***Warning:This is a Crying Post, Grab Your Kleenex***
Three years ago, we lost our Bernadette half-way through pregnancy to a knot in her cord. My husband cried; my children cried; I could not cry. Tears would occasionally leak down my cheeks, but it was more overflow than mourning. I was too numb to actually be able to feel the loss of her.
How do you mourn someone you’ve never seen? How do you cry for an image in your mind? And not just for the baby she was, but the happy girl she would have become? One of my favorite phrases is a “remembered future.” How do you mourn for all the remembered futures, all the should have beens?
Then an acquaintance handed me her 6 day old girl and I began to weep, loudly. The tears washed the makeup from my cheeks and any trace of mascara from my lashes. I cried and cried and cried. I began to heal.
Last week, #6 was the borrowed baby for a lovely couple I had never met before. We have a common friend who told me about them and asked for prayers. They had lost their son at week 19 of pregnancy due to tragic circumstances. They were stunned by the suddenness of death and by the swiftness with which tragedy had befallen them. Our common friend knew of our Bernadette and of the peace that came from being able to say good bye-to her. They were stuck in their grief, she told me, could I return the favor and let them borrow #6?
I met them last week at their home. They answered the door wearing the pinched look of grief and too much weight upon their shoulders. #6 was sleeping in that boneless baby way and I handed him over to the woman who would be his “mom” for the next hour or so.
“What’s his name?” she asked.
“You tell me.” I replied.
“Nathan. His name was Nathan.” and the tears began to drip off of her chin.
I went quietly to the guest room and read a book I had brought while they held my boy and said good-bye to their own. With a place to focus their grief, they could hold it back no longer.
I could hear nothing but sobbing and then her wail of “I’m sorry I couldn’t keep you safe. I was your mom and it was my job to keep you safe. I’m so sorry, Nathan.”
They held and kissed and loved our boy for well over an hour before they brought him back to me. The tears had dried upon their cheeks and the hunch of their shoulders was lifting.
His “dad” held him close and whispered “Good-bye, my son.”
His “mom” kissed him and said “I’ll always love you.” #6 smiled his giant smile and planted a face-licking baby kiss on her jaw. She smiled and said, “He kissed me good-bye.”
They both hugged me tightly and then watched with quivering lips as I put a smiling cooing boy into his car seat for the ride home. I was half a block away when my phone rang.
“Thank you.” she told me. “You don’t know what a gift it is to be able to say good-bye.”
“Yes, I do,” I replied.
I could hear the slight smile in her voice as she said, “You’ll never guess what my husband said. He said ‘Do you think she knows? Do you think she knows that she’s the Angel of Mercy and the Angel of Death? For one brief moment, she gave him back to us and then she took him away.”
“Yeah,” I sighed, “I know, and I’m sorry.”
“We forgive you.” She said, and I knew that they had.
** Written with great fondness for, and the approval of, Nathan’s parents. We hope that other parents will consider allowing their children to be “borrowed babies”. Saying good-bye is only the beginning, but it is often the hardest part. **