This article was originally posted on TheBabySpot.ca
The little toy dog is covered with dust,
But sturdy and stanch he stands;
And the little toy solider is red with rust,
And his musket moulds his hands.
Time was when the little toy dog was new,
And the soldier was passing fair;
And that was the time when our Little Boy Blue
Kissed them and Put them there.
…So, toddling off to his trundle bed,
He dreamt of the pretty toys;
And, as he was dreamin, an angel song
Awakened our Little Boy Blue…
There’s the myth that parents do not bury their children. Children out-live their parents and make way for the next generation. For me, like the poet Eugene Field wrote in his poem from 1891, Little Boy Blue, I felt that myth shattered when my third child and only son died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) at three months of age.
Sometimes I say his name out loud as if I can command him back into existence–
Nothing happens. That’s one of the experiences of death and grief — loss of control.
I felt my being, my purpose, my sanity — slip like sand through my fingers the morning I found my sweet Erik in his crib as purple as an eggplant. I called the police; they came and immediately cordoned off the room, forbidding me to see my son. Why can’t I see my son?! Why can’t I hold my little prince? I cried.
Later, I learned that with a SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) death, one is treated as if one is a criminal, as the police must stand guard. It is their job to rule out foul play. And one does not learn the cause of death until after a proper autopsy takes place, which can take an excruciatingly long time. I stood and waited, an accused criminal in my own home against my own baby, my little prince.
I knew intuitively something was wrong before that terrible morning. The ear, nose and throat specialist claimed it was the formula. The pediatrician said I did not need one of those new sleep machines for apnea; I’ll never know for sure. The not knowing part fed my grief because at times I turned my despair inward and blamed myself. A constant flow of thoughts and questions filled my mind: if only I was a better mother, checked on him more often, had not slept in, etc. My grief manifested itself into physical pain and my arms ached endlessly.
Although my son had just died, ripped from the safety of my breast, I was expected to be a wife and a mother to two daughters. In that moment I felt that I could not even be me. I was a piranha; afraid I might harm my other beautiful children. I became what I later coined non-intentionally emotionally unavailable to my family. It’s not because I did not love them, rather, I was scared and paradoxically believed I was not good enough to have them. In my grief, I wandered. I was not the mother I was supposed to be; I was different, a tarnished piece of silver on it’s way to the trash. On top of everything, my husband was not living up to be the father he was meant to be.
I reached a turning point when the chief pathologist’s wife in the coroner’s office gave me a call. She had experienced the same thing – the death of her baby from SIDS, which sparked a self-help group for mothers. In a particularly remarkable moment, she talked me down from the edge of crazy after I had blurted out to an unsuspecting CVS employee the real reason I was returning a package of Pampers, baby bottles and pacifiers. She gave me the new-found confidence I needed to take a breather. I felt I could trust her and latched onto to her compassion. Other mothers let me rest on their shoulders. I took it all in like it was the new Messiah.
They gave me hope.
As we grew stronger in our close-knit bonds, these women helped assuage my Jewish guilt for the part I thought I played in Erik’s death. There wasn’t anything I was ever capable of saying out loud until I was standing next to a woman in group whose own vulnerability showed me that it was okay to talk about the dark stuff. In that way, I felt safe to share all of me.
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