Ode to Cody, 18 years on…..

Today would have been my second son’s 18th birthday.

Sadly, he didn’t even make it to his first one.
Nor to the anniversary of his first month,
or week,
or day.

Some would say I should be “over it” by now.
But that’s just a load of bunkum!

Cody Luke was, and is, my son.

Cody's Grave

I just haven’t had the privilege of being a face to face mum with him.
Or the privilege of creating a lifetime of memories that include him.
I haven’t had the privilege of parenting him.

I haven’t had the privilege of helping him learn to
ride a bike,
tie his shoes,
or read a book.

I haven’t had the privilege of
playing with him,
hanging out with him,
bandaging his wounds,
enjoying life with him
or even wiping his nose.

I haven’t had the privilege of watching him grow up,
or watching him spread his wings and fly.

He spread his wings and flew away a long, long time ago.
I wasn’t even with him.

And my heart is still broken.

It beats, but it is different now.
And it always will be.

Did you know that hearts go on beating when they are broken?

I have learned to live with this brick in my pocket.
And that’s okay.

This is who I am.
This is my journey.

It isn’t raw like it was in the early days.

I can now look at another baby without being blinded by tears.
I can now – almost – watch a helicopter without feeling sick.
I can live an awesome life without feeling burdened by a weight of grief.
The brick doesn’t feel so heavy anymore.
It feels familiar and simply part of me.

“Do babies grow up in heaven?” my daughter wants to know.
She thinks they probably do,
but I think maybe that’s not fair
because I want so desperately to hold my baby in my arms again.

I don’t know how things are in eternity, but I know this:
I miss my little-baby-come-big-grown-up-teenage-boy.

Whether I get to hold my baby in my arms again one day,
or whether I get to have a great big bear hug with an adult,
I know this one thing:

My faith in a life that goes beyond our final breath is my sanity in all of this.
It is the hope that has kept me …. hopeful.
It is the root of peace in my soul.

That – and the fact that I saw into his eyes.
So many do not get that beautiful privilege.

For Cody

Cody, you were so wanted.
So loved.
You are so grieved.

I still miss you!
I wonder how different life would have been if you hadn’t left so soon.

I would change so many things if I could,
hoping it might have led to a different outcome
but I would never change the decision to bring you into the world.

I like to think my experience of birth, loss and grief has made me
A better mum to your siblings,
A more compassionate person,
A voice of hope to those who suffer.

You have two other brothers and a sister now.
Only one of them met you, but they all know of you, and speak of you.
And this is such a comfort to me.

I am thankful for society’s newfound awareness of the need to
hold
grieve
photograph
and remember
our little babies who died too soon.

Today we had birthday cake in your memory.
I just wish you were here to blow out the candles.

I wonder how you would have celebrated your 18th birthday?

