Photograph courtesy of Heidi & Ashley
There are certain types of friendships I just never thought I’d need. A friendship with a fellow infant-loss mom is one of those. But when the need did arise, a friend came into my life who has made an incredible difference in my grief journey.
Gina Harris sent me a message about a month after my son Elliot died in June 2017, and said she knew another mom whose son had also died in June. Gina mentioned we might connect well because we both blogged about our sons, their deaths, our grief. I was definitely open to talking to Ashley. I’d already been on Facebook infant loss support groups, messaging other moms, reading blogs and stories, and newsletters about infant loss and grief. I wanted relationships with people who would understand. I felt so, so alone in the world I was thrust into when Elliot died. Other bereaved moms felt like the only people I could connect with.
Ashley and I started messaging, sharing the stories of our beautiful boys with one another. After reading some of her blogs and sensing she was a safe person, I began sharing my thoughts and feelings with more vulnerability. I think she felt the same.
I remember once, early in our friendship, after I’d written to her, she replied by saying, “It’s like you’re typing my thoughts!” I often felt the same. It was such a relief to feel like I was not crazy, that there was another mom who carried so many of the hard-to-talk-about thoughts and feelings I did.
I think there were some factors of commonality that linked Ashley and me quickly. We are both Christians, so we were able to lean on one another in our shared faith. However, we both also needed someone with whom to share the doubts, anger, and questions that faced us in our faith. Another similarity is that we each have two older children. Walking through the pain of my little girls losing their brother has been yet another unwanted part of this journey. And Ashley gets that.
Finally, though our sons’ stories are very different, as are their causes of death, Ashley and I found many things we could relate to there as well. Our journeys with Elliot and Joshua were both fraught with medical complications and weeks of hospital time. Despite these setbacks, Ashley and I both anticipated our sons living and coming home. Both of our sons died very unexpectedly. These have been hard factors for me to weed through, but talking with Ashley has often kept me afloat when I thought I might drown in grief.
After a few weeks of writing to each other, Ashley and I met in person. Not long after that, we started getting our kids together for playdates. A year later, I can say Ashley is one of my closest friends. I value our friendship on many levels, and I appreciate that we laugh and do things together.
When my longing for Elliot overwhelms me, when grief and trauma knock me down, I know I can talk with Ashley. For years to come, she will be a safe place to take my thoughts and feelings. I imagine Elliot and Joshua as best friends in Heaven, and I hope that somehow they know their mommies are helping one another. It’s yet another way the existence of these precious boys has created something good.
When I was 20 weeks pregnant with my son Joshua, we discovered through a routine ultrasound that he was missing his left arm and his left kidney was cystic. Throughout the next four months, we were also told about anomalies in his heart and intestines. When Joshua was born at 38 weeks gestation, we began a heartbreaking and grueling 11-week journey in the NICU/PICU at Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children. Without going into details, doctors discovered more birth defects when Joshua was born, ones that almost took his life in the hospital. At one point in our journey, my family and I stayed next to the hospital in the Ronald McDonald House. We did not live far away, but we wanted to be close so we could be at our son’s bedside in minutes because his health was so fragile.
What I didn’t know is that while we stayed in the Ronald McDonald House, there was a woman who had been living in the hospital just across the street. She was fighting for her baby boy’s life, trying to keep him safe inside her so he had the best chance to live. We didn’t know each other then and we probably still wouldn’t, if both our boys hadn’t lost their fights for life within just one week of each other.
Two of my friends actually wanted to introduce me and Heidi. I was excited to meet someone who couldn’t just offer me their condolences but could relate to what it’s like to bury her baby. Someone I could talk about deeply personal grief experiences with and know she wouldn’t judge me. Someone I could be honest with about my questions about God. Someone I could talk to that made me not feel alone. As Heidi mentioned, our stories, our boys, they are so different. But, we both know the pain of holding our baby’s lifeless bodies, burying them, and living the rest of our lives with a missing hole in our families.
After our first meeting, we chatted a lot about our thoughts and feelings on Facebook messenger. As time went on we got together more, even with our kids for playdates. Heidi wrote a book about Josh and Elliot and shared it with me on Joshua’s one year birthday. That is a gift I cannot possibly duplicate and I will treasure forever. I do feel like God gave us each other, to navigate this oftentimes, really lonely road of grief. To have at least one other person that says, “no you aren’t crazy!” To say, “no, that would bother me too!” Or just to listen so you can process all the trauma.
We like to think of Joshua and Elliot having a blast up in heaven together. As much as death has taken from us, there is beauty that arises out of the ashes, and one example of that is our friendship. Together, we urge each other forward. We encourage each other to live our lives honoring our sons. Grief can be so so lonely but with just one friend the road ahead can feel a little less daunting.