Monday, June 6, 2011

SickKids NICU Memorial Gathering

I mentioned on Friday that Scott and I were attending the Memorial event on Saturday afternoon.

To be honest, I really wasn't sure what to expect. I was kinda terrified, kinda nervous, and a whole lot ready to sit through the most depressing event ever. I half expected it would be us + another few couples.

But that wasn't what this was.

We arrived right on time, and made up our name tags as per instructions. I selected tags with bears on them... Because the alternative was a butterfly, and I really think Jack would prefer we rock bears. He was totally a bear guy. :)

This isn't even how I write, I was anxious.

We then arrived at a table where there were many tags with baby names listed. You're meant to take those ornaments and later hang them on the tree.

Honestly, there were 80 tags.

Representing 80 loved babies. :(

For a quick second, I hoped Jack's name wasn't there. Because he should be alive. 

But of course it was, and I started crying.  The implications of really seeing his name hit me. You know when your eye just well with tears and you really can't contain them? Yup, THOSE big fat tears. My hubby immediately got his back up and asked me to stop crying. He does this sometimes, gets angry when really he's just trying to suppress his own sadness. Totally a defense mechanism we've discussed as it irks me, but I get it. So, being the mature woman I am not, I told him to shut up, we grabbed coffee and sat down off to the side.  I took photos of the tag on top of the metallic bag we received to place mementos in. I liked that I kept seeing rainbows form. <-- yes, I realize this always happens on the foil bags, hence why I selected silver. I'm a smart cookie ;)


Over the course of a half hour, the area they had roped off began to fill with parents. There were some kids, some babies, and some grandparents. Not each of 80 children had family there, but I would say there were a good 75 people. The toddlers were off to one side, doing crafts, colouring, etc with volunteers.

The intent of the formal portion of the gathering was a power point presentation which showed the babies. As your baby's name is called, you could come up, hang your ornament on the tree in celebrating of their life. You also had the option to speak about your child, which was really nice.
The tree, before the ornaments were added. Kinda cheese, kinda sweet.
The powerpoint didn't function, but this was likely a blessing in disguise. I'm not sure we could have spoken of Jack with his precious little face in the background. Part of me really wanted to show him off, because I LOVE HIM. I know this group of people, much like YOU, understood how proud I am of my few short days with him, and just how incredibly loved he was. 

People who don't lose their baby get to talk about them all the time. Their newest "trick", how much they weigh, their developmental milestones. I get to talk about how my baby was born, how he got sick, how he died, and how he donated. That's it.  It's not very often you have such a compassionate (and captive!) audience.

So, while I would very much have liked to share his photo with others, just like any other proud momma, it probably made it easier that I couldn't.

Children were named, parents walked up, hung their ornament and spoke a few brief words. There were parents of babies who had died 8 years ago, and many who had died more recently. There was a really good "mix" of people. Different socio-economic backgrounds, different races, different ages. It was a really humbling experience to know BL happens to EVERYONE. Humbling, and devastating.

It killed me to see how many babies were at the ceremony. My first thoughts were, "oh, they must be the rainbows". Some likely were, but one lady with a baby girl sat just a few rows ahead of me. The car seat had a name tag on it. It read, "___'s twin sister".

And to make matters worse, there were several sets of twins listed together in the remembrance program.  2 babies. Losing 2 babies, all at once. 


To see grown men crying is one of the most difficult things for me to see, I swear. I love it and hate it, exactly the same. It's nice to see the emotion, it really is. But it's so hard to know that these depth of pain exists just beneath the usual stoic faces.

There were as many dads crying as there were moms. So heartbreaking. Everyone, united, missing their babies.

I cried as they spoke, grieving for those babies as their parents lost their composure, crumbling at the podium. Some unable to finish what they started. These poor families. These poor babies, all being missed by the families who love them.

It's strange. In a way, it's nice to have a gathering of these people, "in the belly of the beast" (as Scott referred to it). Similar situations, similar losses, gluing us all together in this way. Forever united as we grieve for the children we've lost. Other parents with live babies get birthdays, mother's days, father's day, baptisms and Christmas to celebrate their lives with their babies. We don't really get those same days- ours are filled with sorrow. So, this is what we get to celebrate, I guess. Celebrate that our children happened.

Even the idea of seeing his name in writing. It's so foreign to me, and it will rarely happen moving forward. There will be no Jack David McCannell to be enrolled in daycare or kindergarten (and I just started crying because this thought occurred to me for the very first time just now). There will be no graduation announcement, no birthday cards, and no wedding invitation baring his name. No driver's license, no detention slip. This is one of the only times we will see his name in print. 

When Jack's name was called, we stood and walked to the front. I hung Jack's ornament, but not before I dropped it when my hands trembled as I attempted to hang it. How can I be celebrating, handing an ornament in memory of my sweet boy when all I want is to hold him and kiss him, and love him forever? 

