Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Remembering Parker (January 15 to 22, 1997)

Fifteen years ago this week, a star was born in the lives of our dear friends Catherine and Doug. Their son Parker was born at just 23 weeks gestation in January 1997 (a scant few weeks after we had finished our own 17-week stay in the neonatal intensive care unit [NICU]).

If 24 weeks is too early to be born, 23 weeks is much, much earlier. When you are a micropreemie, each day matters exponentially. And the sad fact is that white male babies fare the worst--if you are to be born a preemie, it's best to be a female of color (in terms of your chances of survival). I've always thought this was some form of sick divine justice, since females of color have the hardest road in life.

Parker lived for only seven days. And during those seven days, his parents and older brother learned that each day with him was a blessing. We met Catherine and Doug a few months after Parker died, when they joined the NICU Family Advisory Board, of which we were members. I remember being stunned by their willingness and commitment to continue to be involved at the hospital, and to give back by supporting other parents who were going through the heaven and hell of the NICU. Their generosity and fullness of soul, inspired by their son, blew me away.

A night out with our dear friends, 2007
As soon as we met Catherine and Doug, we were drawn to them. They are two of the kindest, most generous and loving, and spiritual people we have had the honor to know. Through our friendship with Catherine and Doug, and other dear friends who also lost their children, we have come to a better understanding of what it means to lose a precious child. (Of course, I believe that one can never truly understand this unless you go through it yourself. That's why it's important to seek out others for support.) I have heard stories about the completely stupid things people say to bereaved parents, and I have learned how difficult it is for them to answer the casual question of how many children they have. I have learned about how devastating it is for a parent to let go of a child and to allow the child leave this earth. I have learned that the pain never goes away, no matter how many years pass. And how important it is for the child to be remembered, talked about, and honored.

And although part of me that believes that prayer and positive thinking have some value, that value is severely limited. For no amount of prayer, devoted love, and positive thinking saved the lives of Parker, Zacary, Olivia, Grant, Jonah, and so many other little ones lost.

Parker's family honors him daily by lighting a candle for him, and they set aside January each year as a month to go to the beach and remember him in their own ways. He will always be part of their family, no matter how many years go by.

Catherine and Doug, and so many other people we've come to know, have been some of the most significant blessings we've received from the NICU experience (and getting involved with supporting other parents who have had NICU babies). Together, we have weathered more storms. Doug rushed to the hospital the night Zacary died, and his quiet, calming, and loving presence was such a gift. Soon after I experienced my first miscarriage (of four), I remember attending a Precious Beginnings (the parent support organization we all founded) holiday party and being overcome with love and support...from the only people I could have imagined feeling comfortable around...because they all keenly understood loss.

Doug and Calder with our
Baby Kieran, 2003
Catherine and Doug went onto have another son, Calder, who is a bit younger than Chris. Their older son, Pierce, went off to the University of Oregon this fall. They do not live very far away, but we rarely get to see them...between work commitments, kid activities, and other things that get in the way. But they are true soul friends. I am extremely thankful to Parker for bringing them into my life. I just wish that I had been able to meet him and thank him myself.

Our friends are just two of many hero parents who lose children and go on to help others through the process. I will leave you with these beautiful words, which Catherine wrote for a Precious Beginnings newsletter many, many years ago:
Catherine with
little Nicholas

Our son Parker was born in January 1997 at 23 weeks old. He only lived for seven days in the NICU. It was where he lived his life…where he was born and where he died. When he was born we did not know what to expect. We felt so lonely in this new world of the NICU. We wanted to know our future. We wanted to change the past. We were powerless. So we chose to do the one thing that we had total control over…to love him and to appreciate each moment of his existence. To celebrate his life and marvel in the midst of the unexpected, that here before us was our beautiful son.

Through the noise of the machines, from the shock and disbelief that this was happening to us, to the blur of our life having been enveloped by a world we did not choose…somehow, we tried to stay as focused as we could and to remember that this child of ours was a gift.

We now appreciate those days and those moments. For whatever reason, that was all we were meant to have with Parker in this life. But he blessed us with wonderful gifts: experiencing the power and magnitude of love, and the genuine goodness in others. And learning that life, for however long it is or whatever it may be like, is precious, and we should appreciate each moment.
May the power, the beauty, and the love of your child give you strength.

We love you and are keeping you in our hearts, Catherine, Doug, Parker, Pierce, and Calder. Thank you for blessing all the lives you have touched.


  1. Beautiful post Marie. I recall a good friend of a good friend going through losing an infant like this around the same time. I'll share this with her. I've learned to just tell grieving people I'm so sorry they are having to experience whatever going through and leave it at that. we DON'T know what they are feeling.

  2. Catherine, Doug, and their family have continued to use their experience of pain, loss, and great love to bless so many other people. You are truly amazing. Shirley Gettel

  3. Laurie Coy-InscoreJanuary 18, 2012 at 5:59 PM

    Marie,I read your beautiful tribute to Parker, and had to take some time to come back and respond, as I too, ended up with tears rolling down my face. You all are such a gift that I will always cherish. Love Laurie

  4. Like Jill, this also made me think of a friend of mine whose infant died last year. What a lovely post - thank you.

  5. What a heartbreaking but inspiring story. I am the friend Make it Happen Mama is talking about. My son Corbin died May 17, 2011 from heart defects. He spent his whole life, minus one day, in the hospital battling his disease.
    Honoring Corbin's life has given me purpose and a passion to educate other mothers about heart defects and the test that can detect them: pulse ox.

    Thank you for sharing.

  6. Thank you all for your comments. To Corbin's mom, my friend Laurie, who commented above, also lost her beloved child to a heart defect. If you click on the link to Zacary in the blog, you can read his story.