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A mama’s worst nightmare: losing a child

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In honor of Mother’s Day, we will be featuring your motherhood essays of women you admire in our “Hero Mom” series.” For the Grand Prize winner, we’ll send them BOTH to Allure Skincare and Lash, True Bliss Massage AND Rooted in Tradition Acupuncture.

A few years ago, I was devastated by some news about my college roommate. Horrible news. She and her family were involved in a car accident while en route from Colorado to Utah. Her  13-year-old daughter was killed.

How does a person ever recover from the death of a child? There isn’t a day that goes by that my friend does not mourn the loss of her eldest child but she has done an admirable job of rebuilding her family with hope and happiness while continuing to honor her daughter’s memory.

When my son Bode was nine months old, I dreamt he died.

As if the end result was not painful enough, within my dream, I had a dream about how it would all unfold. How he would get sick. How I would have to watch him slowly deteriorate. And I foresaw how and when that exact moment of his passing would occur.

And I painfully waited, heart broken, relishing every last moment with him.

I awoke at 3 a.m. in a flood of tears. My husband Jamie consoled me by suggesting we sneak into Bode’s room. I was touched at his thoughtfulness as we crept in there to hear the comforting cadence of his breathing.

“He’s OK,”  I whispered, relieved, and reached down to remove his bottle that he had drunkenly thrown to the wayside.5

And then he woke up. Forcefully. And very loudly objected as if to say, “What da freak? Just let me sleep, Woman!”

And never before have a baby’s cries provided such peace.

How does a person ever recover from the death of a child?

Before I became a mother, I just didn’€™t get it. I figured it would be horribly difficult to get over but you would just move on. Particularly when I heard of a baby dying, I thought, “Well, at least they were still little so the parent didn’t have time to bond very much with them.”

My thoughts were the same on miscarriage. I mean, the child hadn’t even been born yet. What is the big deal? You can just try to conceive again.

Never once did I consider the feeling of holding that newborn life in your arms, of knowing you had played an integral part in forming this little person. I never considered the sheer joy of seeing him grow, love and learn. And I certainly never understand that for so many of us, the hope of these things is ingrained from the moment of conception.

I finally get it.

But pray I will never have to.


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  • comment avatar Lis Garrett May 30, 2008

    Oh, my heart just aches to hear stories like this. I’ve often dreamt of my children dying. I once dreamt that Jacob was running toward the edge of the cliff, and there was nothing I could do to stop him from tumbling over. I recently dreamt Hannah drowned. While I was pregnant with Hannah, I had a vivid dream that I miscarried and I could actually see her spirit floating out of my body. That still shakes me to the core, even nine years later.

    I can’t imagine the despair one feels with actually losing a child. I suppose you find the strength to survive somehow, but that important piece of your life is always gone.

    Thoughts and prayers for your friend . . .

  • comment avatar Richelle F May 30, 2008

    I agree, now that I have a child, and one on the way that I would be devastated to loose, I don’t know how people recover. At least we can know that we will see them again. 🙂

  • comment avatar cheryl May 30, 2008

    Stephen M (Ethesis) has a blog where he has written about what it was like to lose three daughters in less than five years (to disease). It’s heart-wrenching, but it’s healing for those who have experienced the same thing. Here is his URL:

    I’ve had those dreams. Always around the time of new birth or pregnancy –the worst ones? Drowning dreams. Watching my children be swept away by rivers or lakes or oceans…

    But honestly? I don’t think losing a child to death is the worst nightmare. Like Richelle F said, a lot of women know where their child will be after they die and believe they will see their children again. This brings comfort. (Some don’t, though, and that would be devestatingly hard.) I think the absolute worst nightmare for me would be to lose a child to an abductor and never find out what happened to him/her. Knowing that my child would be lost, scared, abused, and/or dead without me there to help and protect them would be my worst nightmare. I don’t think I could ever recover…

  • comment avatar Karen Jones May 30, 2008

    I have had several miscarriage and each and every time is like mourning the actual death of a child. I don’t know how to get through it all. I sometimes still reflect upon their due dates and always wonder would could have been….

