspective. I hope people borrowed it and were blessed by it. We still have the copy my mum had bought for us, and it had certainly helped our kids when they were young.
When our local library put a call out for donations to their annual Book Day appeal, we decided to give a children’s picture book with a difference: a book about the death of a baby but from a sibling’s perspective. I hope people borrowed it and were blessed by it. We still have the copy my mum had bought for us, which certainly helped our kids when they were young.

Feeling cared for, even after all these years…..

I have received so many lovely messages and comments today, some from people we no longer see but who walked those early years with us, others from people who didn’t know us then, but know us now and reach out with love and support, even diarising his birthdate so they won’t forget. There has also been support, of course, from our immediate and extended family who have been there from the start.

My three youngest kids never got to meet Cody, but I think they still feel a sense of connection, and they certainly show beautiful empathy towards Geoff and I. This is a little note from a couple of years ago. Then just tonight, this message from Brady during a break at work: "I just want you guys to know that I think you are both the most amazing parents anyone could ask for. I know today is always hard for you and always will be. I love you both so much and I hope you're feeling okay tonight. Love, Brady."
My three youngest kids never got to meet Cody, but they still feel a sense of connection, and they certainly show beautiful empathy towards Geoff and I. This is a little note from a couple of years ago. Then tonight, a message came from Brady during his break at work: “I just want you guys to know that I think you are both the most amazing parents anyone could ask for. I know today is always hard for you and always will be. I love you both so much and I hope you’re feeling okay tonight. Love, Brady.”
My lovely husband and kids brought me flowers, tea and raw chocolate today. Can't complain about that! And the kids have just been so gracious and understanding all day long.... Feeling blessed.
My lovely husband and kids brought me flowers, tea and raw chocolate today. I can’t complain about that! And the kids have just been so gracious and understanding all day long…. Feeling blessed.

If you know someone who is recently bereaved, please don’t hold back from showing compassion and empathy. Perhaps you will be inspired by some of the wonderful things our friends and family did for us (not all of which are recorded here, of course). Perhaps you will be inspired by this post, too.

And please don’t assume that grief ends as time passes. It changes, for sure, but random acts of kindness are always appreciated. Let’s do our bit to make the world more kind, loving and compassionate.

Published by

Karen Lee

FAMILY: Married since 1989 (does that make me old?), a full-time Mum since 1993, and unschooling my kids since 2005. On a journey of learning to live free and fully loved as God intended, following Jesus rather than an institution or "religion". Caring for the world and its people as best as I can.