The Shape of Things
It was September 25th, 2001. My 3-month old son, Aaron, had died a week earlier. The diagnosis was Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, and I would soon discover that its causes were more mystery than science.
I thought about the ER nurse’s words as we said goodbye to Aaron in the hospital. I’d asked her how many SIDS babies they’d saved. “Oh, honey,” she’d said, “they don’t come back. Ever.” That simple proclamation had saved me from my guilt over not being the one to find him, over someone – anyone- not being there in the nick of time to restore his breathing. Taking to heart the nurse’s gentle words and the circular, unanswered questions surrounding SIDS, I made my first small step towards recovery – that there was nothing I could have done to save Aaron. Instead I shifted to what could have been different about Aaron – what physical attribute had contributed to his death. I was looking for clues, for answers, but really, I was looking for another angle for my guilt.
After two hours online, my head hurt from the conflicting clinical studies and the frantic posts from grieving parents. I turned off the computer and left my office to sit in Aaron’s nursery and surround myself in happier memories.
Sitting on his car-shaped rug, I imagined Aaron’s flailing hands and feet on his changing table; lazy, nursing naps with him in the glider; rounds of Dr. Seuss books. I glanced over at the bookcase next to me. Several board books lay scattered along the bottom of the three-tier shelf, and I reached over to neaten the row. Without thinking, I picked up “The Shape of Me and Other Stuff” and began to read. As usual, Dr. Seuss’ words hit home.
“The shape of you, the shape of me, the shape of everything I see. Of all the shapes I could have been, …I say HOORAY for the shape I’m in!” As I read these familiar words, I felt my heart expand and heard that whisper inside my head that I was starting to recognize as Aaron. He told me, “I’m perfect. So are you.”
The link between his words and Dr. Seuss’ came to me in a rush and the voice continued, “Not early, right on time. My time.”
He was telling me that SIDS was just a vehicle – not the horrible accident, not the wrong end of 2000:1 statistics. Aaron had fulfilled his life’s purpose. It just wasn’t what I thought his life would look like when he arrived in a rush on May 29th.
I will always miss my son, but I am bolstered by my belief that Aaron accomplished what he set out to do. I believe that our life’s purpose can require forms and shapes that we don’t always recognize. That loss, no matter how painful, can also be wrapped in intention. Blessings in disguise, but still, blessings.
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