  • comment avatar Melissa May 30, 2008

    I don’t know if you ever do get over something like that. My Uncle was hit by a train. He lived for about a year afterwards basically as a vegetable. There was nothing he could do for himself and really no brain activity. That 30+ years ago and my Grandma still aches for him.
    No parent should have to bury a child…

  • comment avatar yvonne May 30, 2008

    My heart goes out to your friend. I think losing a child would be so difficult. There is great peace in knowing that we will see them again. (I’m so grateful for that knowledge)

    When a friend lost her husband a little over a month ago, I felt so horrible for her, but I also felt such sorrow for his parents who lost their son.

  • comment avatar Lisa May 30, 2008

    So sad. You don’t get a lot of things until you have children of your own. I am so thankful I have had the opportunity to experience those things and know how truly blessed I am to have my two beautiful daughters. Peace to your friend.

  • comment avatar Kagey May 30, 2008

    There is no love like that of parent to child. My mom just headed out to drive home to Kansas, and it is hard each time we part from each other. I truly did not get how much she loves each of us (I’m one of three kids) until I became a mom.

    It’s about not knowing what would have been, isn’t it? I think when we have children, we reach out to the future, with the thought that they will see and do things long after we’re gone. They may, in turn, have children of their own. I imagine a line, going through me, back into the past touching all my ancestors, going forward through my children (and maybe someday) grandkids. Feeling that line cut off is, I think, why just the thought of losing one of my kids hurts so much.

  • comment avatar Ana May 30, 2008

    Oh my heart, my heart! How I ache for your friends. Stories like this just shake me at the root of my being. I have a friend from an online community I’m in who gave birth to a stillborn daughter. I’m still not over that. When we become parents the perspective we gain on these things. I used to feel the same way you used to pre-Mamahood. I hope to never understand what your friends are going through. I do greatly sympathize and pray for God’s peace in this situation.

  • comment avatar mamma2two May 30, 2008

    One week ago today, my little girl, who is three, fell out of a booth at a restaurant and hit her head, 15 minutes later she was throwing up, after 5 or 6 times I realised it wasn’t coming out anymore. I was holding her and realised she was choking on the pizza dough that had formed a ball in her stomach and she couldn’t get it out. The next minutes of my life were the most terrifying minutes I hope to ever have to live through. She turned blue, jaws locked, eyes rolled back, and stopped breathing. I did everything I could and got it out of her throat and breathing again before the fire dept/ambulance and police arrived. But seeing her like that, feeling that desperation…it’s was the most aweful thing ever. I can never imagine losing a child. When the fire dept came to my house I was still sitting on the floor holding her, I could barely stand up, I know that if the outcome had gone the other way, I probably never would have been able to stand up again. My heart aches for your friend, it’s not the kind of heartache any parent should ever have to endure.

  • comment avatar Mary May 30, 2008

    It absolutely IS the worst thing that someone ever has to deal with. I lost a daughter, at birth, in 1998. She was full term, delivered by c-section… I didn’t hear her cry at delivery. I didn’t see all the commotion of nurses & doctors entering the delivery room… I asked my doctor why I didn’t hear her (my baby) cry… what’s wrong? Moments later I learned that of all the people in the room and the horribly sad fact that “there is nothing more we can do… she’s gone…” They brought her to me… my husband & I cried our eyes out. We agreed to a full autopsy, which later revealed that she had no lungs. The next few months are a total blur, with not much recollection of that time other than preparing for and attending her memorial service. If it weren’t for my close family and friends, I don’t know how I would have survived.

    It was a very slow process ‘back’… and at times if feels as if it happened just yesterday. Today, we’re very fortunate to have gotten through a successful pregnancy & birth… we are VERY proud parents of an 8 year old daughter. Needless to say, we cherish every moment we have together. It was a frightening time being pregnant again. I visited specialists & monitored the growth of her lungs to ensure it wouldn’t happen again. It was worth the stress and worry being pregnant again… it’s amazing how we get strength from such pain & sorry. Thanks for letting me share my story here….