Once the ornament was hung, Scott went up to the platform and read aloud what I had written shortly after we lost Jack.  I stood beside him. The words stung my ears, it was as though I'd never heard them before- as though I hadn't written them. I thought about throwing up, to relieve some stress I was carrying within me. But I didn't, because of course that would be very déclassé. ;)

After a few more names were called, the formal portion of the ceremony concluded and we were left to our own devices.  

Scott and I planned to leave, but I noticed they were showing the laptop which had the power point displayed. I wanted to see Jack's slide. So we walked up, and stood with some of the other parents as the slide show was shown- skipping forward to some slides for the parents who were there, pausing for photos, and them moving on.

So many beautiful babies. I didn't take photos, because that would be creepy, but trust me- gorgeous babes.

Jack's slide.
I spoke to one set of parents with a gorgeous living little girl named Grace. They lost their sweet Emma due to complications at birth last summer. They are still grieving, but spoke about what had helped them through. And the mother (I wish I knew her name, but I'm still so emotionally drained, I didn't retain it) stepped forward and gave me a hug. And not one of those quick, "aw, feel better" hugs, but a big, gigantic momma bear hug. You could tell she has definitely done her fair share (and likely more) of comforting people. I loved it. And you know what? I thought it would be weird, because she's a stranger, but somehow, she just knew exactly what I needed. I guess, because she needed it too.

We spoke to a few other couples, including a pregnant lady who was very sweet and there remembering her son while her living daughter played with her dad. They spoke of what helped them heal, how years later they were still grieving and thought they always would. It was very calming, speaking to these other couples who know JUST what this is like.

I'm so glad we went, and we hope to keep going back. I look forward to seeing some of the parents again next year, and while I truly wish there would be no more additions to "the list" this year, reality is that there will be.  I hope to one day be strong enough to speak to him, and let them know they're not alone on this dirty path we're being forced to walk.

It was really humbling, to know we're really not alone in this. To know there are other people out there, who deserved this no more than we deserved it.

I'm so, so glad we went.

Ps. I'm not reviewing, editing, fixing anything in this post. I've been emotionally drained since the even Saturday and it's been a solid 2 hours I've been typing this between crying bursts, and I type like a maniac. Please forgive me for my spelling (I'm talking to you, Brooke, ahha).



Becky said...

Holy crap, I cried through your whole post! I am glad you were able to make it to one of these events and meet some others. I can't believe there were 80 tags, so not right and then to know in the next year mainly more names will likely be added:(

I wanted so badly to go to the one in California this month, but too much for a flight just to go to one, maybe I can attend one in Anchorage but seems weird when I didn't have him at that hospital:(

Dana said...

I'm glad Sick Kids had that gathering and that you got that bear hug.

Your post made me cry. There is so much pain in the world. Sometimes I wonder how people function in general after going through something terrible.

Kelly said...

I'm so happy you went to this. I had similar experiences at our ceremony. It was beautiful, yet so tragic that we were all there for our children that died. I cried the whole time, yet was so happy I went. When Jim gets a new assignment, I always said I would never come back to my area, but after going to this, I think we might do this yearly. We didn't have Adam buried so we have no place to "visit." I think it would be nice to do this.

Anyway, it is a very draining experience, yet beautiful. Many hugs to you.

lissasue3 said...

I can't imagine going to a gathering like that. I think I would have been one of the parents that didn't go, and then felt shame because I wasn't there to represent my little one.

I'm very proud of you for going. Although very difficult it sounds like it was helpful to you. ((hugs))

LookItsJessica said...

That gathering sounds so emotionally powerful and so needed for grieving parents. I think one of the main ways we get through this is not feeling so alone.

By the way, early in my pregnancy, I worked in a day-care and used to be so excited for Liam's "cubby" at school filled with his coat and sippy cup and other cute things. How terrible that they wont ever exist.

B. Wilson said...

Ha, no detention slips. ;)

That would've been my kid, too, though the husband tries to deny it since he is squeaky clean and perfect.

So glad you went!

little vitu's mom said...

You are very brave.

I wouldn't be able to go back to the hospital where my baby died. I spent few days there believing my baby is fine and will be with me & then he died. I hate that place. (I didn't see my baby after he died. Am a strange, psycho woman)

Hugs to you.

Keleen said...

So glad you went! We are going to a walk on Saturday that I am both looking forward to and scared shitless about! We get to do so little for our babies, but when a chance comes along I think it helps to take it. They will be putting each baby's name on the jumbo-tron...I look forawrd to seeing her name in print, but you are right, I hate that her name is included at all *sigh* and seriously what is with our wonderfully stupid husbands with the comments they make?!? Glad you told him to shut it! ;)

Brooke said...

I'm delayed on commenting, but I promise you that the LAST thing I'm doing is looking for typos through my tears. Glad you went to this and that it was a positive experience. It *is* humbling to know how many other people walk this path. It's so terribly unfair and heartbreaking, and nothing can change that. But it is comforting to see others in the thick of it with us (I love that term "the belly of the beast") and it's so good to see some people who have come out on the other side of the very worst of it and found a way to live with their grief apart from living within it. I hope and pray that will be all of us someday.

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