CHAPTER 4 (Ben’s words in BOLD.)
The weekend after we closed on the house Ben came up to spend Saturday night and Sunday with us. We weren’t attending church at the time and Ben’s dad had headed off to his church that Sunday morning, March 4th. We had been up early with the kids and were having a relaxing morning as a family. I had nursed our littlest, just 7 ½ months old, down for a morning nap on the bed I shared with him in Ben’s absence, and snuggled him in between a couple pillows. I got up and got ready for the day, as we had planned to go grocery shopping as a family when the baby woke up.
Nap time was coming to an end and I sneaked into the bedroom to grab something. I noticed the spot between the pillows was empty besides a left behind stuffed bear and stray pacifier. His blanket was pulled to the edge of the bed and I noticed he had fallen off the bed and had gotten stuck between the bed and another piece of furniture. I screamed and whisked him out of the tight space and back onto the bed. He was lifeless and unresponsive. Ben and the other kids came running. Ben hovered over his baby boy screaming and crying while I fumbled with my cell phone trying to call 9-1-1. The other kids, then just 5, 3 and 2, stood confused at the doorway while they watched our flurry of panic. Ben ushered the kids away and closed the door as I followed the instructions of the 9-1-1 technician and moved my sweet baby’s body to the floor and began to perform CPR. The mouth I had lovingly kissed so many times I was now breathing into, willing life into his tiny body, begging God to restore his breath. The paramedics arrived and rushed our sweet son to the ambulance. They left us all alone in the house to wait. The minutes ticked by and the kids, scared and worried, were asking the very questions we were thinking. “Is he going to be okay? Why are they taking so long? What’s happening?” Ben went out and stood near the ambulance and I remember thinking I needed to be strong for these kids even though I was a weak mess on the inside. I knelt down on the kitchen floor and pulled my children into a huge hug and we prayed for sweet, precious Andrew. I told them that Andrew might not survive but that God loves us so much and he has a plan in all of this. I held them close and silently begged God for Andrew’s life to be spared all the while beating myself up for leaving him alone on that bed.
After what seemed like forever, Ben’s dad returned home and stayed with the kids while we followed the ambulance to the hospital. We were terrified and knew what the outcome was probably going to be but we dared to hope. Our family members arrived at the hospital in record time and many of them sat in the waiting room with us while we dreaded the verdict. The doctor arrived and confirmed what we knew to be true. Our son was dead. There was nothing they could do. Gut wrenching agony came over us as we held each other and sobbed over the loss of yet another precious son. It seemed like a very bad dream that I desperately wanted to wake up from. Ben and I walked into the emergency room where our sweet, lifeless baby was laying on the bed being cared for by a nurse who is a family friend and a wonderful Christian woman. She turned and gave us a compassionate, sympathetic hug and assured us as best she could. We were given moments alone with him as we hugged, and kissed yet another lifeless son. We were shocked that God would have us go through this again. Mommies and daddies should not have to hold the dead bodies of their babies. Not once and certainly not twice. It just wasn’t fair. I cried my tears dry until my head ached and my throat was sore. Our family members came in to the room to say their goodbyes and share their love and sorrow. A pastor from the church we previously attended came to pray with us and agreed to meet with us and prepare a memorial service for him. We stayed with Andrew for as long as they would allow us. We held him close, wrapped in his soft warm blanket and kissed his sweet, soft cheeks, hoping time would stop and we would never have to hand him over. Before we were ready, we found ourselves again leaving a hospital without a baby, leaving a cold, lifeless son behind. The heartache is indescribable.
Only this time, I was plagued with guilt on top of sorrow. The guilt and shame overtook me. I blamed myself. If only I had napped with him. If only I had just put him in a pack and play. If only I had heard him cry out. I remember sitting on that same bed, pumping breast milk that should have been Andrew’s but I was determined to donate, sobbing and crying out to God, “Why God?!?! Why didn’t I hear him?!?! I could have saved him!!” And, clearer than I have ever heard God speak to me, I heard Him say, “Stephanie, I could have saved him but it was his time.” It was a balm for my soul. I knew the scriptures; our days are numbered even before we are conceived. In that moment, I could feel God taking the burden of guilt from me, but I struggled to accept the freedom. I couldn’t forgive myself. I didn’t even want to face people at his funeral because I was sure they were blaming me. I doubted my abilities as a mother and felt certain I was unable to care for my children properly. Obviously, I couldn’t even keep them alive! Recently, Ben and I had been talking about maybe considering having another child or looking into adoption. Now, for me, it was completely out of the question. Clearly, I wasn’t capable and certainly nobody would trust me to adopt and care for their child! I was a wreck. I felt desperate to keep my other children safe so I could prove myself. It was a burden, no mother should bear and it was threatening to take me under.
The days surrounding his death, his funeral and his burial are such a blur. Ben and I were grieving and trying to parent our other children and trying to make sense of everything and simply trying to survive. It was such a gift to me that Ben never once blamed me. Never, even in the heat of the moment, did he breathe one word of accusation. Once again, by God’s grace, this wasn’t going to divide us. My own heart broke as I watched my precious husband break. I watched him mourn and cry and ultimately surrender. In those days following Andrew’s death, he made the choice I had begged God for all our married days. He chose to give his life to God and to lean hard on Him when he knew he couldn’t make it alone. For the first time, we leaned hard on God together and chose to trust him and have faith even when life didn’t make any sense. God showed up as we laid our precious baby to rest and He became our Anchor, our Savior, our Redeemer, our Comfort and our only Hope. Most people don’t get to see God redeem such horrible circumstances in such short order. As a huge measure of grace, I got to see my husband’s life transform just days after losing Andrew.
I’ve buried two of my children and that seemed unfair. The pain never completely goes away; it just gets a little duller. One of the visitors in the ER that horrible day was a former pastor. I kept saying, “Why me God?” and my pastor said something I will never forget, “Why not you?” That hit me like a ton of bricks.
At this point, I began to realize all of the grace God had shown me over the years. The definition of grace…the freely given, unmerited favor and love of God…rang very true. I am not deserving of any good, but God loves to show His grace even though I am very undeserving. It is still a very long grieving process, but I believe that this tragic event was used by God to bring me back to Him.