Lasting lessons from the greatest grief.
by Lonna Enox
Sounds filtered through the painful haze. Lights, out of focus, flashed overhead, and a hum filled the room.
“Knock me out, please,” a voice, strangely like yet unlike my own, pleaded. “I don’t want to hurt anymore.” A gray cloud engulfed me, but the sounds remained.
“Forceps.” Metal clinking, a swish of a nurse’s uniform.
A hand, cold, touched my forehead. “Not long,” its owner murmured.
The mask emitting the sweet, nauseating gas was again clamped over my mouth. Amid the metallic sterility, I drifted.
“Finally, that’s over,” a calm, mechanical voice said. I felt a deep, aching void, as if my insides had fallen out.
“Suture.” Another rustle passed nearby.
“What is it?” Again, my unfamiliar voice echoed in the silence. “We were wrong, weren’t we?”
More silence. “It’s alive, right?” Silence. “I’m going to be sick.” Hands turned me until my cheek touched a cold, metal dish.
When my eyes finally opened again, they focused on a different room. Orange and pink filtered through the window heralding the sun’s early morning ascent.
I searched the faces of those at the foot of my bed — my husband, my mother, a nurse. No one would answer the question in my eyes; no one spoke at all. Finally, the faces drifted out. As he floated by, my husband touched my cheek; I saw a gleam of moisture in his eyes. I opened my mouth to speak, but he quickly shushed me. “Rest,” he said. “I’ll do what needs to be done.”
The lights blurred again, and I floated back to the nothingness. This time, I welcomed the black, numbing void. I clung to its undemanding unreality, fighting the intrusion of hands, needles, and voices.
A cheerful nurse popped around often, helping me on my first walk down the corridor during the early afternoon. “Whoops!” she exclaimed, steering me into a U-turn. I looked ahead at the protruding belly of another nurse. She paused uncertainly a few feet away.
I smiled at her, my teeth clenched in pain. Relief spread over both faces.
“That wasn’t so bad,” my nurse cheered. Apparently, she could not feel every muscle in my body tensed and screaming. I hated her sunny chatter; I hated that rounded belly; I hated the hollowness inside me; and, most of all, I hated my own hatred.
Once again in bed, I curled up, willing the darkness to return.
Dr. McCormack had entered the room.
“Doc?” I searched his face, noting the tired lines. His hand reached out to pick up mine, and I stared at it for a long time. He had slender hands, sensitive hands, hands that had soothed my pain and touched my daughter as she entered the world fifteen months earlier. Now they felt familiar but also cold. In his eyes, I could see the finality.
“It was a boy,” he began, softly. “A perfect little boy, with black hair.” My last hope drowned in his tired, compassionate eyes. “It wasn’t your fault. The umbilical cord tightened around his neck.”
The room darkened, and I felt myself pushed back three weeks in time. The fight within my body had begun at the baby shower, amid tiny things and well-wishing friends. Somehow, I had driven home in spite of the terror in my heart. Dr. Mac had been home when I called.
“Doc? Something is wrong with my baby.”
After my explanation — the frantic movement followed by complete stillness — he said, “Well, Lonna, babies sometimes get really quiet shortly before their birth.”
“But this baby was really active. I’m worried.”
“Let’s not panic,” he finally said. “Tomorrow come into the office, and I’ll do some routine tests.”
I held my breath and prayed during the drive to the doctor’s office, just as I had prayed through the long night before, my hand on my still tummy.
Dr. Mac’s words echoed into my nightmare, “I don’t hear a heartbeat, Lonna.”
Loss of love
“Lonna?” Dr. Mac’s voice pulled me back to the present.
I didn’t realize that I was squeezing his hand so hard until I felt my own begin to numb. Slowly, I opened my fingers. “It wasn’t your fault,” he repeated. “You did everything right.”
“Doc,” I said. “I didn’t get to hold him and tell him I love him. He was so little, and I never got to cuddle him . . . not once. How can he know how much I loved him?”
He patted me on the shoulder. “He knows.”
