Today was a very special day for my husband and me. We went to a Remembrance Walk to show our love for our child(ren) who are no longer here with us. When we arrived, we checked in and received an ornament with Eli’s name. The ornament was made of pewter in the shape of a heart and read, “Your life was a blessing, your memory a treasure…You are loved beyond words and missed beyond measure.”
We brought a few things with us. First, we placed Eli’s photo album on the Memory table and I carried a framed photo of Eli and Mommy. The word “Hero” was on the frame because after everything Eli endured (as with Joey), they are my heroes now and forever more. We strolled along the Memory table and as we were there fairly early, there were only a few others who had their precious baby’s (or in some cases, more than one) photos out. There was a pencil sketch of twins that grabbed my attention and I wondered if I could get an artist to sketch the boys together in a drawing since they were never able to lay side by side.
We sat down and waited while people began to arrive. There were couples, most looking solemn, but all seemed bonded together. There were a few large groups of people wearing matching T-shirts in remembrance of their precious sweet ones. It was inspirational to see the support these families had. One mother who was pregnant teared up, I’m sure for obvious reasons, and loved one after loved one comforted her. I had already teared up myself a few times but I was able to hold it together. I asked Thomas to snag some tissues if he saw any as I expected to need them later. He was sitting next to me sipping coffee and he leaned over and said, “A lot of people are looking at your album.” As he was saying these very words, I watched a mother sifting gently through the pages of Eli’s life in the distance.
As I looked around, I saw many people who had shirts stating their sweet one’s name, birth and death dates and a few with only one date. This of course meant that their baby had only survived one day. There was a large group wearing gray shirts that depicted a ladybug with a halo on the back. There was another large group wearing light pink shirts with baby hand and footprints on the back. There were some other groups and then there were some couples who brought the siblings. Looking around, I could see the pain on the mother’s faces. In a way, I was searching for that pain, for a common bond. And when I inadvertently made eye contact, there was a truth that passed between us for that half second, a truth that we both knew how we felt.
I started getting edgy as the crowd grew and I asked Thomas if we could see the more filled Memory table. As we strolled down the table, I watched other people looking at the photos and baby molds. I opted not to bring Eli’s mold as I had already sobbed the day before rubbing his tiny hand and foot on my cheek. It needed to stay in the trunk for now. They called us together so that we could begin the “Walk”. It was to be a silent walk, one to think about our loved one(s) and what they mean to us. We began the walk and I suddenly become filled with thoughts of Eli. I remembered his sweet face, his darting eyes when he looked at a picture book, his tight squeezes, his foot pushes. I remembered when he didn’t want to be on his side facing away from me so he clamped down on his breathing tube and almost caused a code. He was stubborn and strong willed and smart and…oh how I missed him. I felt the warm tears rolling and rolling. They were burning my cheeks as they rolled down, one by one, large tears. I felt each and every one. Every once in a while I would look up at Thomas and he would give a small smile as if to say, “I understand.”
As we finished the walk, we came to be seated. There were large groups of balloons in pink, blue and white. Once everyone was seated the speaker was introduced. She was a woman who had lost two children many years ago. She was an author and today she was going to tell us some truths about this situation, about life, about Jesus. She began by saying that it was interesting to her how there were so many people that inadvertently did not know what to say. Some would say the wrong thing, some would say stupid things and some would say hurtful things. She wrote an article about what not to say after the death of her first child. As she spoke, I felt like I understood her a little bit, there was not only a familiarity in what she was saying that she felt, but also the tone she used, the way her eyes sank. She was still mourning after all these years.
She went on to say that many times, there are people in our lives who we thought would do one thing in such a hard situation and they did the opposite at one of the most sorrowful times in our life. She compared it to Jesus. She wanted us to know that Jesus also felt the same way. She read a verse where Jesus spoke to his disciples, his best friends, because while he suffered, it was as if they didn’t care because they were asleep. Jesus was so sad that He said, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me….Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” That verse resonated with me so deeply because I felt that Jesus felt a piece of my pain that I had not shared, pain I thought I was alone with. And I was comforted to know that the presenter was speaking of familiar situations, familiar to all of us. She encouraged us to forgive these people in time because the reality was, they just did not truly “get it”. My heart was softened in some aspects with her words.