  • comment avatar serf 'rett May 30, 2008

    Kay’s second pregnancy ended in a miscarriage.
    When these type of things happen, life turns a corner and will never be the same.

  • comment avatar RubiaLala May 30, 2008

    I am so sorry. Prayers for your friend.

  • comment avatar Kimberly May 30, 2008

    It’s not something that can be gotten over, that’s the crux of it. I shudder at the thought of losing one of my children. I can well imagine the chronic grief of that. No parent should have to outlive their child, but all too often it happens.

  • comment avatar Guinevere Meadow May 30, 2008

    How terrible! I’m sending prayers for that family.

    I hate dreams like that. I once had a dream that Lance was kidnapped. I woke up in a panic, but as soon as I realized it was a dream I was *so* relieved.

  • comment avatar Suzanne Bastien May 30, 2008

    How devestating that must be for them. There are no words or amount of hugs that can heal those wounds, but I pray people never stop trying.

    My oldest daughter was 6 when she got Spinal meninjitis. (I can never spell that), and when we got her to the hospital she looked up at me and said, “Mommy, I love you” and fell into a coma. I never felt like dying more than at that moment, and when they spinal tapped her, and then hooked her up to the ventilator and put her in that huge hospital bed they turned and said, “It’s a 50/50 chance she’ll die by morning.”

    Never in my life can I recall a moment where everything stopped, life halted and I wanted to stop breathing with her.

    She survived with no adverse affects, and awoke 24 hours later just like she had fallen asleep.

    However, I worry often that it was her time, and that she’s on borrowed time now. I only hope that my time is before my kids, I don’t ever want to have to bury one of them.

    Warm blessings and energy for your dear friend, and to those that the girls life touched.

  • comment avatar White Hot Magik May 30, 2008


    I don’t know how, my brother and his wife had to do it and have handled it so well, with such grace. I hope I never have to know either.

  • comment avatar Leslie May 30, 2008

    Oh how very, very sad. That is and always has been one of my greatest fears…I don’t know what I would do…

  • comment avatar Lizzy May 30, 2008

    I never understood people who could morn a miscarriage for years, until I had one.

    I desperately hope I will never have to experience the loss of one of my children.

    And I have worse dreams. I’ve actually dreamt about accidentally killing my own child. Horrible. It was so bad I was scared to sleep for days after, in fear that I would dream about it again.

  • comment avatar Diana Joy May 30, 2008

    ohhhhh my goodness! I am so sorry 🙁 I have had those dreams too many times. Except it is always one of my kids from the streets…or one of my own children who are quickly taken….I wish I could answer the question….but, I don’t think God wants the parents to out live their children….Atleast that is what my adopted father said when my sister died of cancer (at 35) and his son died of a heart-attack last year. Hang in there my friend….My prayers are with the family as I type!
    Diana Joy

  • comment avatar Kim May 30, 2008

    A Child is a dream; we dream of having one when expecting, dream and hope for their future, and dream of what we are going to be and how we are as parents. I’ve had one miscarriage and in that moment instead of seeing a heartbeat, instead . . . nothing. All my dreams were ripped from me. Today I have a little 7 month old baby boy and I feel blessed every day. Every day in the little things that I love. A trusting look, a smile, when he burries his head in my shoulder, the way he smells, the fact that he is a part of me and my husband. In both cases I feel so strongly about the one I lost and the one I have. Bottom line, today hug and kiss your kids, better yet do it now! Don’t forget to also hug your friends, family, and reach out to co workers. They are someone’s son or daughter. It’s strange we remember the specific negative things that happen and harder to remember the good BUT if everyday we show someone how much we care, we leave an imprint of love and that’s what thay remember.

    I pray for those who have lost.