An 18th Birthday – Without the Birthday Boy

I woke up to this beautiful sight: my youngest one bringing me breakfast in bed (her idea) on her "big brother's" 18th Birthday
I woke up to this beautiful sight: my youngest one bringing me breakfast in bed (her idea) on her “big brother’s” 18th Birthday
Today I also had a sick girl which served as a reminder to live in the moment and be a mum to my living kids. I had walked into the lounge room and found her sitting there holding her sore throat. When I tried to take photos of the cute sad face, it turned into a bit of a giggle fest. Giggles and grief are part of the same package.
Today I also had a sick girl which served as a reminder to live in the moment and be a mum to my living kids. I had walked into the lounge room and found her sitting there holding her sore throat. When I tried to take photos of the cute sad face, it turned into a bit of a giggle fest. We also ended up having quite a few giggles throughout the day, as she was using a text-to-voice app to communicate, because her throat was sore. Anytime she wanted to speak, she would type her words into her iPod and this adult British MALE voice would speak on her behalf. It was highly amusing! **Giggles and grief are part of the same package.**
Life goes on! In the midst of a day of remembrance and reflection, there were picnic umbrellas to rescue from the storm, washing to get off the line when it rains, dishes to wash.....
Life goes on! In the midst of a day of remembrance and reflection, there was a picnic umbrella to rescue from the storm, washing to get off the line when it rained, dishes to wash….. Well, the dishes will probably still be there in the morning….
In the midst of it all, a moment to remember and reflect. Some years I spend hours of solitude doing this, other years less so. This year was one of the "less" years, but I feel like I wanted more. I am still pleased with other aspects of the day, though.
In the midst of it all, a moment to remember and reflect, to ponder, to browse through the objects that make up the entirety of his physical existence on earth. Some years I spend hours of solitude perusing his two memory boxes, other years not so much. This was one of the “not-so-much” years, but I feel like I wanted more. I am still pleased with other aspects of the day, though.
It's an odd coincidence, but only yesterday we bought a little remote control helicopter, and it just so happens that helicopters are a sensitive issue for me, being as Cody was airlifted by helicopter just before he died. Today my daughter helped to reframe the issue for me, sending me a little love note by helicopter!
It’s an odd coincidence, but only yesterday we bought a little remote control helicopter, and it just so happens that helicopters are a sensitive issue for me, being as Cody was airlifted by one just before he died. Today my daughter helped to reframe the issue for me, sending me a little love note by helicopter!
Next up was birthday cake making time! This is a tradition I started from the very first anniversary. It was cathartic (and poignant) then, and has continued to be so ever since.
Next up was birthday cake making time! This is a tradition I started from the very first anniversary. It was cathartic (and poignant) then, and has continued to be so ever since.
Next up was dinner out as a family, to "celebrate" Cody's 18th birthday. It was a strange thing to do in some ways, and highlighted the fact he wasn't with us, but it also felt good to at least do something nice. We were sad to also have our youngest son absent, because he is away on camp. Good food, good conversation and sadness all mixed up together.....
Next up was dinner out as a family, to “celebrate” Cody’s 18th birthday. It was a strange thing to do in some ways, and highlighted the fact he wasn’t with us, but it also felt good to at least do something nice. We were sad to also have our youngest son absent, because he is away on camp. Good food, good conversation and sadness all mixed up together…..
Lighting the candles on Cody's cake was surprisingly fun! Brady did a stellar job it, only to have someone fly our new remote control helicopter right above the cake, which caused the breeze from the helicopter to extinguish the candles! It was pretty funny and we all needed the laugh. More laughs were had when the family effort at blowing the candles out had far less impact that the tiny little helicopter had!
Lighting the candles on Cody’s cake was surprisingly fun! Brady did a stellar job it, only to have someone fly our new remote control helicopter right above the cake, which caused the breeze from the helicopter to extinguish the candles! It was pretty funny and we all needed the laugh. More laughs were had when the family effort at blowing the candles out had far less impact that the tiny little helicopter had!

I’ll finish off with how our night finished off: having a bit of fun with our new toy! That which was once a source of pain and despair, has today become a source of fun and laughter.

Well, a milestone has come …. and gone.
Which is pretty much how grief is, I guess.
The hard days come, but the hard days also go.
And even in the midst of sadness and grief,
there can be laughter and good times.

It is not a black and white, linear process.
It is a black, white, grey, and sometimes multi-coloured
swirling sea with patches of calm, great depths,
and sometimes wild, crashing waves.

In a way, Cody’s birth and death feel like yesterday,
and in another way it is as though it happened to someone else,
or in a different lifetime.

The end result is, the loss never goes away,
the hole is always there.
But you get used to living with it.
Like a hole in a favourite pair of jeans
The hole moves with the fabric and adds character.

You move on with life, living differently than how you did before.
Your perspective on what matters is different, for the better!
You don’t stay the same as how you were;
hopefully you become more gracious, empathic and understanding.

Pain can be a pathway to peace;
the kind of peace that is not dependent on good times,
or happy circumstances;
the kind of peace that is a constant uncurrent beneath the storms of life.

To those who grieve,
You will be okay.
I will be okay.
I AM okay.

The First Year of Grief

Early Days

Waking up the morning after Cody’s funeral was ……. surreal.

Surely this wasn’t true.
Surely it wasn’t happening to us.
To me.
It must be someone else’s nightmare!
Head-shaking-disbelief.
Pinch-yourself-shock.

Despair.

And suddenly – the cry of a toddler hungry for Weet Bix!

Reality like a splash of icy cold water hits me in the face!

Conflicted emotions tug at my heart strings and threaten to rip them apart.
Part of me wants to lie prostrate on my baby’s grave, as close to him as possible.

Part of me can’t bear the thought of leaving my toddler and husband.
I am needed.
But I am empty.
Everything I had to give poured out of me with my tears.