She went on to explain that no matter what people say or do, no one will ever truly understand what it is like to experience what we, those who have lost a small baby, have experienced. We do not have the lifetime of memories of an older child, but only the memories of hopes and dreams that we set for our child. Not to discount the loss of an older child, it’s only a different kind of loss. We are the ones who believed that our child would be born healthy, would grow, survive. The amount of time we devoted, not just physically, but emotionally to our child can never be understood unless you have watched the sweet soul slip away from your fingertips, from your dreams. As I looked around, for the first time in a long time, I felt connected to mothers who were sitting in their quiet spots, tears streaming down their faces. I knew they understood my pain as they went through their own pain…and I began to cry for those mothers. There were over 200 people here and it just didn’t seem fair.
The speaker went on to mention that many of us may have blamed ourselves. Perhaps we didn’t do everything we could to save our baby. Maybe if I had rested more, lay in bed longer, not lifted that box that one time. Perhaps I was being punished for my sins, for the things I had done in the past. But she reminded me that it was not possible that my babies’ death was a punishment because there was already One who took care of that for me. Jesus already suffered for my sins.
She also read a quote from a book and I will have to paraphrase it because I cannot remember it exactly. It was written by a man who also lost his 5 year old child to leukemia. He was asked how he would feel if they discovered a cure for leukemia the day after his child passed. He said he would feel good because it would be of no consequence to him. God had decided and placed his mark on his child before he was born and how he went was just procedural. God always knew He was going to take his child and when He would take him.
That is something I have to remind myself constantly. There are so many times I feel anger towards certain hospital staff who told me this and that or caused me to put Eli down when I was holding him, or told me I should cut his life support or that they didn’t believe in God. I go back in my haunted thoughts time and time again. I catch myself obsessing about the same scenes as I try to fall asleep at night. And I force myself to repeat over and over, “God always knew He would take Eli. God always knew He would take Eli. There was nothing I could do. There was nothing I could have done differently.” Logically, I know that is true. Faithfully, I know that is true. But emotionally, it is still a battle because selfishly, I want Eli with me in my arms.
The speaker was moving and I teared up many times through her speech. I caught Thomas wiping a few tears as well. Her words were an accurate depiction of what many of us have gone through and still struggle with day to day. It was comforting to know we were not alone.
They began to call out the babies’ names. Some people had more than one loss (like us). I felt so guilty sitting there because I hadn’t realized I could have had my first baby called out. I prayed for that one, asking him/her to forgive me, knowing that name would be called out from now on. As we waited, baby after baby was called out. The parents would stand and walk to a tree and hang the ornament. Most mothers had such sorrow and loss in their eyes. Many were crying. The dates of the babies’ birth and death was read and even though for some, it had been many years, there were still tears and sadness coming from the mother’s sweet eyes. We sat and waited to hear Eli’s name and as I waited, I thought if Eli and all his ways and the tears kept rolling.
And then our baby’s name, “Elijah James Bonura. February 4, 2009. June 22, 2009.” I came out of our aisle first, then Thomas. He took the lead and grabbed my hand. The tears were streaming. I didn’t care if anyone was watching me because if they were, I knew they understood. We got to the tree and I asked Thomas where I should hang it and he said, “anywhere, just find a good place.” I found the perfect place. I had to stretch a little bit but I hooked it on and then twisted the ribbon attached to the ornament so I could see his name. It felt….peaceful.
I wished Joey could have been there as I looked around at the siblings, some were twins. Some parents had lost both twins, some had lost triplets. There was a mother who had 4 or 5 miscarriages. I know this because they began to hand out balloons. Every person there got a balloon for each person they were remembering. So Thomas and I each got a blue balloon for Eli and a white balloon for our first baby that we lost in a miscarriage last year. I wrote on Eli’s balloon, “For my sweet angel Eli…Mommy loves and misses you very much…forever.” I wrote on the white balloon, “In loving memory…Mommy loves you…forever more.”
We walked far out to the parking lot of the church and then people began to let the balloons go. I slowly released my strings and they drifted upward. When Thomas released his strings, they became entangled and stayed together. I watched my balloons and saw them drifting slowly apart. I panicked a bit because I couldn’t keep my eyes on both of them and then I finally let myself relax. I watched them drift and drift. I became lost in the moment and only thought of my babies. I was the mother of 3 and could only physically hold one. I thank God for that privilege.
We stared up for a long time and then looked at each other and kissed. I love my husband so much. Things have been difficult for us. Stressful. And at times, lonely. But no matter what, we are not giving up on each other because we know that we were meant to be together and that God has a bigger plan, one that we do not understand. I can understand why some marriages break up because it just seems easier to avoid the pain. And Thomas and I handle things very differently. But we both believe in our marriage, in our family and our future.
Today was a difficult day. It was an emotional day. But I think it was a much needed time and I look forward to doing it year after year, with Joey, with our future children. We will never forget any of our babies and we will love and miss them forevermore.
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