A warrior in heaven. An angel on earth.
Over a month later and I still struggle to write this post without tears flooding my face, not just tears of grief and sadness, but also tears of joy and gratitude. I didn’t anticipate missing such tragic days or long to relive them the way that I do. How could something so sad and difficult be one of the most precious and beloved memories of my life? Nothing could possibly have bonded our already “tight-knit” family the way baby Ares did.
I’ll never forget the day we all found out. My sister Summer sent the text in our family thread-- “something looks wrong with the baby’s brain, please pray” and we did. After my quick but fervent prayer, I rushed my kids out the door to go to tumbling all while knowing everything would be just fine. I called our older sister... we talked about possibilities and I was sure it would be something that would resolve itself. Within the hour we got the diagnosis… Summer sent out what the doctors were most sure of... Anencephaly. A brainstem with no brain growing on top of it and no skull to protect what little was there. I couldn’t even process what my sister was calmly telling us. I called her hoping for more possibilities and answers and she sounded so calm and collected as she sat there waiting for her husband and more doctors. I had to get off the phone before I changed her disposition with my need to cry out in sadness. Then I did just that, cried and cried with every tear in my body… I pulled the car over due to blurry vision and buried my head in the steering wheel begging the Lord above to be with my sister. And He was.
When the doctors were sure of the diagnosis and that the outcome would be no more than a few hours of life, they offered to deliver the baby right then so that she could start the healing process. Without even a second to think, she declined insisting she carry out the next twenty weeks to get to know the son inside of her. She wanted to feel every kick and flutter and have all the time she could with him. She wanted to donate all viable organs to another baby and the rest to research. My warrior little sister insisted on giving her boy more time and needed to feel more purpose.
Months followed with sadness lingering over all of our heads. I know very few families who are as close as us Clark sisters, in turn forcing our husbands to be close as well as super involved parents. Therefore, when one of us is experiencing a trial, we all feel it very deeply and this situation felt like a huge, shared, painful load. No one could ever feel the immense pain that my sister and brother-in-law have felt but we couldn’t even imagine it with the heaviness that we have all felt together. We tried to say the right things (often times doing the opposite), we took food and treats over regularly, we helped with their other two kids so they could have lots of time to cry and we prayed like we’ve never prayed before. It was a slow five months for us siblings and our parents as we were anxious for them to begin healing. For my sister the time flew too quickly and she experienced panic attacks, fearing he would come early and her time with him would be cut short. She says she has never felt like she has known anyone as well as she knew the special soul inside her belly. She spent little time complaining about her pregnancy discomfort, lack of sleep, weight gain or swollen body (which at one point needed a large needle poke inside of her to drain extra fluid). She spent lots of time rubbing her belly, gazing at ultrasound pictures and feeling proud to be this angel's pmommy.
The day came and none of us could sleep the night before. We were nervous, stressed and so sad as we walked into that hospital. Then we got to the room just before they wheeled her out for surgery and little sister was calm and beautiful. She was ready to meet her son and let the heavens open to take him home. As ready as you can ever be… She and her sweet husband held hands and we all cried as they left the room. As a family, we waited anxiously for them to return. I don’t remember ever being this nervous in my entire life. What if he didn’t make it through the surgery and we don’t get the couple of hours we have been expecting? What if he is already gone? I ached for my sister and brother-in-law as I anticipated what was to come.
Just under an hour passed before they came back. We all pushed up against the walls trying to be reverent and quiet as they brought sweet Ares in to meet his parents (whisked away after the c-section). All of his aunts, uncles and grandparents were anxious to greet him as well. Tears dampened every face in that room as we saw our huge, chunky angel-boy get handed to his mommy and she pulled him into her chest. The love was the strongest kind of love and the room was full of it. The tears turned from sad tears to happy tears as we gazed at his precious face. A hat covered his sunken-in head where his brain was not. With the misformation of his face, he was one of the most beautiful babies I have ever seen. He was perfect.
Summer and Eldis generously shared about a half-hour of their precious time with him and then we all said good-bye to our family angel and waited down the hall. Soon after we left, they took him off life support to allow him to return to heaven. To all of our surprise, he fought for an extra five hours of life with his parents, sister and brother, aunts, uncles and grandparents. Since his heart beat stayed strong for hours, we got more chances to go in to kiss and hold him. As his heart started slow down, they invited us into the room to watch him slip back to heaven. That time was too precious to even type about.
Once he was pronounced gone, my surprising calm sister finally broke down with the rest of us. I can’t relive that moment without feeling the same deep pain in my chest that was felt that day. A pain so emotional that it became physical. I cannot even begin to describe the anguish upon watching the donor team take her baby from her arms… it was too much for even the strongest men in our family.
The next ten days passed with constant family time. We would go to my sisters, take their kids, let she and Eldis cry together and then return to distract them in the evenings. It was like a new routine. We talked, and still talk often about his birthday and how perfectly such an imperfect situation went. We speak of how well he knows his parents and how he fought to give them those extra hours that they were so desperate to have. We talk about how proud we are that his organs have been put to great use. We joke about how big he was and that it represented his huge spirit. We cry when we miss him.
The funeral was equally as perfect of a day. Again, every possible emotion was felt but the strongest, was love. It was amazing to see the impact his tiny life had on so many dear friends and family. The support was beautiful and truly unbelievable. The spirit of love and family was stronger than ever and you couldn't help but feel joy with the pain.
Fast forward a month and a half later and my sister is pumping breast milk for a baby she found online. He is allergic to formula and his mom cannot produce milk of her own. Summer and Eldis are quick to hold the newborns at church and new babies born into our extended family. Yesterday Summer took a meal to a friend who just had a baby boy of her own and was anxious to hold him.
I could not be an ounce more proud of Summer and Eldis. Their strength and attitude through this trial has been so beautiful and inspiring. They are so thankful to have this angel watching over him and look forward to the day they rejoin him in heaven. We all do.