But give I must.

In a robotic trance I go about my day, doing what must be done. And nothing more.

I just want to sit in utter silence, rocking back and forth,
Weeping for my wee one who is with us no more……

Remnants-of-a-short-life-unshackled

And so began day 6 of my grief walk. Sometimes it felt more like limping. Or lying down in the foetal position wishing the world would go away and leave me alone.

I honestly don’t think I changed a nappy for the first two weeks. I don’t remember cooking, or doing anything practical at all.

I just remember the tears. Waking up in the middle of the night, finding myself standing in the darkness of the kitchen, sobbing with gusto.

Other times the tears were silent, invisible even; falling within, unseen by other eyes.

I had a framed photo of my son, which I would sometimes clutch to my chest, but its hard wooden frame, cold glass and pointed edges were a stark contrast to the warm softness of a baby’s skin; a painful reminder of what I was really holding. Sometimes I would kiss the photographed image of my son’s lips, but between us was the cold, hard pane of glass. There was to be no more physical contact between me and my son. I was alone.

I vividly remember the first time it rained. I had a panicky, irrational, frantic, desperate desire to rush to the grave and rescue Cody from the falling raindrops, falling like tears upon the now sodden, muddy ground. I couldn’t bear the thought of his grave getting wet. I wanted to keep my baby dry. My tears fell like raindrops and there was no umbrella large enough to stop their wetness getting through to every part of me.

Such was the madness of maternal grief.

Til Death Do Us Part?

Grieving for a lost child, while parenting another child, and somehow navigating the tricky waters of shared parental grief, is a minefield of potential disasters. Geoff and I promised we would always be honest with each other, and refrain from the desire to “be strong”, or pretend. But we found that was easier said than done. The natural tendency, when one of us seemed to be doing “okay” and the other was falling apart, was to try to shield them from the intense emotions. That shielding could easily become a wedge that divided us. The intention was good but the outcome not always so.

I still remember the intense loneliness on Geoff’s first day back at university, three weeks after Cody died. A friend’s presence provided temporary comfort, a partial distraction from the life that lay ahead.

One of the things I learned throughout all of this was how differently men and women grieve.

I cried, I wept, I sat by the grave. I drenched my friends’ shirt sleeves with my tears. I shared numerous cuppas, walks, talks and tissues with supportive sisters. I often looked through the little collection of memorabilia from Cody’s short life and treasured every card and photo and keepsake even though they drew out my tears. I journalled my feelings, shared my thoughts, and sought comfort in the care of friends and family.

My husband’s grief was, for the most part, shut away behind his relentless effort to support me and be strong for me. When it did come out, it was often an angry grief. He yelled himself hoarse as he drove home from work, he threw things, he visited the midwife to plead desperately for answers, he shut himself away in a cave, he avoided the grave, he tried to be strong and supportive for me and yet struggled with volatile emotions that scared even him.

He didn’t get anywhere near the support from his mates as I got from my friends and family. I’m not sure whether his angry emotions scared them off, or if it’s just what blokes do? Take him out for a beer and talk about the footy.

“She’ll be right.”
“How’s the wife?”

I don’t for a moment doubt their compassion. I think they were simply products of a society that just doesn’t know how to handle male despair. I remember reading once about a primitive ritual in a far off place where a grieving man chooses a tree from the forest, and takes out his despair upon the tree with a machete, then throughout the days, months and years ahead, he visits the tree and observes its gradual healing, a symbol of that taking place within himself. I have read of cultures where men construct the coffin, often beginning with the chopping down of a tree. The physical outlet for grief, I imagine, is a significant part of their grief journey; an outlet so desperately needed for the huge emotions impossible to contain.

I think Geoff felt much more alone in his grief than I did in mine. Why is it that guys find it so much harder to show compassion towards those who are suffering? To take the time to really find out how they are going, and lend an empathic listening ear rather than a slap on the back with a beer in the hand? Why do people in general assume that a father grieving the death of a newborn doesn’t suffer as much as the mother? Why do they ask how a man how his wife is going, rather than asking him how HE is going?

Dads grieve too.

Help!

Whilst we at times tried to shield each other from our darkest days, we were also a lifeline of support from which we each gained incredible strength. We went together to a SANDS Support Group. We went together to grief counselling. We were a team. We were partners in this shared nightmare.

