Saying Goodbye Before Hello
By Catherine O’Donovan
Four and a half years ago my husband and I were happily expecting our third child when, well into my third trimester I felt a kick so hard it brought tears to my eyes. A day passed before I realized I hadn’t felt any movement since that kick…I didn’t know then that it would be his last. My doctor looked for a heartbeat, and then scheduled a full ultrasound. My husband and I watched and listened as they searched with the ultrasound, and then we heard the words that changed our lives forever: “I’m sorry, I cannot find a heartbeat.”
The next hours were a blur of doctors, nurses, and funeral staff planning for the birth. We called on friends and family to look after our girls for a few days. We couldn’t face them, we couldn’t parent.
How do you prepare to meet your child after they’ve already gone?
My body resisted the induction – I was not ready to deliver. Finally, just before my child was born, calmness swept over me. My fear disappeared and I felt a deep sense of peace. It was peaceful and beautiful. He was beautiful. The nurses and doctors spoke about him as they would any newborn and we held him and took pictures. These are now some of my most precious treasures.
Close family came to meet him and say goodbye. They held him wrapped in a baby blanket and gave him little gifts. We took imprints of his hands and feet – more treasures for us to hold. We held him with joy and pride; for those few precious hours we were typical parents. We fell asleep holding him. And then at some point in the early morning, I found the courage to physically let him go.
After he left our arms, grief set in. I felt vulnerable and fragile, and drew on the support from family and friends as a source of strength. They took care of my children so that I could grieve. Friends brought food, and little gifts of kindness were left at the door: distraction baskets for the family, gift cards for food stores. These simple acts meant everything.
The funeral home placed his remains inside a teddy bear, which I often sleep with. It is something to hold on to when memories and emotions take a strong hold.
One of the biggest healers for me was the little keepsake box that Hospice arranged: a small memory box with soft faded roses on it. Inside was a feelie heart and feather, to which we added our son’s hat and moccasins, as well as little gifts and notes people gave us. I opened this box daily at first, and now I retreat to it when I need to.
Writing has been a source of healing for me. At first I wrote for myself, jotting down thoughts about this loss, my son, and life. I went on to share my experience with others through writing and public speaking about grief, loss and survival.
When people are struggling to cope, they search for something that offers strength or reprieve, anything to ease the mind or suffering. For my husband and I, and also our daughters, it was counseling at Hospice. Four years later I still occasionally visit Anne for counseling and it has given me tools to find myself, to heal from this loss, and to let go of the blame I carried. At times the emotional pain felt like physical suffering. At these times Healing Touch at Hospice also helped me to release the pain I was carrying. At one point the emotional pain felt s potent that I felt physical suffering, this is when hospice suggested healing touch. I found the experience so helpful, as I felt physical pain and emotional pain release from my body. I left the therapy feeling exhausted but also as though a weight had been lifted. It was a very powerful experience.
I go to the Lights of Life ceremony at Christmas to give myself an hour to think of him. And sometimes I retreat to look at his album and remember the precious moments I had with him. I wear a necklace with an angel wing to keep him close, and our family sets off balloons with messages to him on his birthday each year.
I always acknowledge my son whenever someone asks how many kids I have. I say that I have had three kids, and explain that I have two daughters, and a son who we lost. I don’t like to see the discomfort this brings for some people, but have realized that honouring his life is too important not to.
My biggest solace has been talking about him, in any way I can. I have also always encouraged my daughters to speak about him and to ask questions. Death is not a taboo subject and nor is our son, Teague. Teague means “Little Poet” and it seems fitting.