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 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