It was at counselling that we were challenged to consider the idea that always agreeing with each other, shielding each other, and thinking we could be each other’s “everything” was a bit “1950’s-ish” and that it was okay to be disappointed in each other, angry with each other, real with each other.

I think we’ve progressed well beyond the 50’s now. 🙂

The SANDS Support Group was certainly another lifeline, especially at first. It was amazing to walk into a room and find a group of people that had some idea of what we were going through.

Family and Friends

One thing that was strange for me was laughing. It didn’t happen much, but when laughter erupted it felt almost….inappropriate.

Our family and friends seemed to like it when we laughed or seemed happy though, because it made their job easier. Evaluations of me being “strong” were unhelpful to me, because it wasn’t always true, and I didn’t want to feel pressured to make it so.

It is hard to hang around with someone who is experiencing emotions that we deem “negative”, and who is morose a lot of the time, so I am deeply thankful for those friends who could manage it.

In fact, to be honest, I felt an incredible amount of support from my family and friends. I felt their compassion and love deeply. One or two people in particular were a strong lifeline of support for me.

There was a time, though, when I began to realise that this was really hard for them, too. We had “lost” our baby. They had lost their happy, fun-loving friends and in a way, they had lost Cody, too. It was amazing at times to visit the grave and discover that someone else had left some flowers or a toy there.

Strangers and Acquaintances

I remember walking through a shopping centre once, and feeling as though I was encased in a big glass box. People could see me, but I felt completely disconnected from my surroundings. I couldn’t believe that the world was going on around me as though ours hadn’t just ended. I was almost offended in a way, and felt like shouting out, “Do you not realise my baby just died!!!”

Everywhere I looked there were pregnant women or parents with newborns. I’m sure there hadn’t been this many previously! And whilst I could sometimes cope with it, there were other times when, seemingly out of the blue, I would burst into tears.

One day a new lady came to my women’s Bible Study group, and she had a baby boy who was about the same age as Cody would have been, which was 7 months by then. My other friend who’d had a baby 2 weeks before me, and had been an incredible support, was obviously there with her little boy too. The babies were old enough to be very cute, and everyone was laughing and enjoying these two baby boys. And I just lost it! It should have been Cody! Our two boys were going to grow up as great mates. But not any more.

There were strangers who said the most ridiculous things, such as, “You’re lucky your baby didn’t live for six months! Imagine how hard THAT would be!” or “Hmmm it’s been six weeks. You must be feeling better” or “God must have loved your baby more than you did” or “God needed another angel in heaven”. I could go on.

And then there were the strangers who gave love. Empathy. Understanding. Grace.

Pregnant!

One of our dreams had been to have a large family, with our children born closely together, so we knew that the longer time marched on, the more salt would be rubbed into our Cody wound, because we would end up having two siblings with a big age gap. Travis was 21 months old when Cody died. We decided that we didn’t want to wait too long before having another baby for Travis to play with, and for us to hold.

It was complex, though.

In no way, shape or form, did we see a subsequent child as a replacement for Cody. Such a thing would be impossible! And undesirable.

But we didn’t want to live forever with this extra wound of widely spaced children, when we had desired them close in age.

So, against advice, we went ahead with….. Well, let’s just say I was pregnant again eight weeks after Cody died!

We were absolutely ECSTATIC with the news that we were going to have a baby. In fact, we wanted it so badly that we just kept repeating the negative tests until we finally got the positive result we were looking for! I think we got 3 negative results until finally, on the fourth day, we got the result we were looking for!

Our joy and elation was tempered by our grief and sadness. It was complicated and messy. It was hard to separate the two situations when I was experiencing them simultaneously.

We were in the early stages of grief.
We were in the early stages of pregnancy.

We chose to cease attending SANDS meetings. Listening to the variety of tragic tales of things that had gone wrong and which had resulted in the death of a baby was doing my head in. I needed to do all I could to believe that this baby might actually live! Focussing on all those pregnancies that had resulted in death was not what I needed. There were also people at the meetings who minimised our loss because we already had a toddler and were now pregnant again.

It is ridiculous to try to compare losses.

One thing that was hard about our situation, in spite of the blessing of a toddler and another pregnancy, was grieving and parenting simultaneously. I didn’t hide my tears from my now two year old son, but the extent of my emotional expression was restrained somewhat by his presence.

