Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Hunter James.

We've come to expect stories of love for Valentines Day. Although its a few days before the 14th, I'm choosing today to share a piece of my heart in the telling of my nephew Hunter's story. Its a true story of love and it deserves a special time to be told. And you can't help but look at these pictures and not see the love flowing out.

He was born on October 16th, 2000. My bond with him started before he was even born. I had already decided with the blessing of my husband that on the date of his birth I would fly to Minnesota with my mother-in-law and Nolan who was just 5 months old. I wanted to seize what I knew may be the only opportunity to be around for the birth of one of my nieces or nephews. So while Rick's sister, Missy was having her c-section, Rick's mom Carole and I and Nolan were on a plane on our way to Minnesota from Idaho. Here is what I remember upon my first meeting of Hunter... he was a tiny little peanut weighing in at just 6 1/2 lbs. After lugging about my chubby 5 month old who gave me a pain in the back and aching arms whenever I went to hold him, Hunter was light as air and snuggled just perfectly in my arms. I delighted in his wrinkly skin and the little "o" of his mouth. He was perfection. Missy on the other hand had a nasty sinus infection and pain from the c-section incision that caused her to wince whenever she moved. I just enjoyed the extra snuggling time it afforded me. Until, the Grandma's arrived that is. And there were many of them, more than just the standard two. As the friends poured in the scene became that of a little party with oooohs and ahhhhhs raining down over this tiny bundle of love.

I enjoyed one last visit with Hunter after he had been brought home from the hospital. We weren't sure how big brother Gunnar was going to take having a new little brother around, but if there are any doubts one only needs to just look at the pictures. To this day Gunnar has a very loving nature and a sensitive heart, the seeds of which were no doubt planted in those early days with his new little brother.

Our next trip home to Minnesota was over Christmas when Rick and I were honored to be asked by Missy and her husband Dan to be Hunter's godparents. We had stayed out at the lake with Rick's mom and dad the night before the baptism. Nolan was in the early stages of teething and a miserable night ensued. I recall walking the floors with him most of the night until Grandma Carole came and rescued me in the early hours of the big day. To say that I was sleep deprived is an understatement. So often my own journey of being a new mommy with Nolan was a rough one filled with days of colicky discomfort, crying jags that lasted for hours and too many sleepless nights to keep track of. I honestly remember very little of the details of the church service and the baptism itself. We were clearly on autopilot.

And Rick's job was a demanding one. So while we knew Rick's Grandpa Harold was having heart problems and scheduled to have bypass surgery in January, we ran out of time and did not get a chance to go and visit him before we left for Idaho. It was a growing period of unrest in our personal lives. The pressure and demands of Rick's job were mounting. Each long drive back to Minnesota, an 18 hour drive through the mountains which was tricky at best, was now complicated with the addition of our tempermental baby who cried his way through many of those long drives. But between baptisms and births and holidays and surgeries our pull for going to Minnesota became a mighty tug on our hearts.

It was out of the blue that one day in February that Rick declared his regrets over not having spent time with his Grandpa over Christmas. It seems that he was just as mired in uneasiness as I was. So while we heard Grandpa had come through surgery fine, Rick said he thought he would feel better just to see him for himself. It would be one of our quickest trips ever to Minnesota spending just a few days before we would return back to Idaho, but I was buoyed by the sense of how much it nourished my soul every trip home we made. In the back of our minds I think we both knew we wanted to have this visit with Grandpa in case it was indeed our last.

It was a whirlwind trip to be sure. But at the center of it all was the time we spent with Grandpa Harold and Grandma Ethelyn. Rick's parents were taking care of Gunnar and Hunter that week so on the day before we left we all gathered one last time and took this one quick picture of 4 generations... from Great Grandparents down to the newest Great grandchild which was Hunter. Hunter had just come from his 4 month check up and Grandma Carole filled me in on all the details as I fed him his bottle that afternoon. I intentionally savored the moment as Nolan was breastfed and bottles weren't part of our routine. I still recall how tiny he was, but fiercely strong at the same time. He was hungry and let us know with a short burst of loud crying.

But the unease and unrest in our lives continued to plague us. It was palpable. Yet nameless and shapeless, hanging over us like a too heavy blanket that neither one of us could muster enough strength to get out from underneath.

The night before we left Minnesota, Rick and I went out for dinner alone, taking advantage of a babysitter in my mom. We had planned an early start for our drive back to Idaho, so we packed the car that night and headed off for bed. In the middle of the night, I awoke with my stomach churning. In an instant I was running for the bathroom, praying I wouldn't wake Nolan up. I was violently sick in three different waves that night. Whether it was a case of food sickness or stomach flu, we couldn't be sure. I have always said my gut speaks to me and yet, to this day I don't know why I chose to ignore the signs that night. I woke up weak and tired. I begged for one more day to stay and rest. I felt heaviness and dread over leaving. But Rick was getting worried about missing yet another day of work. I had to stick to my end of the bargain. I gathered some strength and as soon as I could keep a few sips of Sprite down, we left for Idaho. To this day, it was one of the most miserable rides home. Nolan was downright inconsolable, cranky, with two blistery bumps appearing on his gums, we assumed to be teeth trying to come in. Rick was stressed with email and voicemail backing up and mounds of work piling up at home. And I was sensing the heavy blanket descending upon me again, having only managed to kick it aside temporarily.

