Chapter 44. Tenth Birthday

Chapter 44. Tenth Birthday

April 25, 1995

We spent the morning preparing for our special outing. Yes, it was a school day. No, the kids were not going to school.

Outside it drizzled. Inside, I baked a cake. Once it had cooled, I cut off one side to create a number one, and then made the rest into a circle. Together they made a passable number ‘10’.

Andrea, eleven and a half, and Luke, eight years old, slathered icing on the top and edges. Today was a milestone day, marking our Wendy’s tenth year in heaven.

The finished Number Ten cake was left on the kitchen counter to be enjoyed later when Dad got home. Now the kids and I were off to Wendy’s Remembering Place to honour her on this day.

During the drive to town, Andrea decided we needed flowers. Good plan. We stopped at Safeway and found a small bouquet of blossoms, pink with white edges. Then, at Luke’s suggestion, we picked up some pop, Cheesies and ice cream for the party at home.

As we neared the cemetery, Luke found a scribbler in the back seat. I dug a pen out of my purse and handed it back to him. By the time we’d arrived, Luke had drawn a beautiful picture of a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, reminiscent of pictures of the baby Jesus. Meticulously, Luke had crafted a border of tiny hearts all around the baby.

Cloverbar Cemetery dates back to the 1800s. Originally located in a quiet field in the country, the little graveyard has been engulfed by industry as Edmonton has expanded.

The site is bordered on the east by a huge lumber yard and on the west by a concrete factory. Enormous evergreens, over a hundred years old, protect the memories of Edmontonians who’ve passed on, affording visitors and mourners a sense of privacy, separate from the larger, unappealing setting. Along the front, a service road runs parallel to the busy Yellowhead Highway. The trees are so tall, though, that most driving by remain unaware of the presence of this sedate graveyard.

I pulled up to the wrought-iron gate that spanned the lane running down the middle of the two-acre site. The gate was locked, as it usually is, unless there’s a funeral. We could have driven along the side and around to the back entrance, but instead we parked in front, climbing the stone wall, helping each other, and passing our gifts over the top.

By skipping school, we were already feeling radical. Climbing the wall fit the occasion; nothing would prevent us from accomplishing our mission. It felt good, appropriately rebellious, because a ten-year-old Wendy would have been rebellious too, or so we imagined.

The drizzle of the morning had passed. The sun struggled to shine through an overcast sky.

Luke knew where he was going. We’d been here several times before. Carefully holding his picture, he first ran, then slowed, and finally stood reverently before the pink granite pillow stone, his head bowed. After a moment he bent down and laid his picture on the damp grass covering Wendy’s grave. Before he could rise, though, a breeze tickled his gift, threatening to whisk it away. He quickly found a stone and placed it on the edge of his artwork to hold it firmly in place.

Andrea now stepped forward, holding the bouquet. “We have to leave some here,” she explained, and divided the stems. “The rest have to come back home so we have a bouquet for our party.”

I rested in this rare opportunity that afforded such freedom in carrying out our private memorial service. There were no rules, so nothing could be wrong.

I glanced longingly at Luke’s picture, wanting to scoop it up to take home and preserve, but it wasn’t mine. It was Wendy’s. The picture remained.

Next, we explored the cemetery, zig-zagging among grave stones, old and new.

As we walked, I paused now and again, pointing out various graves and telling the children some of the stories I’d noted on previous visits.

Here was a family: mother, father, and twin daughters who had died at nine years of age, all showing the same final date of life. Under the parents’ names, on their headstones that flanked the two little girls’, Luke read out loud, “We had no chance” … “to say good-bye”.

Andrea’s imagination filled in the blanks. “It must have been a car accident, Mom. Or maybe a fire. It had to be a tragedy that killed them all at once.”

In an older section near the front we found a baby’s grave marked by just the surname, “Summers”. Dates told us that Baby Summers had died after just three weeks, and was buried in 1913. An identical headstone stood beside it, attesting to another Baby Summers, born 1914, buried 1915.

