By Amber Whetham
The thought of coming alive again seems far-fetched when you’ve lost a child. It may even seem impossible. I completely get that. My oldest son, Drew was born with two congenital heart defects; Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS) and Total Anomalous Pulmonary Venous Return (TAPVR) on August 25, 2014.
He fought for 77 days in the CVICU of Riley Children’s Hospital, our temporary home. I held him in my arms on November 10, 2014, as he took his last breath. My husband and I stood by and watched helplessly as Drew went through more in his 2 1/2 months than most do in their entire life. We celebrated the good days and the limited amount of cuddles. My husband sacrificed time with his then only child and continued to work driving 3 hours each way and spending his weekends with us so we could pay our bills. I turned our hospital room into our own little apartment. I adjusted to sleeping sitting up, with the lights on, and the beeps of machines being my lullaby. I made friends with the employees and fellow heart moms and learned how to be a constant advocate for my son. Drew fought and fought hard. Unfortunately there were complications that made it impossible for Drew to bounce back. That day changed my entire world in every way possible. From that point forward my life would divided into two parts: before that day and after.
This is not a story of great triumph. It is a story of survival. Sometimes in life you have such little control over the things going on around you that all you can do is hold on for the ride. I have been without my sweet boy for 15 months. I am far from the picture perfect bereaved mom. In fact, I am a PTSD-having, pill-popping, therapy-going woman. I am a woman who mothers one child on earth and one in heaven.
I can’t recall the exact moment things began to get better for me, but very slowly, I remember thinking, “Oh my gosh I didn’t cry today” and counting that day as a win. I was slowly able to do ‘normal’ people things, starting with taking a shower or putting on real pants, which eventually turned into getting a job again and being able to feel a new sense of happiness.
I started using, “Everything I do, I do it for Drew” as my daily motto. I stopped focusing so much on my grief, my sadness, and my heartbreak and I started taking that energy and putting it back out into the world. Doing things for others made me think that it would make Drew proud of me. I wanted him to sit in Heaven, point down at me and say, “See her! That’s my mom!”
That’s when I started my small organization, Drew’s Gifts From Heaven. Even though every day is hard for a grieving parent there are certain days that are just a little bit harder. On those days like Christmas, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day, Drew’s Gifts From Heaven sends a surprise to the grieving parents home. We are about to head into our second round of holidays, and by the generosity of others, I hope to continue to grow.
Starting Drew’s Gifts From Heaven has given me a new sense of purpose and made me feel like a part of a community, a community that no one wants to be a part of but so many unfortunately are. I’ve been able to talk with other parents who are in different stages of their grieving process who have been recipients of a gift. If the gift they receive makes them smile or cry or both just for that tiny second, I know that I was able to make a positive impact on their day, and I was able to do that for Drew.
Amber Whetham grew up in Chicago, IL and currently lives in Granger, IN. Wife of Kevin, mother of Drew and Dylan, founder of Drew’s Gifts From Heaven, and full time worker in the social work field specializing in children in foster care. Find Drew’s Gifts on Facebook.