One thing that was very difficult was his innocent assumption that this baby would die. It was all he knew. Mummy had a baby in her tummy, the baby came out, the baby died and everybody cried. A lot.

I still remember the day he said, “Mummy, when THIS baby dies and goes to heaven in a helicopter……” Sigh.

Pregnant-with-Brady-unshackled

We ended up walking the path of memories, taking him to the same hospital where Cody had been born, to visit a friend who had just had a baby boy, so that he could see what the end result was for most people. To get to the postnatal unit we had to walk right past the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit where Cody had been treated. I almost vomited.

Grieving the death of one baby, whilst growing another, was complex. Conflicting.

Throughout the pregnancy, I would often place my hand on my growing womb, feeling an immense depth of love for this new baby, accompanied by a sense of guilt on Cody’s behalf. Was I betraying him? The womb which had been his but weeks ago, was now inhabited by another.

Could two babies, two pregnancies and two extremes of emotion co-exist?

I was very fortunate that we were in grief counselling throughout this first year, because I had someone who was paid to listen to me! I mean, I had my friends and family too, but they were also grieving. It was great to be able to go to our counsellor and be totally real and honest, knowing that he didn’t have an attachment to our loss. Although he did at times get very angry when we explained the circumstances of Cody’s mismanagement. One of the most beautiful times was when our counsellor lit a candle for Cody, so we could remember and honour him together.

Our plans for this pregnancy were quite different to the last one. Whilst we still thought a natural birth was absolutely desirable, we also realised that one day of natural childbirth was worth nothing in comparison to a lifetime of grief. If I had to choose between the two, it was a no-brainer.

We opted for high level medical care from an extremely experienced obstetrician who had the bedside manner of a bull but the skill of an expert. He was also very open to natural childbirth! He told me I could give birth standing on my head if I really wanted to, provided I was on the bed. That was his only stipulation. It probably had something to do with him being sixty-three years old. 🙂

The pregnancy was, as usual, uneventful. But there was no way we were going to be able to cope with 42 weeks of it this time. We pre-arranged an early delivery by induction, which I had mixed feeling about. My induction with Travis had been hell. My natural birth with Cody had been easy(ish). But both Geoff and I knew that we were going to get more and more anxious as time went on, so as soon as it was safe to deliver, we wanted that baby in our arms: warm, breathing and alive.

At 38 weeks our obstetrician agreed to an IV induction, on the condition that if labour didn’t progress we could stop the procedure, with my waters intact. Half way through the day he examined me and smugly stated that nothing was happening, as he’d expected, so we’d be turning the drip off and going home, when suddenly, as he was completing his examination, WHOOSHKA!! Amniotic fluid all over him. 🙂

A Living Baby!

Brady-is-Born1-unshackled

Brady was born on 5th September, 1996, just three weeks shy of Cody’s birthday. During the pregnancy we had been interviewed on ABC radio by Richard Glover, about the death of a baby, support systems etc. and he had asked us to ring him on air when this baby was born, which we did. So Brady’s birth was announced far and wide on ABC radio, and it was such a joy to celebrate his birth in that way!

For the labour, I had two support people in addition to Geoff. We knew that if something happened, we wanted one support person each. People said we shouldn’t even consider the possibility, that everything would be fine this time, and that nothing bad would happen. We knew better.

What had happened to us with Cody was as rare as hen’s teeth. Umbilical cords rarely break in half during delivery. Babies are rarely left to fight for breath, alone, in a storage room. A freakish thing had happened once. We knew it, or something different, could happen again.

We had been real about this with Travis too. We never said, “This baby will not die”. The last thing he needed was false hope.

He needed to know we would be okay, no matter what. And that most babies don’t die. But yes, some do.

When Brady was born, my volume of tears just about equalled the amount I had cried when Cody died, but this time they were tears of pure joy. And when Travis came in to meet his baby brother? WOW!

Brady-meets-Travis-unshackled

 

Brady-meets-Travis-2-unshackled

The day after Brady was born, he was taken to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. I was absolutely shocked! I couldn’t see a foot in front of me as we made our way to the ward. A torrent of tears was blinding my vision.

