Twenty years ago, though that hardly seems possible, my mom got a phone call from her oldest son. Listening to her side of the conversation and watching her tears, I knew something horrible had happened. And it had. Their 17 month old son, Mitchel, had died during the night.
At 14, I was already well acquainted with death. My earliest memories are of my grandfather's and then my own father's funerals. But these were people older than me. Mitchel's death forced me to rethink my perspective. And it left a lasting impression on my that has affected many aspects of my life.
It is never easy to lose a child. But it happens. Just before my oldest turned 5, I miscarried a baby in my first trimester. I hadn't had the joy of feeling my baby move inside me. She was too small to conclusively identify her gender, and was sucked out of me through a tiny tube and disposed of in the hospital garbage. It's not delicate; I regret there couldn't have been a more reverent way of putting her body to rest. But I didn't have any options at the time.
If a mother miscarries, she can torture herself with the what ifs. She never got to hold her child, hear her child laugh, or even change a diaper. You regret what you miss. But losing a child who has already been born, has shown you their personality and cuddled with you, is a different kind of pain. I don't pretend to determine which is worse. They are different, but they both cut shafts of grief through a mother's heart.
We are fortunate as Latter Day Saints to have a clear understanding of the life after this life. We know losing our child is a temporary thing, and if we remain worthy we can be with them again. We can take comfort in the idea that our child was spared the pains of this world are are assured a place in the highest kingdom of heaven. It doesn't mean we don't grieve. But it does mean we don't have to dwell.
Because of Mitchel's death during my formative years, when I became a mother I found myself obsessive over my children while they slept. I'd check on them two or three times a night. And I wasn't satisfied to see they were there; I'd have to check to be sure they were still alive. I relaxed once they hit 18 months, because it had become a sort of milestone for me, a marking point. Then I'd only check on them once a night.
It's also had a positive effect. I treasure my children. I'm more conscious of the temporary nature of childhood and how quickly it's gone. I'm also acutely aware that we don't know what tomorrow will bring, and so I try to live my life with my children to the fullest. As far as I'm concerned, that's the only way to be.