The Strength of a Man

Dan texted me Tuesday: “Do you have a minute.”

My reply: “Yes.”

Dan and I touch base at least once a day via text or phone call. Most of the time, it’s a quick check in: How are you? How’s your day going? Some of the time, it’s a question that needs an answer: Can you stop at the store/bank/beer distributor? And very occasionally, it’s urgent.

A few moments later, he called. His tone was very intent. “How is your day?”

I know my husband well enough by now to know that with that kind of opening, there was a purpose behind the call.

“It’s okay. Getting stuff done.”

“How’s the tension level?”

“Well,” I said, tensely, “it’s starting to ratchet up now!”

Dan sighed. “I just got some very bad news, and I’m trying to figure out where you are mentally before I dump it on you.”

Me: “I’m fine. Shoot.”

A friend of Dan’s called him. Her sister, who was past her due date with her first baby, had just discovered that the baby had no heartbeat.

And just like that, it was June of 2003 again.

My husband said, “What should I tell them? What do you think they need?”

I listed a few things:

1. A photographer if they can find one. This may sound morbid to some people. But having this experience recorded and having images of the baby — it’s important. It’s vital to grieving. Or it was for Dan and me, and I’ve heard from other baby loss parents that it helped them too.

2. A support community. My go-to for these situations is usually Glow in the Woods. Compassionate Friends is helpful as well, especially when parents are ready for real-life interactions.

3. “A Fr. Ray,” I said.

Father Ray is the priest who married us. He was a good friend to Dan while they were both at Duquesne, and he’s become a friend to both of us since the wedding. He was there when we were in the hospital with Gabriel, and he has baptized our subsequent children. Everyone should have a Fr. Ray — if not a religious person, a therapist, a counselor, a sounding board, a shoulder to hang onto to.

Dan became their Fr. Ray.

++

It was hard to know that my husband was carrying this for the couple. I honestly don’t know how he did it. That phone call from him brought back a lot of memories. Not bad memories, exactly. Hard memories. Painful.

Knowing that I was going to have to go through labor with nothing to show for it. (For awhile, denial and shock protected me from that. My brain knew it, but my heart didn’t accept it. Shock and denial are very useful tools for a body.)

I couldn’t help thinking about what this first-time mother was facing. A labor that could be long, possibly painful. My epidural wore off, and I was finally put on a morphine drip. It took four days to deliver Gabriel. I barely remember the last two because of the pain and drugs.

The parents were probably discussing a name. I wonder if the one they picked was one they had already decided on. They didn’t know if they were having a boy or girl. Dan and I hadn’t known if Gabriel was a girl or boy at the time either (although, my mother’s heart thought “boy”). We had had a girl’s name picked, but I didn’t want to use it on our still baby. We discussed a lot of names. We finally decided on Angela or Dolores for a girl. And Gabriel for a boy.

While we were at the hospital, we had a lot of support. My parents, his parents, siblings, and friends. I don’t know about Dan, but after a while, I felt like *I* was responsible for comforting *them*. Telling them that it was okay, that I was okay, that — all evidence to the contrary — it was going to be okay.

The pain. The frustration. The waiting. It really is not okay, any of it, but what are you supposed to do? What are you supposed to say?

I just waited it out. I remember asking Ray if Gabriel (well, “the baby” at the time) needed to be baptized. Ray said no, that he had gone from one world of love into another, of love and light.

That helped.

++

The baby came. Dan held him. The parents named him.

Dan came home, spent. Utterly drained. I made him a cup of chamomile tea.

We sat on our respective couches to pick a show to watch. We couldn’t face Breaking Bad, nor could we deal with most of the Netflix documentaries. “None of these are happy,” Dan pointed out.

We came across the listing for the updated Sherlock, with Benedict Cumberbatch (whom I insist on calling Bernard for some reason) and the ever-affable Martin Freeman. “Look,” I said. “It’s Khan and Bilbo! Let’s watch this!”

Partway in, Dan griped, “I wish we had a TV in our room.” I expressed my dislike of that idea.

“Yeah,” he said. “But if we had a TV in our room, I could lay down next to you and be warm.”

I made room on the couch. He fell asleep before Sherlock was over.

0 thoughts on “The Strength of a Man

  1. I’ve been thinking of you both so much for the last few days. As always, I am amazed at the strength you show, individually and as a couple, in the face of such terrible things. I hope that your love and support helps this couple find their way through the grief.

    I am so pleased to call you my friend. You and Dan are the best of people.

    1. Thanks, Cari.

      When Gabriel died, I said, “If this has to happen to us so it never, ever happens to anyone we know, then okay. I can deal with it.” It seems so senseless to lose a baby! It seems, though, that sometimes our grief enables us somehow to help other people with their grief. And I can live with that.

  2. Both of you are so wonderful for being there to help your friends when they needed you. That had to be unimaginably difficult for Dan. Hugs to both of you.

  3. the things you find when you go back through a blog. i wasn’t even looking in august on purpose. it just kind of jumped out at me. took a bit of breath from me, but i’ve recovered. 😉

    i wish every grieving mom could have a Dan there with them. to have someone just talk about what was happening. to share their own experience and make the parents feel half-way human for the crap going through their heads. our healing started then. and i simply could not be more grateful to Dan.

    and i extend that enormous gratitude to you. from the moment we met in that dreaded funeral home to the most recent talk over coffee. we are so strategically placed in this life. the universe always shifts around to put us where we need to be. i am so very glad it made us friends, even out of grief. <3

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