Four years ago today, my family experienced a devastating loss.
It was around 6 p.m. on a Thursday night, and I was sitting in the drive-thru of a local hibachi restaurant. My husband had friends in town for an Auburn fundraiser. The four of them, along with my dad, were at the banquet. My kids were staying at my in-laws so it was just me and my fried rice that night. My cell phone rang. It was my brother.
“We lost Hugh,” my brother said in an unrecognizable voice.
Three words I would give anything to have never heard.
After years of negative pregnancy tests, miscarriages, and fertility treatments, my brother and sister-in-law lost their unborn son, three weeks away from his due date. It was the umbilical cord. Wrapped around his tiny foot.
Have you ever loved someone so much that you would willingly take a burden from him to spare him the pain of having to go through it?
I called my husband at the banquet who quickly informed my dad what was going on. I called my mom who, at first, did not understand what I was telling her. Todd and Katie were at the hospital and wanted privacy so I went home and screamed and cried until I wore myself out. And then I screamed and cried some more.
“Why did you let this happen, God? Who allows this to happen to an innocent baby? Why did this happen to Todd and Katie? Why?” I wailed.
When the morning came, I began my bargaining.
“God, help me get through this. Help me help my family get through this. Help me be strong for everyone. I promise if you help me get through this, I will make you a part of my life again. I will return to church. I promise,” I pleaded.
Funny how we of little faith end up calling on God during times of crises. When everything is hunky dory, we don’t need Him. But when everything goes to hell in a handbasket, He is on the top of the call list.
The next two days were unbearable. Katie was induced because sadly, when a baby dies in utero, it doesn’t just disappear. My brave sister-in-law endured two days of labor, and all of the pain that comes with it, to finally give birth to Hugh Larrick Hockman, III on February 26, 2011.
I was standing outside the room during the final moments of Katie’s labor. The saddest sound I have ever heard was the sobbing of my brother and sister-in-law as Hugh entered this world. I should have been hearing the sweet cries of a newborn instead. It breaks my heart to even think about it four years later.
So did God keep His end of the bargain I made with Him? Did He help me get through this?
Jumping into full-on help mode, I literally googled, “what to do when someone has a stillborn baby.” I found a wonderful organization, Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, that provides a photographer, free of charge, to come to the hospital to take family pictures for parents who have suffered the loss of a baby.
At first, Todd and Katie didn’t know if they wanted professional pictures made with Hugh but then decided they did. Not only was the photography session one of the most healing processes for our family, but Todd and Katie treasure having these pictures of their son.
God also showed me that there really are angels among us thanks to a special labor and delivery nurse, Christi, who tenderly cared for Hugh after his birth and during the pictures. Ironically, Christi would contact me months later about CrossFit unaware of our connection, and we are still friends to this day. She is very special to me.
I asked if I could speak at Hugh’s funeral. Again, I turned to God for help in writing an appropriate eulogy for my precious nephew. Pulling up the eulogy from the depths of my computer’s hard drive to review it for this post, I believe that it was divine inspiration that helped me write it. And I know that I felt the presence of God as I stood in front of that tiny coffin to honor my nephew and his grieving parents with my words.
Life continued. Time went by. We grieved as anyone grieves over the loss of a loved one.
I knew I had made a promise to God that needed to be kept. My family tried a new church. We went for a couple of Sundays, and then we were right back where we started- not making God a priority in our lives. In the back of my mind, the bargain always loomed. It is four years later, and FINALLY, I am keeping my end of the bargain while God has patiently waited for me all this time.
But this story does have another happy ending.
After the loss of Hugh, Todd and Katie decided to adopt. Anyone who has gone through adoption understands the frustration that comes with it. They applied with an agency but also spread the word that they were open to a private adoption.
On a Wednesday night that November, Katie’s sister received a call from a nurse in a neighboring town. A woman was coming in to be induced in two days and could not keep the baby. Were Todd and Katie still trying to adopt?
On Friday, November 18, 2011, Todd and Katie became the proud parents of Frances Claire Hockman. They made it to the hospital minutes after Claire was born. The birth mother said she was expecting a boy, but it turned out God had a little girl in mind for them instead.
No lengthy home study. No getting their hopes up and having them crushed by a birth mother changing her mind. No expense except for the cost of a lawyer to do the necessary paperwork. Even more amazing, when we calculated back to the month when Claire was conceived, it was February- the same month we lost Hugh.
When I was little, my mother used to rub my back and tell me I was an angel in heaven before I was born. God picked me out of all the angels, snipped off my angel wings at my shoulder blades, and sent me to live with my parents. I like to imagine that Claire was a little angel in heaven, and God selected her specially for Todd and Katie. He cut off her tiny angel wings and delivered her through a birth mother who wanted to give Claire a better life.
We may not always understand why bad things happen to us, but I do believe that goodness can come out of a terrible situation. I have said that Claire is the greatest gift God has ever given my family. Though we will always have a hole in our hearts for Hugh, Claire has helped patched that hole.
If anyone would like a copy of my eulogy, I am happy to share it. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.