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Real-life stories: Experiencing bereavement or relationship problems

Death Of Couple’s Only Baby Shatters Their Lives

When Karen McGrath and her husband Mark lost their first child, a baby son, before he was two weeks old, their lives cruelly crumbled, but read on to see how their faith and their friends helped them through their troubled times.

Our son Andrew was born on 28th August 1986 at 2.40 am.   He weighed 7lb. 13 oz., had a shock of black hair, olive skin and blue eyes.   He was the most beautiful baby we had ever seen – but then he was our first baby and we were very, very proud of him.

We had looked forward to his birth with great excitement, and had high hopes for him.

Sadly, however, it was not to be, and our much loved little boy died when he was just twelve days old.

The first real indication that something was wrong had come on the second day.   My midwife noticed his colour was “rather dusky” as she bathed him and asked a doctor to check him over.   I had no idea what that meant and assumed everything would be alright.

The doctor arrived at tea time.   He told me he thought Andrew had a slight heart murmur, and that it would probably be nothing.   Nevertheless he called the Registrar to check his suspicion, and they said they wanted to do some tests.

The next time I saw my baby he was in an incubator in the Special Care Unit.   Compared to the tiny premature babies around him Andrew looked massive.   He was wired up to various monitors and the doctors were busy with their tests.

At about 9.30 am the Registrar took my husband, Mark, and me aside and told us he believed Andrew had a problem with his heart, which appeared to be serious.   A Consultant was on his way from Plymouth to see him.

Shattered

We were shattered, and very tearful – after all, Andrew looked so perfect.

The Consultant arrived just after 11 pm and half an hour later we were called to see him.   He told us frankly and honestly Andrew's condition was serious and would require an operation, probably within a few days.   He explained the details of the problem and what the surgery would seek to do.

Andrew's operation was fixed for the Sunday morning.   He was four days old.   Mark and I were able to stay at the hospital in a room close to the ward.

One of our most precious moments came the evening before the operation, when we were able to cuddle him for just a brief time.   Tears of joy welled in our eyes as we held our baby.

By getting up early we were also able to cuddle him again in the morning before he went to theatre.   Then all we could do was pray and wait.

Comforted

They were tense hours for us but we were greatly comforted by the presence with us of some close friends from church and the knowledge that many other Christians (we later reckoned it was over 1,000 in at least five churches) were with us in prayer.

It was 1 pm before we finally heard that Andrew was in Intensive Care and that as far as the doctors could tell the operation to make a valve, where he had been without one, had been successful.

That afternoon we paid our first of many visits to him in the Intensive Care Unit.   Despite advance warning of what we could expect to see, it was a very hard moment for both of us.

Andrew was lying on a full-sized bed, with numerous wires coming from his tiny body, monitors all around, a large dressing covering his chest, and the ventilator machine covering most of his face.

As the days passed we grew accustomed to the technology and were able to enjoy our visits.   We always talked to him, told him stories and about his family.   Sometimes he would open his eyes or wriggle around, as if responding to us and we were thankful for each small movement.

But his progress was slow and it was several days before they felt he was ready to come off the ventilator.   Unfortunately he did not respond well and he had to go back on.   They were just hoping to wean him off the machine again, when his heart suddenly went into failure late on Monday 8th September.

Rushed

The telephone call came at 11.30 pm.   We knew instantly it was bad news and rushed straight back to the hospital.   The doctors were crowded around Andrew and after an agonising length of time a nurse told us we could see him.

She said they had tried everything to restore his heart rate and blood pressure, which had dropped suddenly and unexpectedly.   He had not responded and had only minutes to live.

He actually lived for another three hours.   Mark stayed by his bed constantly, praying fervently for a miracle healing.   I found it hard to stay with him and spent some of the time in the waiting area, struggling desperately to come to terms with what was happening as well as praying.   Our Pastor arrived and sat with me.

We believed God had promised us great things for Andrew and could not understand why he was going to let him die – it all seemed like such a bad dream – surely, surely our son was not going to die.

But it was real, and each time I went back to his bed I could see his heart beat had dropped further.

Then, just a few minutes before he finally died, Mark and I felt a peace come into our hearts, that Jesus had called Andrew to heaven to be with Him.   We were able to release him to God, knowing beyond all doubt that Andrew was going to be completely healed in his death, and certain that one day we shall be reunited with him in heaven.

It is hard to find words that adequately describe our grief.   It was a time of intense sadness, of many, many tears, of emptiness – and yet of great hope for the future.   The baby we had so wanted was no longer there.   For nine months we had geared ourselves to having a third member of our family, and now he could not be with us.

The room we had prepared to him lay empty, the cradle unused, the clothes neatly folded in the wardrobe and the bath untouched.

In one sense we were glad that Andrew had never been home with us, that the room had never actually become his, but it felt very empty without him.   Even now we still refer to it as Andrew's room, although it is a peaceful room, and one we enjoy sitting in to read or pray.

All that we had so looked forward to – the plans we had been making – had come to a sudden halt.   It was as if we had been running along and suddenly a cliff edge had come.  But we did not fall and now, looking back, we know it was because God had caught us and held us safe, before placing us back on the ground, gently and with perfect timing.

Blessings

The days immediately after Andrew's death were difficult, but they were also days of great blessings, when we felt the comfort and peace of God in very special ways.   It was a time when we both came a lot closer to our parents, as well as each other, and knew for the first time in our lives what it really meant to rely on God, and on each other.

We had a thanksgiving service for Andrew at our church.   We wanted to use it as a time to thank God for giving Andrew to us – to say with Job, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away, may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1 v 21).

Yes, we wanted to praise God, and wanted others to be able to do the same.   We also shared with our friends and family some of our feelings and thoughts.   It was a wonderful service for us, and in many ways the first step in rebuilding our shattered lives.

We still think about Andrew a great deal.   Sometimes I catch myself daydreaming about what might have been – but it is not with sadness for God has truly been healing our wounds.   We both hope it will not be too long before our second child is on its way.

Our next child will not be a replacement for Andrew, but another individual in his or her own right.   When he grows up we will tell him about Andrew, our first-born and precious little son.   We have many happy memories of him and some lovely photographs to remind us, should we ever need it, of what a beautiful baby he was.

It is difficult to express the shock of what we have been through – it has been like an earthquake erupting suddenly and unexpectedly on a tranquil scene.   It is equally hard to describe fully the depths of love we have felt – but one thing we are sure of is that Jesus has been the rock on which we have stood, and we have found him to be solid.

Karen McGrath
The Alpha Course


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