This time, however, the problems were nowhere near as serious. He simply had “blood group incompatibility” which had caused early onset jaundice. But I tell you, going to that ward was the one thing I did NOT want to do. We were surrounded by babies fighting for their life, and I had to go back to my room to rest – alone. Although it was not life or death this time, the experience of being there was really, really hard.

Brady-in-NICU-unshackled

When we took Brady home from that place, our dreams were finally coming true. Our two boys in the back seat of the car together just looked right.

Anniversary

But three weeks later we had to face an enormous hurdle. The anniversary of Cody’s birth and death. I relived every moment. Moment by moment.

This time a year ago I was drinking castor oil to try to induce labour.

This time a year ago I was shouting out from the bathroom, “If this isn’t labour I think I’m going to die!” as the castor oil did its trick and brought on sudden contractions.

This time a year ago we were ringing the Birth Centre, so excited to know that our favourite midwife had just started her shift.

And so on.

I knew I needed to go to the grave.

I felt such guilt, almost that of an adulterer, sitting at my baby’s grave, holding my new baby. I had a little chat to Cody about it which helped. But I sadly think that this guilt caused me to hold back somewhat from bonding with the beautiful gift in my arms.

Grieving and Bonding

Every time Geoff would check on Brady when he was sleeping, I fully expected to hear those fateful words, “OH MY GOD, HE’S NOT BREATHING!” Every time I would hold my breath ….. and then finally exhale it with relief when I discovered that my precious baby was, in fact, still breathing.

When I would breastfeed him and he would fall into a deep sleep, with his body limp and his arms completely floppy , I would get flashbacks to holding Cody in those first two hours, with his heavy, flaccid limbs falling away from my embrace.

This desperately wanted and loved baby slowly crept his way into the depths of my heart, and is still there now. How blessed we are to have him. And our other children.

It has been a complex thought to realise that I almost certainly would not, in normal circumstances, have fallen pregnant eight weeks after giving birth to a 5 kilogram baby! So whilst Brady is in no way at all a replacement, his life is a gift that we may otherwise not have been blessed with.

And we are so very, very thankful. He is our silver lining.

Burying our Baby

We had walked down the aisle of our church many times, including on our wedding day. Today wasn’t such a fun walk. Instead of my husband waiting for me at the end of the aisle, it was a tiny white coffin with our baby inside.

Again, we were surrounded by a huge support network of friends and family. So many people had been touched by Cody’s birth and death. Strangely, the midwife who had been present at his birth was one of those in attendance. Stranger still, we had invited her to come. We hadn’t yet come to terms with the full extent of Cody’s negligent care, so her presence there on the day was a positive thing for us at the time. We felt a sense of connection to her. I will write more about this, and my journey to forgiveness, in a later post. Today I write about Cody.

This is one of the songs that we had at Cody’s funeral service and I am still moved to tears when I listen to it. Not just because it reminds me of my little boy, but also because it gives me hope.

Found at Beemp3.com

We held the funeral service at our church “home”, a place where we felt very comfortable. It was the church I’d grown up in, the church we’d gotten married in, and the church we had attended together for many years. The people there were like our extended family, and together we had experienced great joy, community and fun. What we didn’t realise was that holding the service there was going to attach a memory to that special place that was darker and more sombre than what we were familiar with.

I still remember the day, some weeks or months later, as we walked into that church building, and noticed immediately that the song being sung was one of the songs that had been sung at Cody’s funeral. The juxtaposition of memories of both great joy and deep sorrow in the one building added a complexity to our experience of attending church services there in the months to come.

Hold me close, Let Your love surround me
Bring me near, Draw me to Your side.
And as I wait I’ll rise up like the eagle
And I will soar with You, Your Spirit leads me on
In the power of Your love.

During the service, our ‘big’ boy, Travis, was free to wander and play. The service was for him too. And he chose to spend most of the time playing with his little matchbox cars, driving them all around on the floor underneath the coffin, and up over the wheels of the coffin trolley. The idea of him playing with his brother did not escape unnoticed. It was the closest they would ever come to connecting, other than the time Travis dropped cracker crumbs over the body of his brother, during our time together after Cody died.

Geoff and I both spoke at the funeral. I did not believe it was possible to have such a thick veil of tears blocking my vision throughout the whole ordeal, making it almost impossible to read the words. Windscreen wipers would have come in handy!

