Today marks the 16-year anniversary of the day I lost my youngest son, Brandon. Many of you who know me know the story, but for those who don’t I gave birth to my youngest son Brandon in 1995. He was a healthy and robust 9lb, 11oz baby boy who was monitored through prenatal care and examined before he left the hospital and in both instances given a clean bill of health. Before we could take him to his first checkup, he passed away in his sleep at only 9 days old.
My mother had taken him early that morning so that I could get some sleep. He had been particularly cranky but nothing that stood out as an exceptional health crisis. He finally fell asleep and when I awoke at about 10am that morning and went to check on him he was already gone. I found him, and when I turned him over the part of his body that he had been lying on was purple. I panicked and tried to perform CPR as best I knew how but it was way too late for that.
We called 9-1-1 and were informed by the firefighters who first arrived on the scene he was deceased. They suggested SIDS but we had no idea and wouldn’t until an autopsy was performed. Which meant my perfect little boy would have to be cut up, which only compounded my grief.
In fact, grief is really too small a word for what I felt that day. I’m no stranger to loss but to lose a child is possibly the absolute worst form of loss anyone could face. It’s like a promise has been broken. When you find out you’re pregnant and you await the birth of your little bundle of joy there is a lot of hoping and dreaming going on. You wonder what he or she will look like, who they might resemble of their family, what their character traits might be. The possibilities are endless. Will she be science minded and grow up to be a doctor? Or will he be creative and become a master of art? You never know until that baby arrives and you spend the years raising him or her, getting to know over the span of this relationship that lasts a lifetime the unique miracle of a brand new human. Each new day is filled with discovery that makes your child unique and special.
To have that cut short is a betrayal of the worst kind. And the pain never goes away. I’ve heard it said that you don’t ever get over the loss of a loved one, you simply learn how to manage it. And for 356 days a year, I’ve got it under control. Just like the very day I was told he was gone I went into crisis mode. Many of you may recognize this mode: this is where you do what needs to be done so you can feel your pain later when the crisis is over.
With Timothy’s birthday coming the day after we lost Brandon, I had to stuff down the grief and pain to make sure that my surviving son didn’t ever feel the brunt of the trauma. So I packed up Brandon’s belongings, some of which were still in their original packaging and had not even been used, broke down the crib and packed away any evidence that there had been a baby there at all.
It was all about the other kids from that point on, and they were way too young to understand the scope of what had happened. They needed Mama, and Mama had to be there.
Any of you who are parents understand that’s an easy place to be distracted. Kids require a lot of attention and a lot of care. And you really learn not to take a moment for granted when you have a lifetime stolen right from under your very nose.
But between January 6 and January 15 in every year that has followed, those nine days belong to Brandon. I’m almost ferociously protective of it. Whereas my other kids are thriving and have their own talents to make their marks on the world, Brandon’s claim to immortality is the memory I keep alive. It might be easier to forget but I don’t want to forget. I want to remember those nine days when my family circle was complete. So every January for the rest of my life I will honor his short life by celebrating that it ever happened at all.
In the end that means grieving as only a parent can that their child is no more.
I don’t ask for pity. I equally shy away from any praise that experiencing this makes me any stronger than anyone else. Like I’ve often said, you’d be surprised what you are capable of when you simply have no choice. You put one foot in front of the other and you get through it. What other choice do you have?
But every January I want the world to know there was a little boy named Brandon – a sweet, ethereal spirit who gave his parents perspective on what really matters in this world. It’s not the job we hold or the romances we indulge… it’s the connection between parent and child. It is a connection so strong that the claws of death could not crush it and the tide of time cannot erase it.
If you are a parent, you can help me honor this day by spending time with your children. Hold them, kiss them, feel the warm life that pumps through them and be thankful to whatever source you choose that you have be undeniably blessed.
And never, EVER take it for granted. You never know when your next moment will be your last.