Ten years ago today my entire family’s world changed. Before I describe how, I’d like to say that I’m not looking for sympathy, but to share some of the important things we’ve learned.
A little less than a year earlier, my sister in law and I discovered we were pregnant at the same time – me with my second child and her with her first. We both had beautiful little boys – mine born in March, hers in June. Shortly before my son’s first birthday, at four pm, on March 4th, 1998, my sweet, eight month old nephew died of SIDS. Despite repeated attempts at resuscitation, he was gone. The morning after, I remember waking up and telling my husband I’d had the most awful nightmare. The look on his face brought every horrible detail rushing back.
I’m not going to lie and say we learned anything useful right away. The first months were spent in horror and grief. Finding little his baby socks shoved down the side of the couch or his pacifier in a purse was crippling. Getting misplaced rolls of film developed and finding pictures you’d forgotten you’d taken were both a precious gift and a kick in the gut.
The following years brought a kind of numb acceptance, but it’s taken almost a decade to get to the point where I didn’t have guilt every day that my son had lived and theirs didn’t. It also took that long to see ways that we might have grown from this. I’m not saying that I’m glad this happened – or that it was some kind of blessing in disguise, but I can see how the choices I’ve made since then are different than the ones I might have made if this hadn’t happened.
Here are some of the things I’ve learned and would like to share:
Never miss an opportunity to let your loved ones know that you love them. I know that’s terribly cliché, but it’s also true. My family has always been close, but this loss and eventual celebration of my nephew’s short life has brought us closer.
If you have kids or grandkids, take time to enjoy their childhood. The little things that used to frustrate me about babies and toddlers ceased to matter. Preteens and teens however can be a little more trying, but I don’t want to ever look back and have regrets about things I shouldn’t have said or things I should have done but didn’t.
The human heart is more resilient than I’d ever realized. My brother and sister-in-law are some of the strongest and bravest people I know. I’m not sure I would have survived intact if it had been my child, and I sincerely doubt I would have attempted to have any more. I’m happy to say that I have another nephew and niece. It may take a while, but it is possible to heal from such a loss.
Sometimes tomorrow never comes. Follow your dreams now – there may not be time later. I’d stopped writing after college figuring I’d always go back to it later. Other than a poem I 'd written at the request of my brother for my nephew's funeral, I hadn't written a thing in years. I finally went back to it, several years after my nephew’s death. One day I realized that I was never going to effectively teach my kids to follow their dreams if I didn’t follow my own – so here I am...following my dreams.
Take a minute to hug your kids today – no matter how old and surly they might be.