We found the grave of a man who had died when he was 100 years old.

The children were fascinated.

Finally we left. The overcast sky had prevailed and it was becoming too chilly. I turned the car heater on as we made our way back.

At home, we first took out a gift that a family friend had given me the day before.

“This is for your party tomorrow,” Lorna had told me, presenting me with a straw bonnet adorned with a pastel ribbon, and flowers around the band. “This is to honour Wendy’s tenth birthday.”

We set out the cake, pop, Cheesies and ice-cream. The bonnet set carefully on a napkin became a table centre-piece. Rick arrived home and quickly cleaned up from work. Then we took our places around the table. It was time for Wendy’s birthday party.

Luke decided we should place our hands together in prayer as we sang “Happy Birthday” so Wendy would be sure to hear.

Andrea arranged the remaining white-and-pink flowers in a vase and set it prominently in the middle of the table, alongside the bonnet.

I noted there were buds dotting the flower stems.

“Remember what it said on Wendy’s headstone?” I asked. Rick knew.

“Budded on earth to bloom in heaven.”

Andrea pulled the vase close and counted the buds. There were ten. Next she counted the flowers on the stems. There were ten flowers as well.

“Little miracles,” we told each other. “Little miracles.”

We felt Wendy was with us, and Jesus was honouring our day

Death of a Baby

Join me next week for the final chapter in our story; Ch. 45. Wendy’s Book

Watch this site for the launch of the hard-copy of When the Bough Breaks – planned for mid-November, 2016. 

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Chapter 43. Lessons Learned

Chapter 43. Lessons Learned

People want to help … lessen the pain, ease the burden, give encouragement, make things better. Always well intentioned, their efforts may be inept, even tactless.

I found that for me, some people did just the right thing. Maybe for another mom, their actions wouldn’t have been helpful. Still, I will catalogue here those gestures I found supportive.


My brother sent me a cassette tape, We Are the World, a song that had just been released. His note read:

Dear Bobbi and Rick,

            Perhaps it was just the coincidence of timing, but for me, this has become “Wendy’s song”. She has taught me grief as I had never envisioned it before and whenever I hear this song, Wendy is as vivid and real as today is “now”.

            Grief is a very tough thing to handle, probably best done in small pieces that we can manage. This may help in dissolving that grief.

            With much love to the both of you and to Andrea and to Wendy Lorraine,

                                   Your brother

One day there was a knock at the door. A young woman from church, in her early twenties, stood there holding a brown paper bag. “I don’t know what to say,” she told me, clearly uncomfortable. “But I wanted to give you this. Is that alright?” I took the loaf of warm-from-the-oven bread and we hugged before she left. Yes, this was alright.

Wendy was born in April. May brought with it the first Mother’s Day after her death. That Sunday morning I found two cards on the kitchen counter. One was from Andrea. Rick had helped her colour crayon markings inside, outside, and all over the back to create a riotous jumble of Crayola.

Beside Andrea’s card, was a second envelope. A cartoon drawing of a little girl angel graced the front. Inside, Rick had written: 

Dear Mom,

I just wanted to give you a little something special on this special day, after all the wonderful things you’ve done for me. You carried me, supported me, comforted me, gave birth to me, loved me, and most of all you gave me my body.

So I thought for once in my short but wonderful life I will do something for you. I will give you a card on Mother’s Day. (With the help of my Dad.)

I love you Mom and thank you.

Love Wendy.

No matter how great the tragedy, time insists on passing. People’s busy lives overtake the drama of the moment and gradually the sorrow of the grieving family slips out of sight. We didn’t forget, though. Sorrow holds fast to the heart, even when you appear to be back in the thick of living.

Special occasions are the hardest when dealing with a loss. A friend once told me, “You have to go through all four seasons before you can begin to move on.”

