People say that there is no greater loss than the death of one's child.
I had no idea that I would experience that pain first hand. And I hope no one else would have to experience this. Fifteen months ago, my son Ezra Malik was born dead in the hospital, after a problem-free pregnancy. It was only the beginning of my journey with loss, while also trying to make the most out of life.
My son Ezra, a.k.a. Peanut Boy, died from a placental abruption, where the placenta separates from the uterus, cutting off the baby's life support.
I had the chance to hold Ezra once, and when I looked at him--a perfect combination of his mother's and father's features, and a full head of black, curly hair--I was staring into the eyes of God. My joy over seeing my son was overwhelmed by sadness over not being able to see him again. His mother and I got to read him a bedtime story before we placed him in the cold ground, in that little casket--complete with a blanket to keep him warm, a toy mouse, and a photo of his parents.
Never have I felt so helpless and hopeless. Ezra's death by itself was far too much to deal with at one time. After all, even the minor annoyances in life are an enormous chore when you are in mourning. But there was more to follow. First, my father-in-law had open heart surgery, from which, thankfully, he recovered. Then, I experienced a job loss. Then, my sister-in-law's mother died.
And a few months later, my father died. I was experiencing someone else's nightmare, or so it seemed, and it kept getting worse. Barely coping with the death of a son I would never get to see grow up, I now had to grieve the loss of a father I had known my entire life. And the memories of my childhood with my father were suddenly mixed with vivid yet unrealized dreams of spending time with my son. For me, the only consolation was in knowing that Ezra was sitting on his grandfather's knee, somewhere in that spirit world where they feel no pain.
The death of a baby is a hard pill to swallow, for a family that is touched by it, but for others as well. It is a taboo subject. I have found that people are ill-equipped to deal, and so they have responded by suggesting that we get over it and move on.
Reacting to the news of my son's passing, some folks have said the dumbest things, such as "it was meant to be", "it was for the best", or "don't worry, you can always have another one", as if one can replace a child like an ipod. Meanwhile, some onlookers--whether out of discomfort, or out of fear that it could happen to them-- choose not to say anything at all. Some friendships have forever faded away, while others have strengthened, and still new friends have appeared.
Throughout my journeys over the past months, I was amazed to meet so many babylost parents, as they are called. A secret society that often suffers in silence, we bear many gaping wounds that are allowed to fester through neglect. In the black community, think of the countless people who have lost children, whether through gun violence, gangs, drugs, disease, stillbirth, SIDS, other causes, or causes unknown. Refusing to deal with the grief, and keeping the pain bottled up inside, only creates more pain, sometimes violence. This is an issue particularly with men, who often are not skilled at dealing with their emotions, or are told to suck it up, or are told that the mother suffers more from the loss of a child.
What I have discovered in the healing process is that the pain will never go away entirely, nor should it. The key for us has been to memorialize our child in our hearts and minds, and to incorporate his memory into our daily life, whether by lighting a candle every week, writing a poem, or supporting a worthy cause in his memory.
I have come a long way from the days when I found myself dragging my heart around behind me. My little boy has taught me a great deal about life, about love for my wife and my family, about empathy and caring for others. Never a religious person, I have become far more spiritual over these past months. I look at the bigger picture--the meaning behind life's daily events, and the significance of things happening as they do. And I think of the many stories that my father is sharing with my son.
Most of all, I have learned what is truly important, and what is not. Once again I can savor the small joys in life. Although my wife and I are expecting another son very soon, we will never be able to replace our firstborn. The sorrow never goes away, but there is always time to heal.
This article first appeared in The Grio and is republished with permission.