Everybody has a story. Everyone has a cause. There is an awareness month for everything these days and a ribbon color for any cause imaginable. It can break your heart to think about all the suffering and loss so many people experience every single day. The question of what can I do to help can be so overwhelming, we often do nothing at all. Except, perhaps pin a ribbon to our chest as a show of support. I have never been the ribbon-wearing sort, myself. Instead, I quietly build little altars in my private spaces, my secret places and I seek solace in my sacred nature moments. I love and respect that so many people who suffer have been awarded a National Day of recognition or an Awareness Month in which to come together, to honor, remember, educate and advocate for their cause. But what I love even more is the idea that, as individuals, each one of us can embrace and create opportunities every day to honor, remember, educate and advocate. And we can share the stories that are near and dear to our hearts. This is my story and these are my little altars for Abe.
Abram is my nephew. He was born on September 24, 2007. Today he would have been seven years old. He should have been seven years old. He had been on this earth not even eight months when he was mercilessly snatched from the loving cradle of his parents' arms by this mysterious entity known as SIDS. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Six years later, my brother and sister-in-law continue to grieve this unimaginable loss as they struggle to make sense of the unexplained death of their infant son. Today is the day we celebrate his birth. In just a few days we will enter October, the month dedicated to spreading awareness for the cause of his death. I don't know how to make sense of that. I have no idea how to advocate or support and my little altars suddenly seem inadequate. I find myself asking am I doing enough? Well, of course it is hardly enough, but I have said before, it is important to think big and start small, right? So, I will start by sharing with you this beautiful boy and the light he brings to my life.
The story of Abram's life is not really mine to tell, as I didn't really know him. He was just an infant, I was the absent auntie, the out-of-towner, and I only met him once. My own personal grief is not losing him, but rather never having the chance to know him at all. Death is a natural part of any life cycle, but there is nothing natural about those incredible eyes closing in peaceful slumber, never to wake again. There is nothing natural about the agony of a new parent realizing they will never again feel the weight of that precious child in their arms. Though I did not have the opportunity to know him, his absence from our family circle has had a profound impact on my life and how I choose to live it.
Abram's death left my brother and his sweet wife absolutely bereft of happiness, as you can imagine. They were devastated. Their first born, their only child, their hope for the future, their purpose for being...gone in an instant with no explanation. It was a cruel hand dealt by the universe and watching them endure it was very painful for their loved ones. It took several years for the grieving parents to "normalize" to daily life again, but really, is anything ever going to be "normal" after an experience like that? I cannot imagine so.
My brother and sweet sister are two of the neatest people I know. So warm and caring, they exude laughter and love. Things like this should not happen to people like that, but they do. Every single day. It was heart wrenching to watch. Well, we all have our ways of dealing with our own personal grief. For myself, I chose to focus on Abram, his spirit, his soul. I made a conscious decision to see him as a guiding force in my life, hoping it would help to ease the pain in some minuscule way. I remember clearly the day I made that decision, sitting in a little meadow high in the Sierra Nevada, waiting for Evan to summit Mt. Starr. I had a cold and bagging the peak did not appeal (head colds and elevation do not mix), so I relaxed and waited peacefully in the meadow with my notebook. Sitting at the base of that aptly-named peak, I was overcome with the memory of my older brother and his beautiful wife soothing us with this lullaby at Abram's graveside:
One little star, smiling tonight
Knows where you are
Stay, little star, steady and bright
To guide me afar
In my little notebook, in that little meadow, beneath the shadow of Mt. Starr, I wrote: I have chosen to think of Abe as my little star, watching me, knowing me, brightening my life with his smile. I have chosen to see him as a reminder of all things good in life. He is the purest kind of love. He is fun and laughter. He is wisdom and balance. He is strength and he is courage. He is the physical manifestation of a dream come true. But most importantly, he is hope. He is hope that we will know real joy. He is hope for the future.
From that day on, Abe became known as our Little Star. Attaching that symbol seemed to help give some meaning to his life, though certainly not his death. I began to see and feel his presence everywhere, especially in our nature wanderings. I began to walk a little slower, look a little closer and pause more often. I started to notice more detail in the flowers, more color in the sunsets, more texture in the rocks. I began taking more photos trying to capture the beauty that often overwhelmed me. My husband and I took this Little Star along on all of our adventures, leaving behind little altars we had created to remember and honor his presence.
Abram gave me many beautiful gifts. He gave me moments of pause. He made me more attentive, more patient, more caring. He gave me the ability to see clearly, breathe deeply, listen carefully. But he also gave me fear. At one point it literally stopped me in my tracks. Having witnessed the devastating effects such a tragedy could have on the people nearest and dearest to me, I was suddenly acutely aware of my own mortality and the fragility of human life. Choosing to live this adventurous outdoor life, there are certain realities one must acknowledge and accept. Nature is a very powerful force and we have very little control. I had always come humbly to the mountain, but I suddenly found myself frozen with fear. I was terrified and I could not climb. My hubby was a little baffled, I couldn't explain it and it changed things for a while. Eventually, I began to regain my courage, but it took some time. Oddly, or perhaps not, it was on a summit attempt of Ruby Peak, with a view looking over Mt. Starr and that little meadow, where I began to find my climbing legs again. In that moment I was overcome with this sense of connection that I have difficulty putting into words.
Though the presence of this little soul continues to be a positive guiding force, his absence has left a gaping hole in the hearts and the lives of those who loved him most. His mother and father continually work to move forward, embrace happiness, live in the present and hope for the future. They are so brave and I admire them deeply. I like to believe that time has soothed their sorrow, but that hole will never truly heal and I know they will forever grieve the loss of their son. It may sound harsh of me to say, but it is that certain reality for anyone who has lost a child and it can be difficult for others to acknowledge and accept.
Though research is ongoing and rates appear to be in decline, SIDS is still the leading cause of death in infants between one month and one year of age. Every year in the U.S. more that 2,200 seemingly healthy babies die unexpectedly from this unexplained cause. Unexplained, as in nobody knows why it happens, so nobody knows exactly how to prevent it. How does one make peace with that kind of unknown? How do we advocate for a cause when we have no idea what the cause is? I can't quite seem to wrap my mind around that, but I am sure of one thing. Any parent who has lost a child, whatever the cause, wants that child to be remembered. So, if nothing else, we can acknowledge the loss, accept the pain of forever-grieving parents and find our own way to let them know that their children will never be forgotten.
October is the designated month for Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness. October 15th is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. The ribbon for this cause is pink and blue. As I search for other ways to advocate, educate and build support for this cause, I will continue to quietly build my little altars for Abe, I will light a candle on October 15th and I will be wearing my pink and blue ribbon when I do. Sometimes it is the simplest gestures that provide the most meaningful support. Whatever your story, whatever your cause, wear your ribbon with courage. You never know when your story might touch someone, open a heart and instill a little love amidst the loss.
Open yourself to the conversation. Talk about the suffering. Remember the loss...
for a Little Star whose light will never fade.
Abram Dean Jones
September 24, 2007 - May 2, 2008
First Candle: Helping Babies Thrive and Survive
Many of those who grieve the loss of an infant or child as a result of SIDS, SUID, SUDC, miscarriage or stillbirth, do so in silence. If you would like to find out more information about these causes and how you can offer support or get involved, please visit some of the following links:
Remembering our Babies: October 15th
The CJ Foundation for SIDS
Safe to Sleep: Public Education Campaign
The Sudden Unexplained Death in Childhood Program