16 years ago tomorrow my son died from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. He was 3 mos. and 24 days old. That day, I wasn’t sure how, or even if, I wanted to survive. I hardly remember anything from the days leading up to his memorial service and even less of the service itself and the sea of faces expressing their condolences immediately afterwards. I’m sure this is the body’s method of self-preservation. I do, however, remember that for at least year the color drained from my life – literally and figuratively. I lost whatever “rosy glow” comes post-pregnancy and, as fall started approaching, for me the trees were merely shades of black and white.
So many people over the years say to me that they could never survive what I experienced. You’d be surprised how strong the human spirit is. People have survived far worse things than this. I look at the parents who lost their children in Newtown and often think the same thing. Since losing Connor I frequently do peer counseling for other parents who’ve lost their children to SIDS. I listen to them as they express their grief, sometimes guilt, anger and confusion. That’s the thing about SIDS, there’s never really a true answer and sometimes that’s the hardest for parents.
I’m also asked the inevitable question – “When do you start feeling better?” I’m never quite sure how to answer that. When was the day that color started coming back into my life? When was I able to start singing along to songs on the radio? When was I willing to look at myself in the mirror and think that maybe I looked like my old self again? It’s a gradual process and it comes at different times for everybody. I’ve met some parents who have never dealt with the grief and true healing took decades. Others, like myself, managed to find support through our faith, family and professional counselors and worked through it more quickly.
I can honestly say it does get better. It will never be the same and life will be recalled as events “pre” and “post” your child’s death. It’s like a scar from a major injury that no longer hurts as bad but gives you a visual reminder of what happened. The worst part is that the grief sneaks up on you at times you least expect. I’ll see a 16 year-old boy and think “that’s what Connor would be doing now.” There would be times, many years later, that I’d hear a song on the radio and burst into tears. But then there are those special times – usually right around his birthday or the anniversary of his death – when he sends me signs. His signs for me have always been butterflies and lights that go on and off.
This year, the sign came two weeks ago at my family reunion. We had been at this reunion just 4 days before Connor died. It’s always been hard for me to attend this family gathering following years but it was important for me this year to introduce the family to my other kids and my wonderful new husband. It was an incredibly emotional and bittersweet time for me this year. And then, my sign came. As we were sitting outside, a butterfly landed on my cousin’s arm. She’s the same age Connor would have been and I have a picture of them together at that reunion 16 years ago. I never said anything last week when this happened but I knew at that moment that Connor was there with us. Years ago, it would have made me burst into tears. Now, I was able to smile and be content knowing he was there with us.
This blog is dedicated to all the parents out there who belong to this horrible “club” that we never wanted to be a part of. Please know it does get better….somewhat.
I will be forever grateful to First Candle/SIDS Alliance for the incredible support they provided me after Connors death.