As that first year progressed, I began to understand what she meant. Each special date on the calendar was one more reminder that the one we loved was not there to share it with us. How to cope? We found that being proactive and planning a way to honour Wendy’s memory on each occasion helped prevent a sense of being blindsided, and gave us a modicum of control.

Christmas could not be ignored. The year before, I’d been five months pregnant with Wendy. I liked to sew. I’d made new Christmas stockings for our family, so of course I’d made one for the baby to come.

December 1985 would have been her first Christmas. I knew we had to acknowledge it somehow. As a few relatives gathered at our home, we each wrote a memory about Wendy and put the papers into her stocking, letting it hang with the rest, including a new stocking made just for the baby I was carrying. Andrea drew a scribble, which we tucked inside as well. At the end of the Christmas season, Wendy’s stocking was stored away with the rest of the decorations.

April 25, 1986 was Wendy’s first birthday. The mind can play strange games with memory. I was seven months pregnant with Luke, and driving to choir practice one Tuesday evening. A thought drifted through my head that next week was the anniversary of Wendy’s birth and death.

Suddenly, literally like a board smashing into my brain, I had a physical realization. It wasn’t next week! It was this week—this day, in fact. Today was April 25th, and Wendy had been born exactly one year ago. My conscious mind forgot Wendy’s birthdate but my body had it recorded and now brought it to the surface. We’ve been created to be so much more complex than we tend to realize.

I had to pull to the side of the road to catch my breath. A few tears, and I was okay again.

That same week a special card came in the mail. Soft grey, with a pink rose embossed on the front, inside it read, “In memory of our baby, Wendy. From her Grandma, 1986”. My mother had remembered as well.

December 1986 found our new baby Luke beginning to crawl about, and Andrea, at three, a proud big sister. As I unpacked the decorations I found Wendy’s stocking. It was a special moment, made more special when, on Christmas Eve, Rick and I pulled out the memory messages and read them to each other.

This worked for us.

It’s important to remember, though, that what is meaningful for one, may not be for another. One friend offered our Christmas stocking story to a relative who had lost a loved one some weeks before.

The woman responded, “Was that supposed to be helpful? Because it wasn’t.”

I wondered, as I heard the woman’s response, if those who are grieving might be expected to see beyond themselves a little bit and at least appreciate the efforts of others who try to help. Sorrow isn’t a reason to discredit another’s good intentions. Such responses can result in alienating those who care from the one who mourns. How do friends continue to reach out when they’re afraid of making the person’s suffering worse?

There are no easy answers. Maybe some mourners just can’t move outside themselves to that extent. I do hope I didn’t unwittingly crush someone’s efforts to be supportive.

The next few anniversaries were sad, but unremarkable, until year five, and again year ten. I can’t explain why it is, but somehow our spirits seem to be linked to the five digits on our hands, and the earth’s cycle around the sun.

Gravity functioned from the beginning of time. It existed before it had a name, before it was identified, studied and measured, before it became a known and tangible force. In the same way, I believe we are influenced by other as yet unnamed aspects of our physical world.

First, fifth and tenth anniversaries are to be approached consciously, with planning. In the ensuing years, I’ve watched others who suffered such a loss. For them as well, years one, five and ten were especially difficult.

So much in this life remains a mystery.

“How many children do you have?”

How many children? How could I answer this question?

If I said, “Three”, they might ask for names, ages, and I’d have to tell Wendy’s story. If I said, “Two”, I felt disloyal, as though I was discounting our middle child.

I told a friend my struggle. A practical individual, she gave me a simple way to decide.

“What’s your relationship with the one who’s asking? If it’s someone who deserves to know about Wendy, then say three. If you’re not likely to get to know them, or you just don’t feel like telling them, then say two.”

I liked that, and it worked.

Death of a Baby

Join me next week for Ch. 44. Tenth Birthday
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Chapter 42. Andrea’s Story

Chapter 42. Andrea’s Story

Not quite two when the drama of her baby sister’s life unfolded, Andrea gradually became fully aware of the change that had taken place in our family. She took her role as big sister seriously and made it her mission to ensure Wendy was not forgotten.

