Becky and Joe from Ohio, share the story of their loved son, Benjamin Isaac, whom they lost at 18 weeks into their pregnancy in August 2012. They were going to their routine anatomy check appointment, where you normally find out the gender of your baby, and were deeply saddened to find out that their baby died. Becky had just heard her baby boy's heartbeat at their 15 week appointment. To this day, they were never given a reason why, by the medical community, as to how it could have happened.
This may be a difficult question to answer, but describe those hours, those minutes, that you found out that your loved son, Ben, had died.
Becky: During Ben's pregnancy so far, it had been a rough one for me with a lot of nausea and vomiting, in addition to being tired, and Joe working long hours. And then when he was home, his "mind was not at home". It felt like a pregnancy that we took for granted, and everything would be fine. I was actually clueless when the ultrasound technician left to go ask the doctor a question. When the doctor came back and told us that they couldn't find a heartbeat, he started scanning me looking for one. I was in immediate panic, my heart running frantically inside my body and my mind saying, "Find the heartbeat. Where is it?" I got a huge sinking feeling, and felt even more panic when he confirmed that our baby did not have a heartbeat. I couldn't believe it, but we saw that Ben's heart was not moving and there was fluid surrounding his brain and abdomen. I was in shock. I was confused as to what just happened, why it happened, and that is was actually happening. I missed Ben already. I cried.
Our oldest son was the most affected outwardly, and still cries to this day because he misses Ben so much. It was days of confusion, trying to figure out what caused Ben to pass, why he would die, questions of wonderment of who he would have been. I hardly slept the next few weeks, and I completely lost my appetite for about two months. I cried so much, and I longed to wake up from this nightmare. I was never angry or disappointed with God or anyone, just very sad. The day after we found out that Ben had passed, I had to go in for a D&C. I would never see, nor hold my dearly loved son. (Becky and Joe were able to get Ben's footprints which are shown below.)
Our pastor visited us right before Ben's delivery. He asked to come to the hospital to be with us. He said that he could not stop thinking about us. This affirmed Ben's life in so many ways, that Ben's short little life was great enough and mattered enough to him. Our pastor prayed with us, reassured us that Ben was in Heaven, and that we had an Angel watching over us. He listened to us talk, and he sat there with us when nothing needed to be said. His company was expectantly what we needed.
The day of Ben's funeral and burial, was a very sad but a very peaceful day for Joe and me. I was not expecting to feel peace. I think I trusted God that much, that I understood that Ben was in Heaven with God and that was okay, but I still longed for him to be with me. If he can't be with me, the best place for him is with God. We saw a rainbow at the cemetery when we visited him two days later, and we took that as a sign that Ben was with us. Every time I see a rainbow, I feel Ben with me. The same is true when I see the sun break through the clouds and feel the warmth of the sun, of Ben's presence. Ben's genetic tests came back normal, as did lab tests done on me. Ben did not suffer or feel pain, I hope.
Joe: We were driving to what we believed was a standard appointment with our OBGYN. I was on the phone dealing with an emergency at work and talking with some executives with my company on the way to the appointment. Upon arriving at the Clinic, I ended my phone meeting, grabbed my wife's hand, and walked into the appointment. When the ultrasound started, I remember telling myself to stop thinking about my emergency at work and focus on the ultrasound. I told myself this four or five times, in the first 10 minutes of the ultrasound. After about 10 minutes, our technician left and said she had to talk to the doctor. My heart beat in my chest, and I nervously tried to find some words to reassure my wife - I feared for the worst but could not believe that it could be real. Then the doctor came in, looked for about one minute, and then told us, "There is no heartbeat, not a very good outcome for this one I am afraid. I am sorry."
I placed my arms around my wife and I felt horrible for her - yet I felt numb. I felt nothing, just dumb shock. In retrospect, I would not allow myself to feel anything then. We asked the doctor how it happened, but we were not able to get an answer. He said he would run some tests before and after the upcoming D&C we would have to schedule the next day.
We then went home, and I consoled Becky. I had no tears, and showed little to no emotion. I felt nothing inside but a numb sadness. It was summer time. When we got home we told our kids, Joey, Annabelle, Jacob, and family that was there that included Ben's aunt and godmother. The entire family sobbed. My eyes only watered a few tears as I saw everyone else's tears, as I tried to console my wife, kids, and family. We called family, and let them know.
A few hours later I went upstairs by myself, shut the door and I was by myself for the first time since we found out. I wept, uncontrollably, for about five minutes. I was angry at God, sad, and I felt horrible for my wife, my son Ben, and my family. I cried harder than I ever did, at this point in my life, in those five minutes. I then told myself that I needed to be strong for my wife, and I was. Although when by myself, and even at times when I was with Becky, I wept on and off daily for the first few weeks, then weekly, and now over one year later, my eyes will still shed a tear or two a few times a month.
