There is no deeper grief
Kim Annette Bow (1974-1975) My goddaughter taught me how not to pull away from others’ grief.
Soon after we graduated from high school together, my friend Kim told me she was pregnant and, at the same time, asked if I would be her child’s godmother. Growing up, I had witnessed the role my parents had played as godparents to three children in our church, and I responded without hesitation “Sure! I’d love to!”
Later that day, I began to question my decision. Who was I to be a godparent? Did I know enough? Could I give this child what they needed? My faith in a supernatural God wasn’t that strong anymore. I wasn’t even sure I was still Catholic. Did I need to be to be a godparent? My doubts crowded in and almost smothered me, until the moment I first met her.
I visited Little Kimmy while she and her mom were still in the hospital. I took a deep breath as I walked to the maternity ward to meet my godchild. When I saw her lying in her mother’s arms, a tiny infant with bright blue eyes and skin as creamy as the moonlight, it only took an instant for me to know I would do everything I could to fill the role I had been asked to serve. She and I formed an instant bond that I imagined would last a lifetime.
Soon after Little Kimmy was born, her family moved to a town ten miles away from me. I was in my first year in college and had a full load, but that didn’t stop me from driving there every day to visit her. When I went home to Arkansas for summer break, Kim, her husband Doyce, and Little Kimmy traveled there to visit me. My mom fell in love with Little Kimmy too, as we celebrated her 4-month birthday with our family’s specialty of the house, Marquis Chocolate Cake.
While in Arkansas, Little Kimmy fell in love with my favorite stuffed animal, a huggable chimpanzee named Mr. Bim, who had been my friend since I was five. As soon as she saw him with his big chimpanzee smile and yellow banana in his hand, she latched on to him and wouldn’t let go. She was not any bigger than he was, but that didn’t stop her from curling up to him in her bed like a giant sleeping pillow. She hugged him so tight that I’m sure he would have squealed if he had had a voice.
A few months after returning to school, another student in my dorm knocked on my door and told me I had a call on the hall phone. I knew it was Kim—she often called around that time to talk about the plans for the day. I ran from my room to grab the phone, excited to hear what might be in store for us that day. Instead, I heard Doyce’s voice on the other end, “Annette, I have something to tell you.” The gravity in his voice made my whole body tense up. “Little Kimmy died this morning,” he said, “They said it was crib death.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Died? She couldn’t have died! “No! No!” I screamed. The Resident Advisor and several students rushed into the hall to see what had happened, but I left them ignorant about the news I had just heard. I told Doyce I’d be right over and I meant it. I ran downstairs to retrieve my car.
As soon as I opened the outside door, I realized I was in no condition to drive. Only a few feet away, I saw that my basketball coach’s office door was open, so I ducked in there instead. I collapsed on her couch and broke down sobbing. I struggled to tell Sister Mary Alice the news through my tears. When I finally spoke the words, she held me and let me cry. When I was all cried out, at least for the moment, I got in my car and made the ten-mile trek to their house. All the way there, I struggled to imagine not seeing Little Kimmy’s smiling face when I reached my destination.
We buried Little Kimmy with Mr. Bim. It seemed only right to let him comfort her on her final journey. Her parents had this photo encased on her tombstone. I wish I had one with her and Mr. Bim, but I never imagined there wouldn’t be time for that.
Nobody knew much about Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) at the time Kimmy died. Now it’s recommended to put babies on their backs to prevent breathing problems when they sleep. Researchers have also found that some babies are born with a brain defect that impacts breathing and arousal and that a recent respiratory infection might be a contributing factor. We never learned the direct cause of Kimmy’s death, and I know that contributed to everyone’s grief. But there is no deeper grief than the loss of a child under any circumstance—I knew that from my mother’s grief over the loss of her daughter Marlee—and I have carried Little Kimmy’s death with me as if she had been my own.
At the time Kimmy died, I was not spiritually grounded enough to hold her parents’ pain and mine for the long term. Over the subsequent months and years, I drifted away from their lives, until we eventually lost contact. Kim and Doyce moved away and then got a divorce, as so often happens when a child dies. I never reached out to them again. A few years back, a Facebook post told me that Kim died, so it’s too late to ask her forgiveness now.
I will never forget Little Kimmy, though. I think of her every time I face a friend’s death. She helps me not to pull away from grief like I did then. She taught me that loss and love are inseparable and that how I love after an unimaginable loss is just as important, if not more so, than before.
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