For the month of May, the focus of our blog posts will be motherhood. Some of our posts will be lighthearted and others will carry more weight. To begin, our executive director Elisabeth Zimmermann has agreed to share a very deep and personal story about the death of her grandson, 15 months ago. Part 1 of this story was originally submitted for a book, focusing on grief. We post this story in honour of all the mothers who are mourning the loss of a child this mother’s day. May you feel validated, respected and cherished as you are a mother of great strength and courage.
“Although this is a very personal reflection I agreed to share this with our followers to hopefully begin a more open dialogue about pregnancy loss and baby loss, something that too often has been kept silent. I do this with the consent of my daughter who has become a great advocate for bringing this experience out of the shadows.” – Elisabeth Zimmermann
“Tomorrow it is two months since Coby’s death and birth. Today Kirstin showed me the pictures that were taken right after he was born. They were beautiful and heartbreaking all at the same time. It seemed strange at the time but I am so grateful that they were taken, it helps to make it real, to know that he was with us and that it happened. It was comforting to see his little face again, I didn’t really want to put them down, it made me feel a little like he was still with us. It brought back all of the moments that we went through.
It is a series of moments that stay in my mind that make up what happened. The moment I heard the midwives struggling to find Coby’s heartbeat, the moment that Kirstin came into the living room to tell me that they were going to the hospital and the look on her face, I could see her trying to process what was happening. The moment that she phoned me from the hospital to say that the news wasn’t good. The moments of making phone calls to tell Chuck, Andrew and Kim and Rachel that Coby had died, the moment that I saw Kirstin in the hospital. Then the moments of waiting strung together while everyone arrived at the hospital and the looks of disbelief passed over everyone’s face, “how is this possible” “everything was fine” “this can’t be true”. Then came the moments of gathering information, what was going to happen next, why did this happen. After a long and sleepless night the moments of watching Kirstin go through the final stages of labour, walking away from the door thinking I can’t listen to my daughter push her dead baby out. Then came the first moment etched permanently in my brain of seeing a grief stricken Jason holding his dead son in his arms as the door to their room opened for a brief moment. Then came the moments of seeing a drugged and exhausted Kirstin with her son, of all of us taking our turn to hold him and say our goodbyes and giving him the only kisses we were every going to be able to give him. My heart was broken, how could this be, this beautiful baby boy, so perfect with his chubby cheeks, with Kirstin’s hands, this beautiful long awaited baby.
Then there are the moments of helping Kirstin and Jason plan their son’s funeral and of watching Kirstin, still weak from the delivery and Jason graciously greet the many people who came to wish them well at the visitation. Kirstin and Jason showed endless openness and inclusion and tremendous wisdom through every step from the moment they knew their dear son had died, through the delivery to the steps of planning the funeral.
I had to start coming to the realities of my grief as Coby’s grandmother but I also had to watch my other children move through their own processes of grief. You know as a mother that you can’t protect your children from the pain of this life but it goes against every fiber of my being to have to watch my children deal with devastating loss. There are those moments of conversation in the early days as I tried to gauge how they were managing while I tried to come to grips with the reality of the tragedy that had befallen all of us. There are the moments of supporting Rachel as she tried to understand her emotions and was unsure of what to feel and feeling helpless to support her sister and the moments of talking with Andrew and Kim as they processed through their anger and grief and the unfairness of what had happened. There are the moments of tentative phone calls, the first conversations with Kirstin and Jason, bringing dinner to their home and seeing them curled together under the quilt that I had made for Coby and then used the fabric that was meant for the wraps that were supposed to carry him to make it big enough for the two of them to cover themselves with.
Two months have passed, my grief is still fresh, I cry easily, I tire easily, my heart beaks every time again when I hear and see Kirstin and Jason traveling through their grief. I have moments where I am sad and moments when I am angry and feel robbed. Robbed of the phone calls from an exhausted Kirstin because Coby was up all night and could I come and take him for a while so she can have a nap. Of watching Kirstin and Jason grow as parents. I have seen Kirstin become mother, she knows now what it is to give birth, to love a child that is yours and I feel robbed as does she of being able to have the joy of that knowledge. I feel robbed of the joy of having Grandma time and playing with him and having the secrets about our adventures that only Coby and I would have. Of watching him become the child and eventually the man he was supposed to be. I feel robbed of the grandma bragging rights that I was supposed to have, of all of his misadventures and adventures of his accomplishments and his struggles. Then there are the moments that I am exhausted and I think, it is what it is, I can’t change it, I just need to find peace with it. Then there are those moments when life takes me away from the reality, I have a deadline to meet at work, another meeting to go to, another email to answer, and then there is that moment at the end of a hectic work day that I remember, as I drive back to my empty house, aww yes, there it is, the hole in my heart for the one that was but is no longer.
I allow myself the moments that I become engrossed in my day and can smile and enjoy what I am involved in. I also allow myself the moments of anger and sadness and the flow of tears that feel like they will never stop. I know this is all part of the process and that the moments of sadness and heart ache will grow farther apart but right now and especially today those moments are close together and the peaceful moments tend to be more elusive then present.
I know it is a journey, I have traveled the journey of grief before, I recognize it and remember the process. I know it will grow softer and easier, that it won’t seem so fresh and raw, that when we talk about Coby my heart won’t ache as much. I also know that he will always have a place in our lives, he will always be missed and we will always wonder who he would have become. I also find my moments of peace in my shared moments with Kirstin and Jason, I am grateful that they have let me be a part of their journey, that they have been open and shared. I know this would have been so much more difficult if it had not been for the fact that I have been able to be so connected, it is one thing to grieve for your own loss but it is a whole other thing to watch your children grieve the loss of their own child and knowing that their reality is that much more difficult and their grieve is that much deeper. When I see that they are as okay as can be expected and that they are moving through their grief I have peace. At least I know they are going to be okay, that they won’t lose themselves in the process that they will move through it and get to the other side.
I will remember Coby always not only as the one who was but also as the one who we gathered together for and showed us how much of a family we are and how we can support each other. I will remember Coby as the one who showed me that my children are strong and that they are resilient, that they are wise and capable. I will remember Coby as the one who reminded me of the importance of good and strong relationships, who brought a different level of connection for me with Kirstin. I will remember Coby as the one who turned Kirstin and Jason into parents. I will remember Coby as a beautiful baby who we had for a moment.” – Elisabeth Zimmermann, Executive Director YWCA Niagara Region
Please take a moment to leave your thoughts, prayers, feelings and emotions in our comment section below. We would be honoured to share your experience.
Please come back on Thursday for Elisabeth’s reflections 15 months later.