2017 Walk to Remember - Opening Speech
We’d like to start by thanking the board members of The MA Center for Unexpected Infant and Child Deaths, particularly Shari, Michelle and Maxine, for organizing the Walk to Remember. Months ago Shari and Michelle asked a small group of SIDS parents, how they could replace the Race 4 Life out in Springfield and find a way to remember children who are gone too soon. We all stressed to them how important it is for those of us in the child loss community to have a day set aside to come together and physically do something to remember our children—to create a sense of community for our families. After tossing around a variety of ideas, they settled on a Walk to Remember at this beautiful and serene location; a location that is perfect for reflecting on our children. A place we can gather together as a community of families that have all experienced a profound loss, and together remember our children. We stressed to them the importance of a physical gathering because together we are stronger than we are alone, together we see that there are others who walk the same path in life that we do and who are also finding their way through the pain to learn to live again.
My family is here to remember one of our twins, Alexander Michael, who passed away to SIDS at only 6 weeks old on May 16, 2015--a day that is burned into our minds forever. Our twins, Alex and Ben, were both born healthy at 37 weeks, weighing over 6.5 lbs each. While Ben visited the special care nursery for a few hours for breathing issues, Alex was placed with us immediately and we considered him to be the stronger and healthier of our twins. Both boys were thriving, healthy, newborn boys in the weeks following their birth-- until the day Alex passed away during his morning nap; just like that he was gone quickly, silently and with no warning. Our world was instantly turned upside down—nothing made sense anymore. As our pediatrician kept saying when he checked Ben later that day “I don’t get it, healthy babies don’t just die…babies don’t go from 0-100 like this….they don’t just die with no warning, with nothing wrong”. Unfortunately, as we all learned that day, that is the very nature of the beast that we call SIDS—a beast that changes everything and robbed of us the life we imagined with our twin boys and their 3 older siblings. We were forced to reinvent ourselves and learn how to live with this loss. We have made it our mission to keep Alex’s memory alive by putting good into the world FOR Alex, and by finding ways to help other bereaved parents navigate through this unimaginable loss into living life again. We support SIDS research, so someday new parents won’t have to experience this profound, unexpected loss. We do all of this for Alex.
Over the last 2.5 years since Alex passed away, our world has changed tremendously. We’ve walked through the darkness to find light in our lives again. Perhaps you’ve seen the movie, Collateral Beauty, starring Will Smith. The meaning of the title really stayed with my husband and I…Collateral Beauty. To us this perfectly describes what we have experienced in different moments after Alex’s death. I bet we all have experienced collateral beauty; beauty found after our loss, despite our loss and that only happened because of our loss. We find it in the communities that we live in. All of the support that we received from family, friends and strangers after Alex passed away carried us through our darkest days. So many people acted generously and kindly to help lift us through the darkness. Their kindness touched us deeply and is something we will never forget; that is collateral beauty.
Our family raised money to build a splash pad in our town in memory of our son, as a way to say thank you to our community for their support. It opened this summer and was a huge hit with young families in our community. In fact the park itself has never been busier than it was this summer, full of families having fun together and making memories. We helped to put smiles on so many faces with this project in memory of our son and to us this is collateral beauty.
It is beautiful to come together today and remember our children collectively. There is beauty in helping one another through the toughest times and seeing the amazing nature of the human spirit. It is this sense of community, and understanding of one another that helps to make even the most difficult days less painful. It is powerful to connect with another family who understands our experience and how hard we’ve worked to relearn how to live after the unimaginable experience of losing a child. Having this community for support is collateral beauty.
I’d like to think that our children are shining down on us today. Happy to see all of us coming together to remember them, to feel the love that we have for them grow stronger than ever. Perhaps they are surrounding us now, proudly pointing out their families to each other, happy that we are together. I believe they would want us to strive to find happiness despite the sorrow; to find the collateral beauty in our lives, a beauty that can never replace our children but that can help us to live again.
And so today we all walk to remember our beautiful children who left this world too soon. And we smile through our tears because we are grateful for the time we had with them, even if it was far too short.
- Wendy Shaw