Today is my very first day of Kindergarten.

Today I will be a school-girl. Mommy better make sure my clothes are ready because I’m not going to be late.

Why is Luke fussing? This is my day. That baby better hush up.

Okay. He’s ready now. And I’m all ready to go. I have my backpack and my new shoes.

Today I’m going to be a school-girl at Rutherford School Kindergarten.

My teacher says her name is Mrs. Shore. She has very big yellow hair. It looks smooth and hard. If she bends down by me maybe I can touch it.

Mrs. Shore says we are going to have our first assignment. An assignment is something the teacher tells us, that we are supposed to do. We are to take our brand new crayons and a piece of paper and draw a picture of our family. This is easy! I thought we might have to do something hard, but I know how to do this.

My picture is ready for Mrs. Shore to put up on the wall. Each of us gets to take our picture to her and tell her who is in the picture and she is writing the names beside each person.

That kid put his dog in his picture. We don’t have a dog. If we did, I wouldn’t put it in the picture. Only people are part of a family.

Now it’s my turn.

“Here, Mrs. Shore. Here’s the picture of my family.

That is my mother and her name is Bobbi Junior.

That is my father and his name is Rick Junior.

That is me and my name is Andrea Junior.

And the one by my mom’s leg is my brother and he is Luke Junior.


Mrs. Shore, wait. You didn’t ask the name of the baby in heaven.

There, by the sun. That’s a baby. That’s my baby sister.

Yes. I have a baby sister in heaven. Her name is Wendy.

No, I’m not making it up. I have a real sister. She is in heaven.

Well you can just ask my mother if you don’t believe me. She’ll tell you.”

MOM! That teacher’s really, really stupid. She doesn’t think sisters in heaven are real. You better talk to her right now!

For the next few years, I made a point of telling each of Andrea’s new teachers that she had two siblings: Wendy, who was in heaven, and her little brother, Luke. We were, as Andrea made clear, a family of five, without any dogs.

Death of a Baby


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Chapter 41. Another Baby Gone

Chapter 41. Another Baby Gone

Barely a year later, another couple in our church gave birth to their first little girl. As with Andrea and Wendy, two years stood between their first child, a boy, and their new baby, Jolene.

As with Wendy, Jolene had a congenital defect. Her earthly life lasted six weeks, and then she was gone. We didn’t know the couple very well, and we hadn’t known Jolene’s life was in jeopardy.

The day of her passing, though, Jolene’s daddy arrived at our door.

“Our baby died this morning,” he said quietly. “I need to know what to do. You’ve done it. Can you tell me? How much will it cost? How do we plan a funeral? I don’t know anything—nothing.”

“Come in. Sit. Let’s talk.”

Dave, Rick and I spoke for an hour or more. Dave made notes. For him, the practical was most important. He needed to know what details would have to be addressed and how to go about managing them. Businesslike was the best way I could describe his approach.

Was he cold? Callous? Not at all. This grieving father was suffering beyond anything Rick and I had experienced. You see, at his birth, Dave had suffered a genetic defect that caused him to have several deformities. When he and Jill were married, Dave had been screened and assured that the gene responsible for this defect was recessive. There was no chance he would pass it on to a child as long as his wife didn’t carry the same gene, which, they said, she did not. They were wrong.

Jolene’s deformity had been so severe that she was unable to sustain life.

In Dave’s mind, he was responsible for infecting this wee baby with a lethal gene that had murdered her. His guilt was beyond anything we could grasp. To manage, he approached the funeral arrangements with an almost obsessive single-mindedness. He wanted details, and he wanted them now.

Rick and I understood enough to be able to accept his approach at face value and take our cue from him. Dave wrote down all we told him. Two pages of a scribbler were filled as he scratched out his action plan.

His task completed, he rose to leave. As we walked to the door, I stopped him.

“Wait. Wait a minute. I have something for your wife.”

It took but a moment to find what I needed.

