By: Kayla Leibner
The journey of a bereaved parent is full of misconceptions, false impressions, and understatements. It’s uncomfortable and unthinkable. There’s no possible way to help someone to understand unless they, too, are walking in our shoes. At some point, we were all on the misunderstanding end of this scenario. I know I once was. Until I wasn’t.
Growing up I was always aware that I had another brother that wasn’t with us. I knew that Wade had died before my brother, DJ and I were born. However, in my childhood and teen years – even into my early twenties – pregnancy and infant loss was more of a taboo subject than it is even now. Of course, I knew what had happened and how Wade’s life had ended so abruptly and too soon, but some questions were unasked and many feelings untold. This wasn’t just in our home, but it was the unfortunate norm of the time. Nobody knew how or wanted to talk about dying babies.
When I think about my mom, grieving in silence all that time, I can’t be anything but in awe of her strength during those years of emotional solitude.
She carried the burden that we all do, but without the many resources for support that have been such a blessing for me and for so many other families. I know the weight of my own sorrow, but I have many others to share the load with – friends, family, and a community of other parents like me.
Looking back on the day that our newborn daughter Melody died, even then I had no idea how my mother’s story would impact and support me in my own. I’m ashamed to admit that it didn’t even dawn on me that my own mother had experienced the waves of anguish that engulfed me that day.
It was a day of devastating tragedy. Melody lived an hour and twenty-seven minutes, fighting for her life with every second. Doctors strove desperately, pouring love and passion into their work. When it was realized that she wasn’t going to survive, I was brought from my recovery room to the NICU to hold her as she passed from this earth. I’ll never forget the brief moment I had with Melody before her last breath was gone. It is forever seared into my memory.
The next thing I can remember is my mom standing next to my hospital bed. I handed her the heartbreakingly beautiful, but sadly still and quiet bundle that was my baby girl. “I don’t know how to do this, mom.” I remember saying that like it was this morning. I had never been so lost in my life. I remember the question running through my head like a scrolling marquis…
How am I supposed to live my life without her?
My mom stood quiet for a moment, choosing her words thoughtfully. She simply said, “I know.” There it was. She knew. All these years…she knew what it was like, before I ever even had to consider what it would feel like to live without my babies. My mom knew. I don’t think I realized the profound nature of her response in that moment. That fleeting, but intimate conversation played over in my mind repeatedly in the days to follow – and still now.
My mom knew the heavy grief that awaited me once the initial shock of the trauma wore off. She dreaded the pain and suffering I would endure as I journeyed through the darkness with my family.
She prayed more than anything that she could take it away from me and wished that I wouldn’t understand the agony to come. My mom wanted nothing more than for me to be able to wake from this living nightmare in which I’d found myself, that I would be spared the unquenchable ache that was inevitable as I would long for my babies for the rest of my life.
Needless to say, my mother has been a willing and undying support to me and my family – twice over as we experienced this trauma yet again nine months later when we lost our son, Jamie, through a miscarriage. My mom has been a listening ear, an understanding heart, and a giver of encouragement. She’s expressed to me on multiple occasions that she is grateful to be able to understand and to help, but that she wishes I wasn’t the one who needed it.
I get that. As a parent, my first instinct is to protect my children, to take all their troubles away – all the things that hurt and bring them pain. I want to get rid of it all and make them feel better. And I desperately hope and pray that they will never experience the trauma and devastation of child loss.
When I think about the love I have for my children, that my mom has for me and the maternal instincts we have to take away the pain of our children, I am reminded of one of my favorite scriptures in the Bible.
It reads, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:7-8) This says it all.
My mom has, through her love and despite her own sorrow, helped me bear my burden of loss in so many respects. The most evident way is that she has experienced this loss, too, and therefore knows every thought, feeling, and struggle of this life. But she was also a mom of children with questions. She has supported me in my motherhood of my living children in a way that no one else possibly could. She has helped me learn how to support my grieving children while also walking through my own grief.
When I think of all that my mom has gone through in order to be this resilient and constant resource for me, I can’t help but feel a pang of guilt. She and I have had many conversations over the years about how God works in our lives to prepare us for things to come. I certainly envisioned these strength-building scenarios quite differently.
I know that the loss of my brother thirty-four years ago was monumentally devastating, but I also know that it gave her the strength, experience, and wisdom that has supported me over the last few years.
Knowing that my mom weathered such a debilitating storm – unknowingly for my benefit – brings me such mixed emotions. I am deeply sorry for the unspeakable pain my mom has endured – pain that I, too, now understand – but at the same time I am undeniably comforted by how her life-changing story has influenced mine.
I can only hope that I can continue to show my mother’s love by paying it forward, so to speak. She has poured herself into my healing and my grief, all while also grieving her son and grandchildren. It is my wish to use the strength and wisdom I’ve gained through my own journey and from the remarkable influence of my mom to help someone else like me – just as she did. I believe that as a community, we can help one another bear this burden. I think if we believe in one another, we can do this, and I know that if we help one another endure this journey we can find hope in our healing.
About Kayla Leibner
Kayla is a Christian, a wife, a mother, and a preschool teacher. She and her husband, Ben, have been married for five years and live north of St. Louis with two of their children, Jace (12) and Kiley (4). They also carry two of their children in their hearts – Melody, and Jamie. Kayla and her family have deep and strong roots in their faith and have relied heavily on God and His comfort in their journey of loss and grief. Kayla hopes that her writing would be of help, comfort, and encouragement to families who are suffering this same tragic loss.