    I hope you get up from reading this and show your kids, family and friends you love them. WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR? Seriously. Do it now!

  • comment avatar Lori May 30, 2008

    It is unimaginable.

    There is a new blog by women who have lost babies. I don’t know how one heals, but I think the site helps with the processing.

    I am holding the Weber family in my heart.

  • comment avatar smartmama May 30, 2008

    my sympathies for your friend there was actually a storycorps on npr about a woman who lost a child in a car accident– it moved me so deeply- I had tears running down my face- I grabbed a plate of cupcakes and drove to straight to our friends who lost an adult son last year in a car accident-I wish I could have done more but I knew just stopping to say i love you and i am sorry never hurts

  • comment avatar 4 what it's worth May 30, 2008

    You know I have shared this before 12 pregnancies, 3 live births, and 2 surviving children. You don’t get over it. You don’t even get to around, over, under. You get to go through it day after day. Some days the smallest of scents, sounds can throw you back right into the moment of losing your child.
    But, I try to take joy in each and everything that my children bring to me. Perhaps I cherish silly things way too much, but I don’t let a day go by when I don’t relish in who they are and who they are to become. I know I will never get over losing, but I hope that loving will even out the emotionally tally sheet.
    My thoughts and good wishes are with your friend and her loved ones; including you.

  • comment avatar Elizabeth F Deane May 30, 2008

    That is so sad. I’ve dreamt about my children dying as well and I wake up crying. I’m glad to wake up from such a nightmare…the real thing would be devastating!

  • comment avatar Tonya May 30, 2008

    I truly have no idea how one could even take another breathe much less get over something like this terrible tragedy. My heart aches for them.

  • comment avatar Amber May 31, 2008

    Thanks to everyone who has shared their thoughts! A few specifics –

    Mama2Two – Oh. My. Gosh. How absolutely horrifying. When I hear of stories like that, I vow that I need to take a child CPR class because I would have no idea what to do. I am so glad she was OK!

    Mary – How completely devastating. To go through an entire pregnancy and to have it end in the worst possible way. My heart goes out to you and I am so happy your next pregnancy ended so much better.

    Suzanne – Oh my gosh. How absolutely horrifying for you, especially dealing with a coma and a 50/50 chance of her survival. And her full recovery is truly miraculous! My sister-in-law had meningitis and still suffers its effects.

  • comment avatar diana/sunshine May 31, 2008

    i can’t even imagine what it would be like to lose a child – at any age.

    and, yes, i had nightmares, too. especially when my kids were real little. i finally had to give all my fears up to God knowing that He loves my children even more than i do.

    still, the anguish a mother must feel is inconceivable to those who have not been in those shoes.

  • comment avatar Robyn May 31, 2008

    That was a really sad post. I’ve had dreams like that, and I’ve day-dreamed about it too. My mind plays tricks on me, I think of it happening, and I will be wide awake bawling about the death of my child or husband that hasn’t occurred. My heart aches for your friend.

  • comment avatar Born2Shop May 31, 2008

    My very best friend in the world and I were pregnant at the same time. Her beautiful daughter was born just a few days before my son. The night I brought him home from the hospital I had this dream, even almost 10 years later it is still very clear. In the dream, my baby couldn’t breath and I felt his life slipping away from me. I woke myself up screaming. I remember looking at the clock and franticly reaching for my son. He was sleeping quietly and peacefully in his bassinette and I remember picking him up and I was never so happy to hear him cry and cry and cry.

    The next morning, my best friend’s mother called. Her baby girl had pasted away. It happened at the same time I woke from my dream. Even now, it still makes me cry. My friend is the strongest, most courageous woman I know. I will never be as strong as what I’ve seen her endure. She was nursing and the baby was on top of her, she drifted off to sleep and when she woke, her daughter was not breathing. They later linked it to an adverse reaction to imunization shots she had received in the hospital. Her faith in God slowly helped her to heal. I’m not so sure I could have come through it quite so…I don’t know…there aren’t words.

