When Life Ends Too Soon: A Mother’s Memoir

Life has a way of hiding the journey ahead for fear that if we knew the future, we would find a reason not to get out of bed. I like to think that a ministering angel is sent by God to cover my eyes so that I do not see too far ahead. If I did, I am afraid that I would be paralyzed with panic and fear. I have found that some crosses in this life seem just too heavy to bear. These crosses have left a scar on my shoulder that never fades. That is the way it was with the birth of our miracle baby, Zachary Luke John.

Zack came into our lives as a complete surprise to us all. He was our 8th child and our 8th blessing. Babies in the womb have a way of making a mommy come alive with expectancy. It is the joy that is set before us that gives us the grace to endure the nausea, the pains, and the mood changes that we women are gifted with in the season of life called pregnancy. If I remember correctly, we were not trying to have another child. Babies just seemed to want to join our family. I do know that I could not stop smiling.  I should have known that Zachary had taken residence in my womb when I felt I was going to faint a few weeks before we even thought to do a pregnancy test.

Zachary and I were two people in one body which soon became very evident.  As with every baby placed in a mother’s womb and carried under a mother’s heart, I loved him before I met him.  Zachary Luke John was not just any baby though, he was a baby who brought with his arrival a permanent gift that I like to call, “Glorious Grief.”  He would change our lives forever.

This beautiful flower of a child was a rosebud, but one that would be presented to me as a rose with a stem filled with thorns.  I accepted the rose.  Isn’t that the way with love?  Whenever we open up our life to love we are presented with the beauty of the flower, and hardly notice that on the stem are many thorns.  Beauty, joy, pain and suffering accompany us when we share our hearts.  How many voices would shout to us, “Don’t accept the rose!”  They would discourage us with, “Do you not see that this rose carries with it too many thorns?”  They mean well I’m sure, but courageously, we can agree that a mother’s heart is large enough to love no matter how many thorns prick their hearts.  We learn along the journey that is the thorns in life which are hidden treasures.  A life willing to love has many thorns presented.  We accept the rose thorns and all. Not without pain but rather, with tears in our eyes and a glorious grief in our hearts. This gift unknown to me would sail away way before I was ready to let it go.  The way-too-soon goodbye to the gift on loan to me by my Heavenly Father, my baby boy would be remembered forever as a blessing in disguise.

I will never forget the day of Zachary’s birth. I arrived at the hospital and I was already completely dilated.  Since our doctor had not yet arrived a sweet caring nurse delivered our son into the world at 2 lbs. 2 oz., yet full term.  We were in shock when this gentle spirited woman rose to the occasion and after seeing the condition of our son, fresh out of the birth canal, began to shout, “Call the ER, small baby!”

I barely noticed that she was not actually speaking in full sentences. After all, I had just delivered a baby and I was just so glad that the unbearable pains had stopped and my baby had entered the world alive.  Since my seventh was a preemie, I figured all is well. I guess you could say, “I am not medical,” and at this point that was a good thing.  I barely noticed the panic on my husband’s face.  I guess I should have wondered why my big hug and “congratulations it is a boy” kiss was absent. There was a lot going on in the room at that point. My husband, Patrick, a Family Medicine Physician had already put on his doctor hat. His well-trained medical mind was discerning the situation. He knew exactly what was going on.  His role as husband and dad, as well as doctor, complicated things as he tried to both comfort and protect me. Putting a pretend smile on his face would normally have fooled me but his body language of both arms crossed over his chest revealed that, “All Was Not Well!”

The room quickly filled with medical staff and all kinds of medical equipment as a team effort tried desperately to save our son’s life. Within minutes the decision was made to whisk Zachary Luke John to the NICU to give him immediate care.

It was too soon for this worried mama who had not even held her newborn son.  My prayer partner, Judy, was at my side and encouraged me to get dressed and go to the ICU.  I rushed to hound down my baby boy like a mother lion looking out for her cub.

Once I arrived at Zack’s side I mustered enough strength to call out his name. “Zachary,” I said almost in a whisper.  At the moment my voice hit the air waves, my son, now less than an hour old, turned his wee head to look at his mother.  It was a moment of grace and his way of saying, “I love you.”  I think that a mother’s heart is made with extra tears for moments like this. Moms seem to have a camera in their mind that instantly and permanently captures the picture. Moments that will only happen once in a lifetime. I treasured that moment and froze the snapshot, filing it under memory banks for life!  It has become my screen saver when I speak about our precious Baby Zachary. I know that my Zachary turned his head because he knew my voice.  It was my only time alone with my baby boy and I will always hold it dear.

