Our Little Man
by Steve Stephens
8 July 1998
Our Little Man
Luke Cecil Jessen Stephens did look like a miniature version of a grown man, very handsome and suited to his lengthy, manly name. Therefore, we often called him "Our Little Man". When maternity leave was over we were so pleased to have both children at our same home day care. One week later, Luke had upper respiratory problems and we kept him home 3 days. The next day everything was looking great as I delivered him and his sister to day care. Mid-day I decided to call day care and see how the kids were doing. I had never called before. After a muffled hello, a police officer asked who I was and then informed me that a 3 1/2 month old infant was in respiratory arrest and to meet him at the Emergency Room. When my wife arrived, the ER doctor just told us to come and tell our son goodbye. It was a cold and bitter shock.
I felt I must have been dreaming, that this could not be happening, yet I knew it was. The ER doctor suspected SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). Many friends and family came. Some to walk and talk with me, some to just sit with my wife while she held his body. I don't have any blood relatives in Minnesota, so I begged and pleaded with my grandma, mother and my three older children to fly here. The end result was that all of them came except for one. Many people came to the visitation and the funeral. I needed each one. A very memorable time was after the funeral before they were going to close the casket. My mother said to my grown son, "Go with your father and say goodbye to your brother". We walked to the casket hand in hand and said goodbye with tears in our eyes, a brother mourning for the brother he had never known, a father touched by having such a gentle and loving son. I missed Luke so much. Every time I saw a baby I couldn't help but cry. People's hugs helped and their listening ears, but the greatest comfort came from God. I really felt during those first few weeks especially that He just reached down to me, picked me up with His hands and held me and let me know the true meaning of comforting those who mourn. It was this that kept me sane.
A few months later the autopsy confirmed that there were no known causes for his death hence indicating SIDS. This diagnosis is so frustrating because no one really knows why and there is absolutely no one or nothing to get angry with or to blame. Of course, I wondered what that day would have brought if I had only kept him home one more day. But, "what ifs" will not bring him back.
There was a problem I needed to address at work the week following Luke's death. I quickly found when someone brought her newborn into the office that it was much too soon to try working again. After about a month, I was able to function in my work (which involves discussing catastrophes in families) and I was doing OK until a client kept insisting that a family does not need any emotional or social support when terrible things happen to them. I couldn't handle it and began to cry. In 1994 my income decreased to about half. We call 1994 the worst year of our lives for many reasons. When 1995 arrived it felt like a freeing milestone. I was able to function, but differently. My new "normal" included relationships being more important than work.
Not long after Luke's death we went to a local support group for bereaved parents whose children had died. It was the only place I truly felt that other people understood what I was going through. Discussions were heart wrenching and heart breaking, but also helped me realize I was not going insane. Along with people from this group and others, I began friendships that have lasted to this day and I know will continue throughout my life. These are the friends I wish I had never met, yet I feel are, in some ways, closer to me than family. To this day, I continue with one-on-one grief counseling. It has grown into something I look forward to each month as we discuss the many losses I have experienced in life and how they impact me today. I have discovered many helpful things about myself which have strengthened my marriage, my own self image, my relationship with God and my ability to be a good father. I have seen that change is possible in my own life. Sharing and listening always help. I will always think of "Our Little Man" each and every day, appreciate when others speak of him or visit his grave, wonder what he would be like when I see a child his age and forever cherish the memory of his smile, his cry, his cooing, his singing and holding him close to comfort him. 'Love You Forever' Our Little Man.
By Steve Stephens
In memory of Luke Cecil Jessen Stephens
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