With evening came family and friends, all tiptoeing around physically and verbally. Unreality invaded once more. I watched myself smiling, putting people at ease, smoothing the awkward moments for them. Their lips moved, but I could hear no sound. What I needed to tell them, they could not hear.
“It’s probably for the best,” offered one church friend. “God’s will.”
Don’t tell me it’s for the best! I screamed in my silence. And it’s not God’s will — at least, not the God I worship. My God wouldn’t take this child I’ve carried beneath my heart and loved so desperately. He’s my firstborn son. Don’t tell me this is for the best.
“There’s no pain where he is,” another offered. No pain? What about his pain he as he struggled so violently in my womb, strangled by the cord that should have given life? What about his mother’s pain as she rocked, her arms hugging her juggling belly, helpless to soothe or aid her unborn child? You have no concept of pain!
“Things will soon be back to normal.” Normal? Normal would be a beautiful baby boy sleeping in his crib. Normal would be rocking in the evening, singing to him while he nursed. Normal would be my daughter, Monica, playing with her little brother. Normal will never return.
“You’ll have another one soon.” I don’t want another one. I want this one! No matter how many babies I may have in the future, this son is lost to me forever.
Finally, the well-wishers and kind hearts evaporated, leaving me with the stranger in my husband’s body. He held me briefly, awkwardly. I sensed his anger, his bewilderment, his pain. He finally said, “Now we can put this behind us. I’m going home to hold Monica and be grateful I can do that.”
Tears and questions
The following dawn found me curled into a fetal position, staring sightlessly at a new day. My throat burned with tears that would not fall, my arms tensed in their emptiness, and my mind drifted around a tiny bedroom where clowns smiled down into an empty crib. In those gray hours, I felt my anger fade; tears and questions took its place.
“Why, Lord?” I prayed. “I’ve been faithful to You since my childhood. Why has this horrible thing happened?” In my heart, I recognized that I would be irrevocably different.
Answer from God
During the next days, I prayed even as I pretended to be moving on. In the nights, I searched through my Bible. But God did not hear me, I decided. Maybe I had done something terribly wrong.
But God was listening. Mrs. Clark, an elderly woman who worked in our church nursery, came by with an apple pie a couple of weeks later. She didn’t say much as I chattered, but she patted my hand as she left and slipped a card into it. She had written a verse in her own hand: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28, NIV).
God had sent His answer. Instead of allowing Bryan’s death to make me bitter, I needed to allow his short life to give me joy.
Sharing the ‘joy’
Over twenty years have passed since that dawn. Each year, as Bryan’s birthday nears, I search for some special way to share the “joy.” And with each year, the healing makes me whole again.
The first year, I took all those tiny new things down from storage and donated them to a clothes closet at a local church. It was almost like giving Bryan a gift as I gave a gift to so many others.
Sometimes I donated to a charity, sometimes I sponsored a child to church camp, and sometimes I just volunteered time to someone needy in the community. By spreading my “touch” among various groups and places, I hope that I have touched lives that Bryan may have touched. At best, I am touching lives because of Bryan.
Also because of Bryan, my Christian faith has matured. Before him, I felt that if I followed Christ’s teachings, my life would be blessed. It was blessed, and it has certainly been blessed since. Only now I know that we do not always recognize blessings. Neither can we control how things will be. God had a plan for my husband and me, and losing Bryan was part of it.
Two more children joined our family after Bryan’s death — Marissa and Nathan. Each of them is unique. While not able to replace the son we lost, they have filled our hearts and lives. Losing Bryan has made all the difference in how we have treasured our remaining three children. They, in turn, are aware of the brother they never met but whom they love. “We can’t see God,” Monica told us one day. “But we love Him anyway, like we do Bryan.”
“I joined a walk-a-thon for cancer,” Marissa, now a middle-school teacher, reported near his last birthday. “Bryan would have liked that.”
Robert Frost spoke about choosing roads in his famous poem “The Road Not Taken.” My road — losing Bryan — would never have been my choice. Yet, as Frost pointed out, “it has made all of the difference.”
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