NOTE: The post below is written by my friend Tiffany. Tiffany and I, and her husband Drew, grew up in the same small town in Georgia, and went to the same high school, and sometimes even the same church. They are dear to me, and you have perhaps read things I’ve written about them before. What follows is Tiffany’s account of the loss of their second child, a baby boy, Britton. We first discussed her telling this story on this blog almost a year ago. And, now, she has. Tiffany’s telling of this story is one of the bravest things I have ever known a person to do. I’m grateful for her strength. For her faith. And for her tremendous witness to what it means to survive, even live, beyond the most awful and devastating of things. This is her story….
Early 2008 was filled with excitement as we began telling our friends and family that with one baby barely a year old, we’d be welcoming another baby into our family. I secretly hoped for a girl; but, I was certain I was building a baseball team.
This time of year, Facebook’s TimeHop reminds me of memories that I don’t want to forget. Like Claxton wanting to name the baby “Dawg.” And, I cling to a picture of a swollen belly and flushed cheeks. It’s a memory of a sweet baby I would never get to know, because he would never take a breath on earth.
There are moments that are ingrained in my memory. Like Claxton cutting his fingers with scissors as I was in a rush wrapping presents. We spent the evening in the emergency room where they strapped him down and stitched his little fingers up while I had to wait on the other side of the door listening to his cries. They didn’t want me to go into labor early. But what if I had? Would my baby be with us now?
Naming this baby was hard. When you’re a teacher, names are difficult. Names bring flashes of faces… some good, some not as good. Names have stories behind them. Our first son’s name was sentimental and decided on well before the wedding rings were even placed. The second son was much harder. Eventually, we decided on Britton Beck. His first name came from my twin sister, Brittany. I prayed that my two boys would have the same loving relationship that she and I shared. Britton would share his middle name with my husband’s stepfather, an amazing man who love my husband as his own. My baby’s name was strong and carried with it love and devotion.
That year the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season–shopping, eating, visiting–included getting ready for a baby. December 29 it was time for Claxton’s stitches to come out. I had seen my doctor just a few days earlier. The only thing they were concerned about was my blood pressure. I had an appointment for the next day, but if I could get my blood pressure checked, I wouldn’t have to come back in until it was time to deliver. We took Claxton back to the emergency room to take the stitches out. While we were there, I had the sweet nurse take my blood pressure. Everything was perfect. That night I had a hard time sleeping. I watched the clock most of the night as our baby boy practiced his field goal kicks, and, the next morning I decided to go ahead to the doctor. Drew was at work, but I was confident everything was fine and proceeded alone to the visit. I was running late and talked on the phone all the way to Athens, making plans with a friend for lunch with not a care in the world.
The ultrasound started out as normal, cold gel rolling on my gigantic stomach. But then the nurse kept rolling…and rolling. She would move the doppler to another spot and roll some more. She asked a few questions that I don’t remember and changed positions again. She left the room bringing back a more experienced nurse, my favorite. I texted Drew. I knew things were not right, but I assured him everything was fine. The nurse came back and tried again. More cold gel and more rolling, then the suggestion of a heartbeat…then the suggestion of an ultrasound to put my mind at ease.
As soon as the nurse left the room, I called Drew and told him to head toward Athens. I knew something wasn’t right and started praying. The nurse and a doctor came back in. She asked if I wanted to wait on Drew, but I think the reality of what could be happening had not set in. What could go wrong? I was days away from a scheduled C-section. I was WAY past the first trimester. We had several ultrasounds. Britton was perfect. What lurked in the back of my head would never happen to me. I assured her it was fine and to move forward with the ultrasound. I will never forget the silence in the room. I will never forget those words. The words I never thought I would hear. “There is no heartbeat.” It was like an out-of-body experience. I could hear myself crying, even tried to get myself to be quieter because I didn’t want to upset other moms, but the wailing would not stop.
Drew arrived and I asked for another ultrasound. I just couldn’t believe this was real. After confirmation of the news, they sent us home only to return for a C-section later that afternoon. Before we could even get home, our house was full of all my best friends and family. I can still picture their faces, full of grief and sadness. I remember sitting in the chair in the living room, feeling him there, stretching and moving, praying this was all a bad dream and they were wrong. But, deep in my heart, I knew my Britton was already in the arms of the Lord.
The hours after our news were long, although I remember very little about them. The surgery was pushed back because another baby was in distress. There was nothing they could do for our baby. When it was finally time, Britton came into the world without a sound. All you could hear were the cries of his parents and the sniffles from the medical staff around the table.