Our pastor came to the hospital, and spend about one and a half hours with us before the D&C. He did the funeral and burial. This holy man was filled with the love of Christ, and he helped us through a very difficult time. We will always be deeply grateful to him for the love that he showed our family and our son, Ben.
What has been (or was) the hardest part about losing Ben?
Becky: The void that it has left in our daily lives and hearts. I miss him terribly each day. I wait for him to talk to me, to run up and hug me. I want to hold him, to touch him, to talk to him, and kiss him. I want to be a Mommy to him. I don't get to "have" him in an earthly sense. I wonder how he would fit into our family dynamic, how our other children would interact with him, and how he would respond to them. I feel such a longing to be with him. My feelings have surprised me. Time does help slightly, but I have such a deep sadness in my heart even today. I am still shocked that he is not with us. He is supposed to be here with us. I am supposed to be his Mommy and take care of him, and I can't. I can just love him. I do small things for him, just as I do for my other children. These small things are actually great big things to me, and I hope that they are to him. I try to hold onto him in any way that I can.
Joe: During the pregnancy, it was an incredibly stressful time for me and work, and I brought that home. I had the responsibility for 120 jobs, with about a third of them at risk at that time. I was able to save everyone's job and help our company grow through a very difficult time. Yet, I did that at the expense of my family. I worked 60 hour weeks, and when I was not working I was thinking about work. After Ben died, I realized that my priorities were not in the right order. My own family, wife and kids, needed to come first. I needed to separate work from home. I needed to put boundaries on what I would do for work. I wondered if I had done that sooner, if Ben would have lived. I remembered how hard the pregnancy was for my wife, and I felt like I let her down and Ben down. My wife lovingly reminded me to focus on family first. Yet, it took the death of my son, to not take the lives of those who I love most, for granted. My failure to be a husband and dad who is completely there, was the hardest part, as I knew that I had let those who I love, the most down.
In retrospect, with time and prayer, I do not believe that this caused the death of Ben. Yet, I will say that Ben has taught me the most valuable lesson of my life about what is really important - God, family, love of others, and then work. In the past I believed that I lived those priorities in that order. But looking back, I did not.
Do you have any regrets, or things that looking back, you wish you would have done, related to Ben, your spouse, or your living children?
Becky: I wish we would have celebrated Ben's pregnancy more. I wish that I could have taken it in a little more, been more present to Ben. I was so busy with my three other children, and Joe not being home or mentally present. I wish my husband would have done the same. I often feel like we missed Ben's life, that we took his life for granted. I would love to go back and cherish Ben, while he was alive in my tummy.
Joe: I wish I would have worked less, and been more helpful to my wife during the pregnancy. I wish that I would have been truly present with my wife and kids. I have learned to do this as a result of Ben dying.
Any advice for bereaved parents, or anything that has been said or read, that has helped you?
Becky: The most comforting advice that I received, was given to us from our brother-in-law's parents in the form of a poem titled, "God Sent to Me An Angel" by Paul Dammon. These parts touch and speak to my heart: " My Children are all precious and none is like the rest. Each one to me is special, And the least is as the best. I send each one from Heaven and I place it in the care of those who know my mercy, those with love to spare." God gave us Ben because we had extra love to give, yet somehow knew we needed more love to receive from Ben. I often think of Ben as a tiny little baby, who needs someone to love him and care for him, because he is just a tiny baby. And I know that he is so very special to God, even though he is so tiny, sweet, and helpless. I picture Ben as a sweet, little lamb in Jesus' loving arms being loved, held, and cherished. He is in the best care. I just wish that I could give that to him, also. Our in-laws also wrote a handwritten note reminding us that Jesus holds the lambs in his arms. That has stuck with me so much that I think of Ben as a beautiful baby, but also a little lamb in God's care. This inspired me to choose a picture of Jesus holding a little lamb "our Benjamin" in his arms, for Ben's headstone. I kiss the lamb daily. I appreciate that my true friends let me talk about Ben, and they engage in my conversation versus changing the subject. Validation of Ben's life is amazing, and I need that. Today I say that "I have five children. Our fourth child passed away, and is in Heaven. I miss him a lot, and I think about him all of the time." Prayers and masses have been offered up for Ben. These gifts are heartwarming, and show me that others love Ben too. As a mom, that means the world to me, that family and friends love my son that they never met.