Not a moment too soon, the doctor brought us our newborn son. Zachary’s short life was coming to an end. By now the room was filled with friends, relatives, our seven children and choirs of angels. We took lots of pictures, but not enough for this weeping woman.  Praise filled the room as we gave a sacrifice of praise to our God, singing Happy Birthday to our new born son.

As Zachary was passed from person to person, he seemed to stop a little longer in the arms of our neighbor, Stuart. God was using Zachary to fill a hole in Stuart’s heart left there many years before.  He was later to share with us that, his first born baby left this world way too soon for Stuart to say good bye.  He did not even get a chance to hold his precious wee one.  Our miracle baby Zach, standing in proxy for his baby, touched that hurting place in Stuarts’s heart that brought a healing thru God’s grace. Talk about amazing grace!  Our God alone who knows how to heal the places in our hearts that are broken does His work His way, in His timing, for His purposes, in the secret of our hearts.

We are often unaware of the miracle taking place on the inside. I always say, that the greatest miracles are done in the heart. This memory of Stuart holding my son touched me deeply. It will always bring joy to my soul, as a reminder that Zachary too had a mission to fill on this earth. Zachary finally ended up in the arms of his daddy, my husband, Patrick, as we sang the song “Angels Watching over Me My Lord.” Then the angels came and picked up our son, our eighth blessing, and our well-loved baby boy and carried him from his earthly father’s arms to the arms of his Heavenly Father.

It was finished.

The song was over.

Zachary’s work on earth was done.

My son’s life was finished. The music stopped, the sound was no more. Even the words to the song called Zachary’s life were way too soft to hear. My dance partner, Dr. Patrick and I sat down, and were certain that we would never dance again, or sing, or laugh, or smile, or even go on. Over five hundred people came to Zachary’s funeral, but we barely noticed. All my husband and I could see was our baby’s life was ended just like the song in our heart that was playing as our baby breathed his last breaths. Time stood still.

They say time heals all wounds. This is true, but to a mom who has lost a child there seems to be no “time” at all. Life some days seems to pass by, minute by minute, one long day after another. Every woman who has lost a child has a story to tell and a dance to remember. As you and your husband danced together through the valley of the shadow of death, you may have thought it was your last dance too. You thought that you would never dance again, or sing, or laugh, or smile, or even go on. Your miracle baby has changed your life forever. As your baby left this world way too soon, you also took a picture in your mind that you will never forget.  That season of your life has become a walk to remember forever. These wee babies’ lives count. Yes, they left way too soon before you were ready to say goodbye but their memory will remain in your heart forever.

The short passage of time that they graced our lives with touched a part of us so deep that we cannot put it in words. They fulfilled the Heavenly Father’s purpose for their lives, and in a twinkle of an eye they were gone. These miracle babies leave a “Glorious Grief” in their parent’s hearts that only those who have lost a baby way too soon can understand.  “Glorious Grief” resides sometimes in the fore front our minds where we can remember with tears.  A “Glorious Grief” that sometimes we stuff down so deep that we begin to believe that if we do not let it rise in our memories, we can avoid hurting so much.  No matter if our miracle babies were birthed a week ago, or a year ago, seven years ago, or twenty years ago, those moments are etched in our memories forever.  Our hearts will always hold our babies dear. “They are bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh.”

Always remember the short life of your miracle baby that made a big difference. It was a journey taken that caused you to take a different view, a view many in the path of life may miss; many would be too busy to see. The GPS took you to a place in your heart where you learned that moments count and people count. You learned that no one can promise you a tomorrow, but you can treasure today. I hope you have learned that it is OK to cry. A loss can tender you.

Grief is a journey, not a race. There is no finish line.  Take the time to grieve. Only through the hand of God are wounds of the heart healed.  In God alone place your trust by leaving your heart in His hands letting Him do a miracle on the inside. Before you know it you will be dancing again too.

Yes, the gift of life became a rose with thorns, but it was not the final rose.  In the valley God grew an understanding heart and strong arms to carry those who do not think that they will ever dance again. Life has passed two decades since the day we buried our son, Zachary Luke John. I still shed a tear or two at unexpected moments, but our life has blossomed into a thing of beauty.  My dance partner and I did dance again; now we dance to a different tune.  My husband and I are both in ministry. We pour our lives into speaking, writing, and building the Church and family.

As you dance through the valley together hold your partner tight. Never let go. This is when both need each other most. Some days she will be leaning on you because she cannot take another step alone; other days you will have to hold her delicate hands close to your strong erect body.  This is a dance that only you two can do with God as your strength. Dance together through the valley to the music that the Holy Spirit will provide, His amazing grace. God always brings the music!

©Ellen Mongan


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