Once we returned to the room, a photographer came to take pictures that we cherish to this day. The room was full of love. Britton was passed around to each family member. He was held, kissed, sung to, marveled over. But the room was not full of joy. It was full of pure heartbreak and sadness.
As it came time to take him away, the family remaining and our pastor gathered around our bed. With my lips on Britton’s head, our pastor prayed. This is one of my favorite pictures. It symbolizes the love in that room. Love for Britton. Love of family. Love of friends. Love from nurses and caregivers. Love from complete strangers that changed out of their scrubs and sat by my bed to pray with me. Love of friends like family that came and never left. Love through tears that fell from me and for us.
Britton was made with love and left us in love.
In the days that followed, it rained. Hard, cold rain. For days it rained every single day. It rained as we drove to the funeral home to plan his memorial service. It rained as we drove to the the cemetery to pick out his final resting place. It rained as we met with our preacher, as family and friends delivered food, as we made decisions that no young couple should ever have to make.
And in those rainy days I embraced something I will never forget and that continues to shape my walk with God: He isn’t threatened my heartache. His heart aches too. I remember turning to Drew as we were driving in the rain, “He’s crying with us isn’t He?” His heart breaks with mine. He cries when I cry. He wasn’t threatened by my anger any more than He was threatened by the rain. He knows the rain will fall, just like I will fall. He is big enough for my questions and my anger. I called out to him in the rain. I called out to him as we placed Britton in the ground. I cried out to God for days when I couldn’t leave my room, and I was certain the neighbors could hear my cries. The rain fell, the wipers wiped, and He listened as I cried out to Him.
I now believe that these days were just the beginning of my relationship with God. Don’t get me wrong, I had professed belief long before. I was baptized and baptized again, just to make sure. 🙂 I led children in Discipleship classes. I was a youth director, led small groups. But I’m not sure I really knew God, because I had never really had to reach out for Him. My story is like many others going through crushing, devastating loss. It could be the loss of a loved one or a child or maybe the loss of a job. Maybe you have a sick child or have watched a loved one suffer. Maybe you’re in the fight of your life against drugs or alcohol. For some of us, that’s what it takes to really have a relationship with the Lord. I could either run from Him or run into His arms. But regardless of what direction I ran, His heart broke for me.
Our pastor, Jim Brooks, said at Britton’s memorial service, “God did not will Britton’s death or your pain. God is with you in the midst of it all and will help you through it. God is for you. God understands your pain. Britton’s life made a difference in this world. His life was short but his presence among us will last a lifetime and beyond. Cling to that hope- that promise of our God- and allow your tears to wash away the pain.” I cling to those words when the doubt and questions wash over and the grief creeps in. He is with me.
However easy it may be to allow myself to wail over my loss, it is a far more satisfying thing to believe that all of this is a brief season. The Lord I have placed my trust in tells me that I will see my child again, and while He stands beside me, He weeps. No, Britton will not return to us, but one day we will go to him.
I think what I have learned most through this experience, is that God is truly always with me. While I permanently bear the mark of a woman who has lost her child, I praise Him. Through Britton’s life, we have been shown love like no other. My heart still aches for the baby I only held for minutes. I never got to kiss his feet or hear the cheerleaders chant his name. I never got to see him walk or kiss his bride or hold his own child after birth. I mourn those moments. I wonder what he would be like and who he would be, but God has shown himself in my life and my children’s lives so many times since then. And so:
1 I love the Lord, for he heard my voice;
he heard my cry for mercy.
2 Because he turned his ear to me,
I will call on him as long as I live.
Everything that happens in our lives, no matter how awful, is an opportunity to acknowledge God’s goodness. Every time the anger rages in my heart, God says, “Bring it to me.” If you want to scream, we have a God who is big enough to take it. I can either live a life of resentment or a life of gratefulness. Britton changed my life. In so many ways he made me brave. He made me want to be want to be a better mommy, a better wife, a better daughter to the King that will hold him until I am able to one day.
During those darkest days, and sometimes still, there is a song I listened to on repeat. I feel like it tells the song of my heart as I have walked this journey:
I can count a million times
People asking me how I
Can praise You with all that I’ve gone through
The question just amazes me
Can circumstances possibly
Change who I forever am in You
Maybe since my life was changed
Long before these rainy days
It’s never really ever crossed my mind
To turn my back on you, oh Lord
My only shelter from the storm
But instead I draw closer through these times
So I pray
Bring me joy, bring me peace
Bring the chance to be free
Bring me anything that brings You glory
And I know there’ll be days
When this life brings me pain
But if that’s what it takes to praise You
Jesus, bring the rain
–Bring the Rain, MercyMe