It was a day I won’t soon forget. The day my two worlds collided: Child loss and photography.
I’ve been a Pediatric Hospice Social Worker for three years, I get devastating news all the time. Loss is part of the territory. Please don’t think I am numb to sad news because I’m not. But I have learned things that help me cope with such a sad job: prayer and photography.
I’ve witnessed infant and child loss up-close and personal, and my words and sentiment are too inadequate to paint the devastating picture that it is. I’ve snuggled and loved on many angels after they’ve gone. Too many too count. But my experiences are NOTHING compared to what a parent goes through when their child dies. A grieving mother once told me death is an event, and grief is a journey. It is so true. Death is an event in time, but living without your beautiful child, while others around you continue to live their “normal” day to day lives, at the same time yours comes a screeching hault…That’s a journey.
I give you this background to illustrate God’s timing…not in this family’s life necessarily, but mine. God has equipped me to be present with families in the midst of great loss and suffering. I don’t know why. But if I had to guess, I’d say the preparation was for days like December 30th when I had the privilege of meeting Myles.
Barbara is one of my supervisors at Hospice. She’s been doing Pediatric Hospice for 20+ years. She’s seen child loss too, but now, she has experienced it first hand. Myles is her grandson.
We are a close Pediatric Hospice team. We respect each other individually and professionally. We celebrate together. We grieve the loss of our patients together. And we’ve grieved personal losses together too. I do feel like our team has this incredible connection, and I’m confident that God is at the heart of our relationships with one another.
I was stopped in my tracks when I got the group text from Barbara on Monday, December 29th. She sent it to the whole pediatric team. “Amanda went to the doctors this afternoon and baby died. We are all heading to hospital because they will do a c-section tonight”.
Wait. What? What?!?!? How can this happen? Amanda was 39 weeks along, and she and Fred had been eagerly awaiting his arrival, hoping he would come around the holidays. The doctors are wrong, right? They’re just having a hard time finding the heartbeat. This is a technical issue with their equipment. Amanda was not high risk. Baby boy was doing fine, he was healthy, all the prenatal tests were right on target. They had just gone to a normal check up. How can this be? This can’t be.
If these were my thoughts, what were Amanda and Fred thinking and feeling? I imagine this life-changing news was heart stopping, gut-wrenching, earth shattering, devastating. Coupled with shock, disbelief, hopelessness, denial, anger and rage, with a hint of hope that the doctors were wrong.
I hadn’t yet met Amanda or Fred, but we had been planning their newborn photoshoot for months: sending ideas back and forth through email. And now, I get this text from Amanda’s mom, my supervisor, that their precious boy died in utero.
Feeling helpless and short on words, the photographer and social worker in me kicked in and all I could offer them was the gift of images. So I did. With some hesitation, and rightfully so, Amanda and Fred accepted my offer…the offer of a stranger, to come be present at THE WORST time in their lives.
Amanda and Fred were at the hospital as Monday turned into Tuesday, waiting for the doctors to induce, and for their little bundle to arrive.
I can’t even begin to imagine all the thoughts, feelings, and hopes they had as they waited to meet their son. I know that throughout the night I woke up praying that the doctors were wrong, and the miracle of life would be in Myles’ body when he arrived. I prayed all the way to the hospital for God’s will and that he would be present providing peace and comfort no matter the circumstances.
I arrived at the hospital Tuesday morning and I texted Barbara letting her know I had arrived. She met me outside the hospital room. And I embraced my coworker, my friend, whose daughter is emotionally suffering, and whose grandbaby’s heart is no longer beating. Like any grandmother, Barbara had been talking about her grandbaby so much, as she loves to brag about all her cute grand babies often showing us pictures and sharing stories. She was excited to welcome another grandbaby. Barbara’s son had a baby girl a few months before and she couldn’t wait for her adult twins to raise their babies together.
I walked into the room and Barbara introduced me to Amanda and Fred and all the family members who were present as Amanda was laboring. What do you say to a stranger who has been in labor and knows her son will not be born alive? There was silence in the room. It wasn’t awkward. It was just still and silent. Filled with small talk here and there. One thing that was consistent in the room was the solemn look of grief upon each family member’s face. Each trying to be strong for the other, and through their strength letting out sighs and tears. The look of helplessness was pervasive.
It was time for Amanda to begin pushing. Fred, Barbara and Amanda’s sister Caroline were present for the birth of this sweet baby boy. Holding their breath and hoping for a miracle, Myles Dempsey McSeveney was born at 12:51 pm. He weighed 6 pounds 6 ounces measuring 20 inches long. He was born an angel.
Amanda and Fred had some alone time with their son, and then asked for me to come take pictures of their baby boy. Behind my lens, I was holding back the tears: as I watched this first time mom study the features of her little boy, trying to memorize his beautiful face. He had a perfect button nose, and full kissable lips. He was long a lean, and had a full head of beautiful dark hair. Fred could not take his eyes off of his son, and stayed close to his son for hours.
Family members came in and took turns snuggling and loving up on Myles. There was not a dry eye in the room. And the silence became sniffles of grieving family members, trying to hold in their sorrow and be strong from Amanda and Fred.
Myles was surrounded by love that day. For hours he was adored, kissed, and cuddled. The love and heartbreak in the room were palpable. My heart still aches for them as I think about that day, and this new road of child loss they are on. Words can’t adequately express the depth of love and devastation that December 30th , 2014 brought them. In his very short life, Myles Dempsey made a lasting impact on many. No one who met him will forget him. It’s impossible.
My hope is that the short, but precious, coveted time they had with their son will comfort them on their grief journey.
Please continue to pray for Amanda, Fred and their entire extended family as they grieve the loss of their son.
I truly understand now why a picture is worth a thousand words…
The social worker in me also wants to share some blogs about how to be present for your friend after they’ve lost a child. There are some do’s and don’ts when you are helping your friends.
- What to Say When Someone Has Lost a Child
- How to Be There When Someone’s Child Dies
- Do’s and Don’ts of Helping a Friend After A Still Birth
Thanks for the love and support you continue to provide this family!