I remember an older lady coming up to me outside the church after the service. She said that she had felt unable to cope with coming inside, having had one of her babies die many years earlier (she was now a grandmother), but she had a message for me, wanting me to know that “Time does heal”. I found it hard to believe, being as she was still, after all these years, unable to attend the funeral of another baby. Strangely, though, I did find her words comforting at the time. Perhaps because I knew her as a lovely lady who lived a great life, and so I knew it may be possible for me to do the same.

We made our way to “Babyland” at a beautifully landscaped cemetery near our home, for the burial of our son. It was a short, simple, and very, very sad service. Thankfully we had someone pre-arranged to care for Travis during all of this, because we were, for the most part, completely incapable of functioning. We did, however, manage to have some time at the grave side with him, to scatter rose petals on the coffin and “say goodbye” (I couldn’t say those words though – it was too soon).

A dear friend sang the simple song, “Jesus Loves Me”, without accompaniment, as the coffin was lowered into the ground. I think the pictures say it all.

One of the hidden heartaches of the funeral was the presence of cabbage leaves in my bra, in an effort to dry up the milk that was pooling there, waiting for a baby to feed. I was developing mastitis, because I had no baby. My body was telling me in every way that I had just given birth, but my baby was in the ground and my arms were empty.

Fortunately, there were arms around me. Arms that held me up when I couldn’t stand. Arms of love, compassion and support. Arms that carried us along in those early days. I am forever thankful for my grieving, loving family and friends – “God with skin on“.

The First Four Days

Day One

Cody died the day he was born. Nine hours isn’t much time to spend on earth. I’m glad he was born alive though and I’m glad I got to hold him. I wish desperately that I had been allowed to feed him and still find it incredulous that I wasn’t, but at least I got to see into his eyes.

It is said that the eyes are the window to the soul and it did feel like that. But for those who sadly never get to see the eyes of their little one, the parents whose baby dies before taking the first breath, I’m sure there is a soul connection of a different kind. In fact, I believe there is, or can be, a deep connection with a baby while they are still in utero. We may never be able to understand each other’s pain and loss, but I want to honour those who have suffered the death of their child at any age, either in utero or much, much later.

I don’t remember much of what happened between the time I was informed of Cody’s death at the end of his helicopter journey, and us arriving at the big children’s hospital about two hours later. I don’t remember who drive. I think we briefly stopped at our house on the way.

I DO remember the wheelchair journey from the car up to the “Grace Ward”. It didn’t feel like grace to have our baby taken from us so soon.  But there were hints of it.

One sprinkling of grace was the midwife, Karen, who had come out with the NETS Team. The one who had held my baby while he died. Her shift had finished hours earlier, but she waited for us.

She, the one who had held our son as he breathed his final breath, wanted to hold us.

We wept. Oh, how we wept.

And then came the moment I did not want to face. I could not believe it was true. I didn’t want to believe it was true. But what I was about to face was an unmistakable, inescapable reality, whether I wanted to believe it or not.

They ushered us into a small, dimly lit room with wood panelling on the walls, and a sofa against one wall. We waited there, to be reunited with (the body of) our son.

They wheeled him in, in one of those plastic bassinets hospitals are so fond of. He was wrapped in blankets, and dressed in nice clothes, which was of some comfort. The plastic bassinet wasn’t so nice. I wish someone had carried him in to us, and placed him in our arms.

Cody-up-close (1)_unshackled

I held back from touching him. If I touched his cold skin, it would be true.

But they had done a remarkably kind thing and kept him warm for us. Strange to think that he was given better, more attentive care after his death, than in the first two hours of his life. He was warmer now than he was when he was alive.

Yet I still couldn’t touch him. Even if his skin was warm, I knew that it was his body in the room with us, not HIM. Not Cody. It was his shell, and I needed time to prepare myself to hold him.

Geoff went first. Oh, how thankful I was for his courage and strength throughout all of this. I fear I depended on it too much. I didn’t expect it but I certainly appreciated it.

Cody-and-Geoff-unshackled

I had to be encouraged to hold him. It certainly wasn’t something I’d planned to do when I woke up that morning. Actually, thinking about it, I hadn’t woken up that morning. I hadn’t slept since Friday night. I had gone into labour on Saturday night before going to sleep, and it was now Sunday afternoon. I don’t think it was my exhaustion that had me falling apart at the seams though. It was my dead baby, the one I loved whose body was about to be placed in my arms.

