'But Where Is He, Mama?' Is The Most Heartbreaking Question I've Ever Been Asked
Trigger warning: child loss
I asked to be discharged right away. I didn’t want to stay in the hospital anymore. Immediately following Julian’s passing, I left. I asked my midwives if they could let me go home a day earlier than I should have, and they agreed.
My cousins, without hesitation, went to our room, packed up our stuff and met us back in the NICU so we didn’t even have to go back down there.
How could I? How do you walk down to that room? That room where I should have had my son with me. That room where he should be taking his newborn photos, where I should be counting the number of poops and pees and filling out that chart, the room where he should be crying and breastfeeding like a champ.
I couldn’t. So, I didn’t. And that was that.
Leaving the hospital was another out of body experience. I saw other moms in wheelchairs being wheeled to their car with their balloons, bags of gifts, smiling and ooing and ahhing.
And their baby.
I walked to my car in sorrow. In disbelief. In utter devastation; and without mine.
My uncle drove us home and my husband and I didn’t want to be alone. I was surrounded by family and friends for the last 12 hours.
Home meant silence.
The silence that should be replaced with a crying newborn who’s hungry or needs his diaper changed. The silence that should be replaced with my singing into his ear as he’s cuddled up onto my chest after a nice feeding.
The second I walked into the house, I told my husband to go upstairs and shut Julian’s door. I told him I never want to open it again. Or so I thought.
There in the middle of the living room was his swing, still in the box, not opened yet.
“Get rid of that swing! I don’t want it out!” I sobbed to my husband.
He quickly put it in our basement closet.
More and more people started to show up. They comforted us, they cried with us, they sat in silence with us.
My other sons still weren’t home yet.
What am I going to say to them? How do I explain to a five- and three-year-old that their baby brother died? Will they be upset? Will they understand it? Will they blame me? Will this screw them up for the rest of their lives?
Once everyone left and the silence took over, my oldest son was sitting at the kitchen table. I was surprised that he had not asked about Julian, or why everyone was over and why everyone looked so sad.
I kept going back and forth in my mind with when a good time would be to tell him. He was the one I was most worried about. I knew our three-year-old would be on a different level of understanding, yet the thought of never telling them at all also crossed my mind.
Maybe they’ll forget I was pregnant; maybe they’ll forget they were supposed to have a baby brother.
This thought was followed by immediate fear. The fear of them never knowing they had a baby brother at all. That he was born. The fear of me not ever speaking about him.
No. I couldn’t let that happen.
I decided it was time.
I looked at him and said, “Hey buddy, do you notice anything different about mommy?”
His eyes lit up like a Christmas tree, “Your belly isn’t big anymore! That means you had Julian! But where is he, Mama?”
“Oh bud, remember how you would see mama praying at night for Julian?”
“Yes!” he awaited eagerly. Every night I would tuck my oldest into bed and then sit outside his room on the stairs until he fell asleep. This was our routine. Every night he’d come out the second I sat down, stand on the stairs in front of me, give my belly a kiss and say a prayer for Julian. Every night.
I never told him Julian was sick. I never told him something was wrong. I just let him pray, and I’m so glad he did. Those were his moments with his brother; they were all he had.
All he’ll ever have.
“Well, Julian was sick, and he needed to go home to God.”
The words felt like sharp glass coming out. Another out of body experience. Like you don’t believe it yourself with what you’re actually saying. How this was never planned. You never prepared for this moment. But there you are, face to face with a wide eyed, somber looking five-year-old who looks confused beyond measure.
He then said something I wasn’t prepared for. Something that pierced my soul and will never forget.
“But mommy,” he said. “You were supposed to take him home so I can hug him and kiss him!”
I could only manage to say three words.
“I’m sorry, buddy.”
“Julian died, mommy? Why? Why did Julian die?” he said.
My three-year-old then emerged and started repeating what his older brother was saying, “Julian died, mama? Why? Why?”
I was just instantly flooded with such raw emotion. I quickly said yes and ran upstairs so they wouldn’t see me cry out. I stopped in the hallway, put my back up against the wall, and slowly slid down until I could feel something underneath me. I needed to stay grounded. Literally.
I sobbed and sobbed out loud.
Within minutes, four tiny feet were pitter pattering up the stairs behind me.
“Don’t cry, mama,” my oldest said. “But it’s okay if you do mommy, if you cry for Julian.”
My three-year-old climbed onto my lap and touched my face, “You sad, mama?”
I couldn’t contain my tears anymore. There was no hiding this. I couldn’t.
So, there we were.
A distraught mother, with two boys on her lap, hugging me as I cried into them. I cried hard.
And they let me. They didn’t say a word. They just let me.
My five- and three-year-old sons comforted me, instead of me comforting them.
And it was at this moment I knew I wasn’t going to hide my pain from my sons. That they were going to know about their brother, and they would know that their mommy was sad and that it’s okay to be sad.
Because the reality of life is, you just don’t know what tomorrow will bring.
Some days you may find yourself comforting your children.
And other days, you may find yourself on the hallway floor, sobbing, with two kids on your lap …
… comforting you.