“Here,” I told Dave as I handed him two wash-worn, faded cloth handkerchiefs.

“Jill is going to need these.”

He took them, began to turn on his twisted legs, and paused.

Tears filled his eyes.

“Could Jolene be buried with Wendy?” he asked. “So she could have a little friend?”

A week later Jolene Marie was laid in a grave next to Wendy Lorraine; two baby girls, loved, wanted, and taken home before we could truly know them. Such sorrow. Such loss. We liked to picture our two little girls, healthy and strong, running hand in hand in heaven. It helped.

Death of a Baby

Join me next week for Ch. 42. Andrea’s Story
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Chapter 40. Marriage & Grief

Chapter 40. Marriage & Grief

“How are you doing? How is Rick? How are the two of you managing?”

“We’re okay,” I’d answer, and it was the truth. I began to realize people were watching the two of us. Would our marriage survive this tragedy, or would we, as sometimes happens, be torn apart?

Years later I was able to look back and put this period into better perspective, but at the time, it made me uncomfortable. People thought we were amazing. Conversations went this way. “Rick and Bobbi were there for each other the whole time. Tragic as it was, it brought them closer together.”

Often, a story about some other couple would follow, going something like this. “He just couldn’t handle it. It drove them apart.” (Usually the blame landed on the father. I mean, how can you judge a mother who’s just lost her baby? Anything is forgivable for her.)

But were we really so virtuous? To be honest, we weren’t. The simple fact was that our grieving was compatible, a matter of personality, not effort.

Rick and I are quiet as a rule. Both of us. Quiet and private.

In the days, weeks, and months that followed our baby’s death, both of us had to find our own way of processing what had happened. We had no choice but to handle our sorrow according to our personalities, our individual history, and our experiences before, during and after Wendy’s death.

And we survived, marriage intact.

Were we doing something right where others had done something wrong?

Or were our individual grieving experiences able to exist side by side without conflict?

Rick worked full time. I ran a small home day-care along with caring for Andrea.

On a typical evening, Rick might come home from work to find me standing at the sink, washing dishes as tears streamed down my face. I’d acknowledge him and maybe comment, “It’s one of those days.” Rick would nod and carry on to the bedroom to change from his coveralls.

I was okay with that. Rick coming home at the expected time, being in proximity to my sorrow met my need. But what if that hadn’t been enough? What if I had craved physical contact, needed him to hold me, drop everything and sit by me while I sobbed? Would I have become bitter at his apparent lack of compassion?

What if I’d needed to talk and talk and talk? Would I have condemned him for not providing that listening ear?

What if he’d needed to drown himself in work, coming home at late hours? Would I have been justified in accusing him of abandoning me in my hour of need?

What if… what if… But for us, there was no ‘what if’. We each needed space with proximity. I didn’t need to talk with him about my grief. I had many around me who were willing and able to listen. Rick didn’t need to escape the intensity of my sorrow to be able to cope with his own.

We did need to know we were walking the same path. We needed to honour each other’s sorrow. And Rick, thank God, was able to stay close to me in my pain, even when he felt he had nothing to offer. For me, it was enough.

For another Mom, would it have been?

I expect that for some couples, the grieving of the mother isn’t compatible with the grieving of the father. In such situations, observers might translate this to mean the death of their child drove them apart.

My opinion is experiential at best. Still, I think there are ways to help. When friends and family see what might appear to be an incompatibility in the grieving of a momma and poppa, they can step in and try to fill the gap. Because of the extreme vulnerability, women for the momma, men for the poppa, would be wise.

Be the listening ear for the one who needs to talk.

Be the arms to hold for the one who needs a shoulder.

Be the companion at the gym, or on the jogging trail for the one who needs distraction.

Be the beer-drinking buddy who carries the car keys and brings everyone home a little buzzed, but not inebriated.

Be the one, when the spouse cannot.

Maybe that would help.


Death of a Baby

Join me next week for Ch. 41. Another Baby Gone
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