Several months ago one of my favorite musicians was on tour in Canada when he learned his 21 year old son had died. It was all over the internet and I was immediately struck by one phrase written over, and over, and over again within the news articles “Toby Mac’s 21 year old son, Truett, died at his home for reasons unknown.”
“heart shattered in a thousand ways/ they tell me pain gonna come in waves”
Reasons unknown. That phrase struck me because I know so many families who have lost babies due to the same thing: reasons unknown. I myself had been told that I had lost my first three babies for reasons unknown and that void left by unanswered questions haunted me. It’s haunted more broken-hearted families than I can count and it feels like an additional injustice to the families whose babies have passed away inexplicably.
It also paved the way for people to ask uncomfortable questions immediately after Caleb died because while people could wrap their heads around miscarriage due to its common occurrence (as if this somehow makes it easier on the families to bear), losing a baby at full term in the United States of America in 2011 floored people. “What happened?” is the first question I was asked by every single person I spoke to.
“What?! What HAPPENED?!” my father screamed through the phone when I called to tell him the news. “What HAPPENED?!” my sister sobbed when she heard the news from my parents and called me.
What happened, indeed.
“why would You give and then take him away?”
A cord accident happened. A seemingly random occurrence where my active little boy put his shoulder into his umbilical cord, causing a blockage and then a blood clot and then his death. The cord that kept him alive for nine months, connected to me, and only needed a little more than 24 hours before he would be born, betrayed us.
People weren’t trying to be nosey by asking what had happened; they simply wanted to know because they needed to know that it couldn’t happen to them. They needed to know that I was some kind of “other” and if they knew that what happened to Caleb was specific to me, they would be able to rest easy that it couldn’t happen to them. Except, they couldn’t do that. Because no one can prevent cord accidents. No one. They’re random and no matter what you do to try to control everything else – stress levels, what you’re eating, exercising enough but not too hard, listening to classical music with headphones on the belly- you can’t control what happens inside the womb with that damn cord. And that, Friends, is a dark realization to come to.
“Are you singing with the angels/are you happy where you are?”
Most people assumed because I’m diabetic that a diabetes complication had occurred which had resulted in Caleb’s death. It was an understandable hypothesis, I suppose, but to repeatedly hear “oh it wasn’t your diabetes?” when I would explain the cord accident gutted me. It laid me bare. Because all I heard was “oh, I assumed it was your fault because you have diabetes.” I already blamed myself. I took on the guilt and shame of losing yet another baby on myself and felt like everyone around me was blaming me too. I was the mama, I reasoned, it was my job to keep him safe. Because he died inside of me, I felt like an utter failure at doing the one job with which I was tasked – keep the baby safe, and alive, until birth.
Carrying the weight of that perceived failure was more than I could bear but to then be asked repeatedly for an explanation of said failure and surprise at the actual cause leveled my insides. People want an answer to what happened because “reasons unknown” requires them to accept the fact that it can, in fact, happen to anyone. Anyone can lose a baby. Anyone can lose a child. Anyone can lose a child at any stage in their life, even at 21, even into their 40’s or beyond. It forces us to confront our mortality and the truth that we don’t have the control we think we do in our lives.
“well until this show is over/and you run into my arms/God has you in Heaven /and I have you in my heart”
A few weeks ago, Toby Mac came out with a new song about the loss of his son, Truett, called “21 years”. At first I could only listen to the song’s lyrics rather than watch the video because I knew if I saw the raw grief images used in the video along with the guttural lyrics I would be taken back there – to the place soon after I lost Caleb when life as I know it had been annihilated. My husband insisted I watch the video and, sure enough, I cried harder than I had in years. My soul became engulfed with my own grief and heartache for his; my grieving soul recognized the raw, grieving soul on the screen and it pained me deeply. We now know how his son died but, honestly, does it really matter? When you watch the video he created to go along with “21 Years” you see a father laid bare, asking questions and sorting through the beginning of his new normal. The “how” doesn’t really matter when you recognize the face of grief on that screen – Grief Warriors know that look, know how your insides feel when you have that look and knowing the reasons a death occurred won’t make anyone understand that any more.
“21 years, what a beautiful loan” he sings in this song to his beloved son and it struck me how thankful I am that I was loaned Jackson, Grace, Reagan and Caleb as long as I was, despite it not being nearly enough time. I would do anything, anything, to have them here in my arms instead of my heart but even knowing the outcome and that I would forever be questioned as to the reasons I lost my sweet babes, I would still choose to be their mama because they are my beloveds and I am theirs.
Grab tissues and give Toby Mac’s “21 years” video a watch – you’ll see a kindred Grief Warrior processing the loss of his precious son; the reasons for which, are irrelevant.
“21 years makes a man full grown, 21 years what a beautiful loan. 21 years, I loved every one, thank you, Lord, for my beautiful son.” -Toby Mac