An appointment was made to see me for lactation in the medical office where I work. It was made a week or so in advance and I questioned this because as I explained to the appointment setter, “Lactation is just not like that. When a mom or baby need help, they need it now.” Nevertheless, the appointment was made for Wednesday at 9:30 a.m as per the mother’s request.
On Tuesday, a staff member let me know that in fact, the appointment was canceled because “all had been resolved.” On Friday, the same person called and said, “By the way, the baby you were supposed to see died yesterday.” Simple. Matter-of-fact. “And by the way, there’s a baby who needs to be seen on Saturday. Are you available?” I am stunned and ironically, I had just seen this post on Facebook regarding a two month old who had died and whose family needed money for funeral expenses. It was that same baby.
SIDS they are saying. What does that mean? Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Well, yes, we know the baby died and yes, we know it was sudden. But, this is not really a “cause” of death or a syndrome. So, I never really know what this means. It coats the incident in mystery and magic. But, the fact remains, that the baby is no longer breathing. And, the other fact, the most unbearable fact, is that he leaves a young mother and father, a six-year-old brother and a little sister, whose lives will never, ever be the same.
I cried all afternoon. I couldn’t stop crying. I couldn’t stop looking at this sweet baby and his siblings on Facebook. I couldn’t stop wondering why I did not have the opportunity to meet this baby and if I had, then what? Would it have made a difference? Most likely, it would not have. The baby appears to have been well nourished, so lactation intervention may not have been a factor at all. I believe the baby was co-sleeping with parents. That should not be a factor either, if it was a safe sleep space. Statistics do show that in fact, this is the safest place for a baby to sleep. And as we know, most SIDS deaths are in fact, “crib deaths.”
The funeral is in 20 minutes and it is about 20 minutes from here. I’d been planning to attend for the last couple of days. I went to church this morning, lit a candle for this baby, and prayed for his family. I listened to my friend and priest; deliver a poignant sermon that spoke of how we live on the fine line between heaven and earth. I also heard her speak about being in the darkest places in order to know the brightest ones and always knowing when “to let go.” I live my life that way. I always show up. I believe in allowing myself to return again and again to the dark sides of my life, because each time I do, I appreciate the sweetness of my life that much more. And, the darkness becomes a little less black. I am not afraid to be with the pain. I think others protect themselves more than I do, but I am not sure why. Is it that they are afraid it will be too upsetting? Too frightening? Hurt too much? Too sad to the point of making them cry? I’m not afraid of any of that. Do I like it? Why no, I am no masochist. But, do I see it as much of a part of life as sitting at my dinner table laughing with my kids experiencing sheer joy? Yes, I do.
It has been 18 years since my baby died. I know the ugliest, the deepest, the most searing and the most unrelenting agony there can be. All that and more awaits this poor family. They don’t know that yet. And today’s funeral will indeed cover them with platitudes and grace to help them be able to put one foot in front of another. But, the swords do await them. There will no way around the facing of the night and the sharpest incisions.
I have decided not to go. I felt I should bear witness. But then, realizing that they do not know me and that we have never met, perhaps I have no business invading this intensely intimate moment. So, although I have agonized back and forth over this decision, I am here, writing this and will write some more through the next 15 minutes to keep me here where I belong. And, to know that there are some times I too, must let go.