    Not a day goes by when I am not reminded of just how precious the time we have with our children is. Every first, every smile, every naughty deed, every anything…I will never take a moment for granted and you can never say “I love you” too much.

    My heart goes out to your friend and I will keep their family in my prayers.

  • comment avatar chel May 31, 2008

    My heart literally aches when I hear stories of this nature. To be fair, I can’t say I know how they are feeling, but I can only imagine and pray for them to be comforted during such a sorrow-filled time in their lives.

  • comment avatar Lauren June 1, 2008

    I just don’t know how someone survives the loss of a child. I, like you, pray that I never have to find out.
    This was such a beautiful, tender post. It made me cry and more importantly made me think and be grateful. Thank you.

  • comment avatar Anna Maria Junus June 1, 2008

    I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve never lost a child or had a miscarriage.

    However I have had those dreams and a couple of close calls.

    It’s frightening, and I think it helps that we do have the comfort of knowing they’re with Heavenly Father.

    I agree with the poster is that the biggest fear is abduction. We don’t know what happens to those children and they can grow up without us. We end up losing them all together.

    My heart goes out to your friend.

  • comment avatar so grateful to be mormon June 1, 2008

    i don’t know how, amber. i don’t know how a parent gets over the loss of a child, no matter the age. i was just thinking of this today. one of our church families recently suffered the death of their toddler boy — many medical complications. that little boy suffered so much in under two years.

    my heart goes out to your loved one in the loss of their daughter.

    blessings and peace to be had, i hope for you and them, kathleen

  • comment avatar FFG June 2, 2008

    That is certainly every mother’s worst nightmare. I can’t even bare to consider what it would feel like. My heart goes out to them.

  • comment avatar Shannon June 2, 2008

    Something similar happened to friends of mine…I don’t think a family can ever get over such a tragedy. It seems all that can be done is to keep memories and stories of the child close…I can’t imagine such a thing. My thoughts are with your roommate and her family.

  • comment avatar A mom in the burbs June 3, 2008

    I think one of the most amazing things about being a mom, for me, is the true well-spring of emotion I have for children. Before I had them, I had no idea what I was missing. Mamas have an almost undefineable capacity to love and feel compassion.

    Now, the incredible magic of children is known to me and the death of any child is a tragedy on a universal scale.

    I am going to sneak into my children’s rooms right now, check their breathing (as I do everytime) and kiss them….

    My heart to your friends…

  • comment avatar elasticwaistbandlady June 3, 2008

    I am so, so sorry for your friends. A family in our homeschool group lost two children in a car accident last year. As though it could get any worse it happened on the mom’s birthday….on Mother’s Day. These kids were good friends with my kids and to see the ricochet effect of not only the family’s loss but also how it affected so many people associated with them through work, church, and school was equally heartbreaking.

  • comment avatar Wendi June 3, 2008

    I.can. not. imagine.
    I too pray I never have to.
    Thanks for sharing and reminding me of my blessings.

  • comment avatar Shana SAAM June 4, 2008

    Thoughts and prayers to the Weber Family!!

    My parents lost 2 sons on the same day before I was born. My mom never got over it. She completely changed says my older sister. It would do that, I think, if you let it. My mom always said that she hated when well meaning people would say: “At least you have other kids!” as if that made up for it.

  • comment avatar Shana SAAM June 4, 2008

    Thoughts and prayers to the Weber Family!!

    My parents lost 2 sons on the same day before I was born. My mom never got over it. She completely changed says my older sister. It would do that, I think, if you let it. My mom always said that she hated when well meaning people would say: “At least you have other kids!” as if that made up for it.

  • comment avatar Shana SAAM June 4, 2008

    Thoughts and prayers to the Weber Family!!

    My parents lost 2 sons on the same day before I was born. My mom never got over it. She completely changed says my older sister. It would do that, I think, if you let it. My mom always said that she hated when well meaning people would say: “At least you have other kids!” as if that made up for it.

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