By Laura Barr
The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do is say goodbye to my son. To have him taken from my arms and watch his lifeless body leave me physically forever; I don’t know if there is anything much worse for a human to endure. The second hardest thing I’ve ever had to do is to learn to live without him. To walk this earth day in and day out with a piece of my heart and soul missing, the natural order of things so horribly mixed up. But to keep walking none the less. It’s been almost fourteen months since that impossible day and I can say with confidence that while I am still learning, I have come so, so far.
Those first few months after we lost Henry to stillbirth at 39 weeks can only be described as a dark haze. Deep sorrow, anxiety, and fear were my closest companions. I felt so alone. Who was this new shell of a woman, and how could this really be my life? How could I ever be me again? I remember being furious at my husband when, six weeks into grieving, he told me (lovingly) that I needed to find a way to move forward. He said that while he would always miss Henry, he wanted to celebrate him by living life to the fullest. Though I was so hurt and clung to my sadness out of loyalty to my son, part of what he said resonated. Of course I wanted to celebrate Henry. But how could I live life to the fullest when all I felt was a deep hole in my heart?
Throughout that time, I had been wishing I had a symbol to represent Henry, something real that I could see in the world to serve as a reminder of him, a point of connection. By chance, I came across a beautiful image with the Bible verse, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” I suddenly realized that I did have a symbol for Henry; since the beginning of my pregnancy I’d been planning a nautical themed nursery, and his room was full of anchors. When I realized that the anchor was a symbol for hope, it was decided; a perfect representation of my loss and my love wrapped into one.
From then on, the anchor became a huge source of strength for me. I got a tattoo and noticed anchors popping up all over which I took as little “hellos” sent from heaven. My friends and family now had a way to express their love for him, too- gifts and photos of anchors filled me up and showed me that my son was not forgotten. Little by little, hope for the future was creeping in, and I found that the waves of grief were not so crushing anymore. But of course, there was still some pain, a dull emptiness, and I still felt so stuck and unable to move forward, to allow myself to be joyful and whole again.
Then one morning about ten months into my “after” a Humans of New York post popped up on my feed featuring a photograph of an old woman. Her face was worn, but her smile was so warm. I was drawn to read her story. The caption below her picture read: “‘When my husband was dying I said, ‘Moe, how am I supposed to live without you?’ He told me: ‘Take the love you have for me and spread it around.’”
That one sentence spoke more to me than thousands of other pieces of advice and platitudes about loss had all year. It was a lightbulb moment in which I finally knew how to live in this new life of mine. I could finally see clearly that my immense grief, this whole unfortunate journey, was for better or for worse an outcome of my immense love for Henry, a love that would endure far longer than the pain. My new mission became finding a way to bring my love for Henry out of my aching heart and into the world, and it was then that Anchors for Hope, our foundation, was born.
I can now say with pride that Henry has given me the greatest gift of my life. I am not the same person I used to be, and I am so grateful for that. My heart and my empathy have grown immensely since losing him. Now I know (really know) how fragile life is, and I appreciate my blessings so much more than I ever could have before. I hug my living son tighter, tell my husband I love him more, and notice beauty in the most mundane things around me. When I smile, it’s a joy that feels the highs so much greater for having known the lowest lows. Don’t get me wrong, for the rest of my days I will miss him deeply. When I see a mom with three boys, my heart will suddenly ache. When I hear a dad yell “HENRY!” on the playground, I will always look up and smile holding back tears. But I’ll simultaneously remember how much richer my life is because of him. My Henry. My heart. My anchor.
Undoubtedly, the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do was say goodbye to my sweet boy, but by far the easiest has been to keep loving him. And that, I know, will endure forever.
Laura Barr is a stay-at-home mom to three boys – one in her arms, one in heaven, and one in her belly. She and her husband, Gary, are the founders of Anchors for Hope, a foundation which raises money and awareness for the prevention of stillbirth. Find more on Facebook and Instagram.