I have a box tucked in the back of a closet with his sonogram, a white Winnie the Pooh onsie he never wore, a statue of a baby angel, a sympathy card and the book Gone to Soon: The Life and Loss of Infants and Unborn Children by Sherri Devashrayee Wittwer. There is no other earthly record of his short life. Some might even debate whether he had been a life at all.
Our LDS doctrine gives us the reassurance of the sealing power, which promises us that our dead belong to us, and we to them. Others, not of our faith, do not have the knowledge of the promise of heavenly belonging. Rock musician Eric Clapton’s young son tragically died in 1992. Clapton wrote the song Tears in Heaven to express his thoughts about the sudden death of his child. Tears in Heaven expresses the hope of reuniting in the afterlife without the promise. As the mother of a stillborn baby we named Baby Jake, Tears in Heaven represents the unknown I felt after his death.
Would you know my name
If I saw you in heaven
Will it be the same
If I saw you in heaven
I must be strong, and carry on
Cause I know I don’t belong
Here in heaven
Only the parents of a miscarried or stillborn child understand the magnitude of the bonding, which occurs in the womb and the loss felt at the death of a fetus. I was surprised at the magnitude of loss for a child I had never seen with earthly eyes. After my stillborn child died, I grieved alone. I was unsure of Jake’s status as a person. Sadly, members of the church are uneducated on the legitimacy of these children’s place in the eternities. As a parent sealed to her children for eternity and finding myself questioning a fear that the short time I had with Jake was the only time I would ever have with him, made his loss all the more profound.
I questioned if Baby Jake would be reincarnated similar to Baby Emily in the LDS Musical Saturday’s Warrior? The body I made for him discarded for another body, in which he would take his first breath of air outside the womb. If I had no other sons, would his spirit instead belong instead to another mother?
Was it possible he had accomplished his life mission and received the body my womb made for him? The utmost question on my mind was did his spirit exist and if so what was our eternal relationship? Would he know me, and would I know him in Heaven? Would our relationship be the same as with my other children? I outwardly stayed strong during the day, not so much at night.
Time can bring you down
Time can bend your knee
Time can break your heart
Have you begging please
I cried quietly to myself for months. Poor Mike, did not understand the magnitude of my grief and not knowing how to help he would ask; “Do you need to see a therapist?”
This question made me mad. “No, I just need my baby back”. Tired of grieving, I wanted answers and peace. Thru those long months I was brought to my knees in prayerful agony. I abandoned the formality I had been taught as a child to address our Father in Heaven. I railed angrily at Him. Chest heaving with no tears left in my broken heart, I begged please, please, tell me if I would know my child someday, or was he just nothing but dead tissue?
I had accepted the death of his earthly vessel. The daily reminders: pulling a seatbelt across my now smaller abdomen, baby things put up for now; nausea, once my constant companion, now gone; the confused looks of others I had not seen in awhile when they saw I was no longer pregnant. I became painfully aware at the birth of babies who would have been his peers. I felt the horror of my child lost to me somewhere on earth, lost to me in heaven, or worse, a nothing?
Summer came and my oldest son went to day camp. The camp had a female spaniel named Sam. Sam was a favorite of the kids at camp and especially my boys. She tucked away in her doggie brain the memory of our family from year to year. One week Sam was not there to greet us. I searched for her in the kennels. I found her lying forlorn on the ground. I sat on the ground near her. She came over to me in a painfully slow fashion and put her head on my lap.
The director of the camp came up behind me and softly said, “Poor Sam was expecting a fine litter of pups. Something went wrong and they were born dead. Poor grieving dog”.
I looked into Sam’s brown eyes. She in turn locked her deep sorrowing eyes into mine. We understood one other. Two grieving mothers with empty hearts.
Would you hold my hand
If I saw you in heaven
Would you help me stand
If I saw you in heaven
I’ll find my way, through night and day
Cause I know I just can’t stay
Here in heaven
Few answers given by others satisfied to my yearning to know where my child was. I found Gone to Soon: The Life and Loss of Infants and Unborn Children by Sherri Devsashrayee Wittwer at Deseret Book on a trip to Utah in the months after I lost Baby Jake. This book brought me peace and hope, and let me know I was not alone in my feelings. From the General handbook of Instruction found in Wittwer’s book, “The loss of a child prior to birth is an event requiring emotional and spiritual support for grieving parents. Memorial or graveside services may appropriately he held according to the parents: need and desires. Although Temple ordinances are not performed for stillborn children, no loss of eternal blessings and family unity is implied. If they desire, the family may record a name for the stillborn child on the family genealogy group record form followed by the word stillborn in partheses”.
President Joseph Fielding Smith gave it as his opinion that these little ones would receive a resurrection and belong to us. Brigham Young taught that a baby’s movements are the spirit’s entering the body in preparatory to the immortal existence. With modern technology we know that a beating heart, which is movement, begins in the first month of life. If their opinions were correct, then the tiniest of babies would be eligible for the resurrection.
And finally the scriptures give hope.
For all old things shall pass away, and all things shall become new, even the heaven and the earth, and all the fulness thereof, both men and beasts, the fowls of the air, and the fishes of the sea; 25 And not one hair, neither mote, shall be lost, for it is the workmanship of mine hand. (D&C 29:24–25)
The soul shall be restored to the body, and the body to the soul; yea, and every limb and joint shall be restored to its body; yea, even a hair of the head shall not be lost; but all things shall be restored to their proper and perfect frame. (Alma 40:23)
For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well. My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them. (Psalm 139:14–16)
Time passes and time can heal. Mostly. I have taught all of my children in Primary, I watch the babies Jake’s age grow. He would now be a Deacon passing the sacrament, perhaps enjoying scouts like his brothers. He would have been a nice bridge between sons who are now sixteen and nine.
Four years ago when Jake would have turned nine, I was called to be the Primary teacher for a class of nine year olds. The age group was split into two classes. I was given the special needs group of Asbergers and ADD kids. Because of their needs, I adopted unorthodox teaching methods. Most of the time we sat on the floor, one child fidgeting with his shoelaces tying and untying and finally winding and weaving the laces thru the legs of his chair, a child stood on her head, another spinned. We talked about the doctrines taught in the lessons. Often we diverted off onto other topics. There were a few rare moments in which the spirit was so powerful that we all felt it. On two of those occasions, a heavenly spirit, passing thru on a heavenly errand, lingered for a few moments brushing across my cheek. My mother spirit heard my child whisper softly in my ear. His message to me was, Jake had come to visit his mama and for those visits I was his primary teacher too.
Over time, my grief received comfort in the knowledge of Baby Jake an Angel living in Heaven with Jesus, watches over us. More importantly, I am his Mama and he is my child. I believe I have the promise of knowing him in the next life. A loving God holds our earthly sense of belonging in His merciful hand. The answer was given and finally I was at peace.
Beyond the door
There’s peace I’m sure.
And I know there’ll be no more…
Tears in heaven