It was the strangest thing to hold him and I was tentative in my touch at first, yet once I took hold of him, I did not want to let him go.

I find it hard to look at this photo. I had been crying - so much. I had found it almost impossible to hold him. And yet here I was almost - somehow - summonsing a half smile for the camera. I'm honestly not sure why or how I managed to do that.
I find it hard to look at this photo. I had been crying – so much. I had found it almost impossible to hold him. And yet here I was almost – somehow – summonsing a half smile for the camera. I’m honestly not sure why or how I managed to do that.

After awhile they let our big boy in to see his baby brother. This was absolutely gut wrenching. It was certainly NOT the “hello” we had anticipated between two brothers. Travis was 21 months old, and already he was facing the death of a sibling. He had no idea of the hugeness of it all though. He poked him, cuddled him, and ate crackers while we posed for the type of family portrait we had never anticipated. The one with Mum, Dad, and two kids. One alive and munching crackers. The other, dead.

Our parents came, too. I felt their love. And also their pain. It was hurting them, too. They were still coming to terms with being grandparents, and yet here they were saying goodbye to a grandchild. Their strength and support in the midst of their own grief was a tower of strength to us. I imagine they cared for Travis for the rest of our time at the hospital. Or maybe they drove him home. My mind and heart were in that little room with the ugly wood veneer panelling.

My beautiful, desperately desired, much loved baby was gone.

The reality of it was sinking in. Through tear-filled eyes we gazed at each other in disbelief. Through our fingertips we felt his body going cold.

The staff were again so amazing. They cut off a lock of his hair. They helped us get hand and footprints of our baby. They pretended not to notice that we were finding it hard to stretch out his fingers for the handprint because his poor little body was succumbing to the hard realities of death.

Codys-hand-and-foot-unshackled

It was time to go.

And yet I didn’t want to.

I couldn’t bare the thought of walking out that door without my baby.

Geoff felt a strong desire to leave, as Cody’s cold, hard body was becoming a stark reminder that this awful nightmare was, in fact, reality.

As much as I had found it so hard to hold him at the beginning, I found it almost impossible to let him go at the end.

It pains me deeply even now, after seventeen years, to think of it.

Cody Luke Ahern.

Born: 1st October 1995, 3.40am at Camden District Hospital
Died: 1st October 1995, 12.39pm at Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children, Sydney

Our only child so far who has ever had a ride in a helicopter.

Days 2 – 4

I have to lump these days all together because they are a blur. Not because it has been seventeen years, but because I was in a state of shock. These are the things I remember.

The dark solitude of night time when all was still and quiet, and there was no distraction from my pain. Oh how physical is the grief when a baby dies.

My breasts were engorged with milk yet I had no baby to feed.
My eyes were overflowing with tears from a well I thought may never run dry.
My arms were desperately aching to hold my baby.
I was bleeding, in more ways than one.
It was as though my whole body was weeping for the one who was gone.

A house filled to overflowing with friends and family who loved us.

People arriving with flowers, sympathy cards and toilet paper.

My friend Bonnie, rescuing me from the one phone call I’d so bravely tried to make to the funeral agency. The only words I got out were “Our baby died….” before collapsing in a heap, thankful for a friend standing by my side. She also accompanied us to meet with the funeral agency to make arrangements for the Thing we didn’t want to do.

My friend Pateenah, somehow managing to visit us and show such compassion, leaving her newborn at home so that I wouldn’t be confronted with seeing him.

My friend Jane who lovingly sewed a beautiful little outfit for Cody to be buried in.

Codys-Burial-Garment-unshackled

Our extended families somehow managing to rise above their own despair to be a tower of strength and support for us in uncountable, immeasurable ways.

Our church family and other friends gathering around us with such love and compassion, and doing a house and yard blitz while we left the house to make funeral arrangements.

We felt carried. We somehow floated through those days in a state of shock and despair and oblivion to the practicalities of life. Other people just did it all. I don’t remember changing a nappy for the first two weeks. I’m sure someone did. Probably Geoff.

Ah yes, Geoff. Thank you for being my rock during those early days. Without you I think I would still be in that ugly little wood panelled room clutching on to the body of my second born son.

cody-back-in-our-arms_unshackled