Joe: Everything happens for a reason. Listen, it is okay if you are angry with God, or even doubt that He exists. This is a normal reaction. I knew God existed, but I felt betrayed for a short period of time. Even if you don't want to, or think that it is pointless, pray for the ability to discover God's will and love through this. Do this daily- for a long time. If you have an open and sincere heart, your will and your life will be better than before your tragedy as a result. I know this sounds crazy, but God can make so much good come out of bad. Everything happens for a reason. Make good come out of bad. Live your life with purpose and zeal! Every breath is a gift that should be used to love God and love others!
What is one thing that you are grateful that you did?
Becky: We do things that show Ben we love him, and that he a part of our family. We treat him just like our other children. We talk about Ben, and include him in our prayers. Our children talk about him a lot, and they even tell others about him. They truly love Ben deeply. He receives little gifts for holidays, which he shares with his siblings. I pray with him, and bless him each day. I will trace a heart in the dirt, grass or snow, where his little body lays. We occasionally send (release) balloons, with hand-written notes and pictures attached, to Ben, just as we did when we buried him. We are probably most grateful that we had a funeral Mass and burial for our son. We gave him a soft, white blanket (washed of course in baby detergent), that he was swaddled in, Joe's rosary, a giraffe rattle toy, and handmade notes and pictures to show that we love(d) him. I baked an angel food cake and frosted it for the after-party to celebrate his life!
Joe: My wife and I founded, The Benjamin Isaac Foundation, named after Ben. The foundation helps children in need by giving nutrition, healthcare, education, safety, love, and faith to children around the world in need. Our goal is to eventually help thousands of kids every year and touch thousands of lives. This foundation would have never happened, had Ben not died. (More details on The Benjamin Isaac Foundation can be found under "Help Other Causes" on our Remembrance page.)
Describe one "gift" that you feel Ben has given you and/or your family?
Becky: The greatest gift that Ben gave us was his little brother Paul. If Ben would have never passed away, Paul would have never existed. I see no greater gift than Ben laying down his life for his brother. Ben is the most awesome big brother. We honored Ben when we gave Paul the middle name of Benjamin. When Ben died, we immediately knew that we needed to have more family time, to spend more time together, and to love each other better. We try to do that now.
Joe: I am happy that I learned to love my wife and kids more. I am happy that I learned to live in the moment. I am happy that I learned how to be present in a conversation. I am happy that I learned how to bring my faith in God into my daily life, and to use that create and build purpose-driven companies that are dedicated to helping others and giving its employees work-life balance. I am happy that The Benjamin Isaac Foundation exists today, and we are helping a lot of people as a result of Ben's life. More than anything, Ben gave us the gift of his life and no greater love there is than this, to lay down one's life for a friend.
What has Ben taught you? And with that, how have you changed since Ben's death?
Becky: Our meaning of "to love" has changed. I " take a breath" now with my family. I try to be more present, to slow down. I take in the moment, and cherish it. I stop what I am doing, and take part in what my husband or children are doing because that is more important to experience their life than to get frivolous things done at home. To love better means to be more gentle, more joyful, to judge less, and be more patient. It also means to be more present to those we love each day. I strive now to be a better person, and a better mom. I hug, smile, and kiss more. I listen more, and better. I care more about the little things in my family's lives. I get angry less. I understand that life is fragile and fleeting, and that changes my whole perspective on daily life and worries. I worry less about getting things done, and focus more on my relationships. I will never get to experience Ben's earthly life, but I try to make the most of my time with my husband and kids. I have also found the motivation to be a better person because I want to get to Heaven so badly to be with Ben. Ben's life has given me a vision of how I need to live in order to get to Heaven to be with God and Ben. I have learned that prayers are powerful. During Paul's very stressful pregnancy, I found comfort in praying to Ben for Paul. I felt that Ben took my prayers right to God. Paul was protected. Many family members and friends, prayed for us and for Ben, after Ben died. I am sure that the prayers gave us grace to feel peace. I am more confident in my own prayers too. I now feel comfortable praying for others, and I actually feel that they help. This change has come about as a result of the power of others' prayers for Ben, our family, and for Paul.
Joe: Ben's gift is a purpose filled life for me. This is what he taught me. Had he not lived, and died, I would have not known how to live a purpose-filled life in the present moment. Instead, I would always be thinking about the future when I can really make a difference instead of seeing right now, in this very moment, how I can live a purpose filled life by loving others and loving God. Ben has brought my wife and I closer, and he is always my best friend. Now she is just even closer to me, and I am to her! Given all of these things, I am glad that Ben was created, lived, and even can even be at peace with his death because God had a plan with it, and it has and will bring good into the world!