‘His Life Was Brief’: Grieving the Death of an Infant

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The first time I saw my son, he was lying in a NICU incubator with a small, clear tube protruding from his mouth to help him breathe.  The adhesive that kept the ventilator tube in place covered most of his tiny face.  His eyes were closed, taped shut to keep out the bright light.  He lay there, tiny and helpless, as the doctors explained to me that he needed surgery to close the whole between his heart and his lungs.  In healthy newborns, this hole closes at birth.  In premature infants like Jackson, it doesn’t.

As his tiny body lay there helpless, I had a single moment, to both say hello and goodbye to my baby boy.  I said a quick prayer and made the sign of the cross on his forehead, knowing that I may never see him again.  Tears rolled down my face as I watched the NICU transport team whisk him away to take him to a different hospital, where they could do the surgery that would keep him alive.

My husband and I spent six weeks watching over Jackson, praying that his little body was strong enough to live.  In the end, too much had happened and his little body couldn’t recover.  I held him in my arms as we said goodbye and he drifted off to heaven.

It’s been six months since that day.  I still can’t make sense of why I lost my child.  I feel empty and alone.  And even though it’s been six long months, I still feel lost, betrayed and uncertain of my own future.  I still don’t have any answers.  Each day is filled with unending pain and loss.  I am consumed by my grief and wonder if I’ll ever feel “normal” again.  I’m stumbling my way through each day not sure if I’d ever feel happy again. How could I possible be okay?  My baby was gone.

From the moment I saw him for the first in the NICU, my heart ached with pain.  And as the days went on, I held on tightly to my pain because it was all I knew.  The pain became a familiar and comfortable way to feel connected to my son.  Each painful memory was a reminder of the love I felt for him.  The love I had for Jackson was buried deep within my pain.  I didn’t know what it was like to know love without pain.

In time, I wanted to release the pain and let it go but when I thought of letting the pain go, I shook with fear.  Fear that he didn’t exist.  Fear that I would forget him. Fear that my experience wasn’t real.  I believed that if I let go of the pain, I’d be letting go of my son, his memory and his short and tragic life.  I couldn’t let go of the pain, so I chose to embrace the pain.  I held on tightly to the pain, and to his memory, for fear that if I didn’t, I’d forget him and lose him all over again.

I didn’t know that by holding onto the pain, I was preventing a new relationship with my son from developing.   I didn’t know that I could release the pain I felt and grow the love I had for him at the same time.  I didn’t know that by shifting away from the pain, I’d make room for love to pour in, love from all the memories I did get to share with him, in the six weeks we were together.

I started focusing on gratitude for the gift of the 42 days and nights I shared with him.   I started feeling grateful for the times when I changed his diaper.  I felt gratitude for the times when held his hand, read him stories and for all the times I spoke softly to him as we spent our days together.

Today my heart is full with an even greater love for him. There is still pain in my loss, but my love for Jackson is far greater than the pain I feel.

During our time together, he taught me what it truly means to be a mom and to love through each and every moment.  Being Jackson’s mom gave me moments full of joy and hope, and moments full of fear and doubt.  These are moments that will live with me forever.  These are moments I will never forget.  His life was brief, but every memory of my time with Jackson reminds me of the love in my heart, a love that will continue to grow and live on for eternity.

 

 

 

Catherine McNulty

More Articles Written by Catherine

After losing her infant son in 2011, Catherine embarked on a journey to do more than survive grief. The loss forever changed the trajectory of her life and sent her looking for meaning and purpose for the life she was given. She channeled the love for her son into her own healing, self-growth and personal empowerment. Today, she has created a framework to grief that disrupts conventional ways of looking at loss. She challenges her clients to step outside of a victim mindset and regain control of how they navigate grief. She teaches how to grow through grief and encourages speaking openly about grief to break down the walls of silence around grief. Catherine lives in San Diego with her family where she speaks, writes, and offers coaching to those who want to do more than just survive grief. She is a board member of Empty Cradle and volunteers at Miracle Babies and the Ronald McDonald House. Her business, Grief INSPIRED supports those who are grieving and guides them to create a new normal that honors the ones they’ve lost.

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