It was just two short hours from our home in Twin Falls, Idaho that we got the call. Rick answered his cell phone and he was extremely quiet. Between the whimpering cries of Nolan and the hum of the tires on the road, his voice was barely audible. He put the phone down and said not a word. Assuming I knew the words he was about to speak I said something to the effect of "I'm sorry. We knew your Grandpa was sick and this is what we expected."

He remained quiet. After a minute, maybe two, he finally spoke. "It wasn't Grandpa who died, he said, it was Hunter. He went down for his nap at daycare and did not wake up..."

When "they" say your life changes in an instant, looking back, perhaps we began to experience what that means on that day. For me it began in that moment. I remember grabbing Nolan from his car seat, and holding him, tears streaming for the longest time. When I did speak I began whispering in his ear. I told him I understood how he must feel. I told him it was okay if he felt like whimpering. In fact he could whimper, cry and scream and I would try harder to comfort him. I was done complaining about his way of being in this world. I was done on many levels.

The ache in my arms from holding Nolan became a sudden comfort to me, because I could only imagine that real aching comes from not being able to hold your child anymore. A mother was born again that day. My tears mingled with Nolan's as we held tight to each other the rest of the ride home. I had no idea our new path in life was beginning to stretch out before us.

It was suddenly like the priorities in my life had become subject to a game of 52 card pickup... they were thrown in the air, reordered mid-flight and tumbled down in randomness. The old pattern was worn, rendered useless and eventually abandoned. We were guided now to make the best decisions based on our new sense of the precariousness of life. We hadn't been called home for Grandpa, but for Hunter. While easily acknowledging we had each felt a compelling need to go to Minnesota, we were so out of touch, we hadn't understood the real reason.

But we had been reawakened. Our frequency had been changed. Rick didn't even hesitate. This time we would fly back to Minnesota. He would sit next to me, taking turns holding Nolan and giving us his now undivided attention. For the first time ever he sent out an email to his customers telling them about his personal life and asking them to understand his absence yet again. It began a new relationship with many of those customers who became friends and family that day, sharing in our grief. I couldn't have articulated at the time, but Hunter's love had a firm grasp on our future.

When we arrived in Fargo two days later, late at night, I shouldn't have been surprised, but Missy herself was there to greet us at the airport. In one of the most loving gestures of a newly grieving mom I have ever witnessed, she grabbed Nolan from Rick's arms and hugged him, without a moment's hesitation. It was the first of many acts of love to come.

While I certainly can't downplay the grief that we all felt, it was the loving gestures that have stayed with me and I choose to focus on. Over the course of the next few days there were hugs, shared stories, lots of pictures of a deeply loved little boy, and too many tears. But there was an absence of the why me's, and the why's in general. I am not saying we didn't try to make some sense of it. I am not saying there wasn't hurt and anger and a deep sense of loss. But no answer was sufficient. We were instead unified in our love for Hunter and his family.

I know now, that there are varying degrees of the kinds of grief you feel. The grief for a child is as much about all you knew about them, and all that you would never get the chance to know. But I envision them. Especially when I see the display in the picture below. I think of the 8- year-old things he would have been doing now. I wonder if he would have ended up with red hair? And I pray every day that he knows how loved he is and that we think about him all the time.

My mother-in-law came up with the idea of the little display shown in the picture down below. It has one of the flowers from his funeral and a little angel pin attached to it. Missy's own mother-in-law, in an extremely loving gesture took her wedding diamonds and had them set inside Missy's angel pin that she wears daily. My display sits in my living room, with a picture of Hunter, and is my own daily reminder of all of the blessings that have flowed through him. But its a choice I make every day. The tears still come at times, but over time the joy has filled in around them.

I still think we work at reconciling the loss of a 4 month old. And in time some things have come to light that help give some perspective. I found myself sitting next to Missy and Dan at Uncle Jack's funeral earlier this year. Apparently she was on the same wavelength as I was. We both saw that Uncle Jack and Aunt Alice had lost an infant many years ago. The week before, as we sat at Grandma Etheyln's funeral, we were reminded of the twin baby girls that she and Grandpa Harold had lost. Maybe, genetics played a bigger role than I could have imagined.

Ultimately I credit his little life with the monumental task of bringing us home. It still took us almost 2 mores years to facilitate a move from Idaho. But putting our family first has never been in question again.

Missy and I have emailed back and forth these past few days. I thought the last little bit she shared might be useful. Its so hard to know what to say at a tragic time of loss. What she found to be the most useful? Were the people who offered their love and hugs and said very little at all. Words meant for comfort, while being well-intentioned, can fail miserably at times like these, more than we know.

What I do know is this. I was so very honored to be given this chance to share Hunter's story. What I also know, 8 years later, quite simply, is this. His life mattered. He mattered. He is missed. He is loved. He lived a big life for 4 short months, but the blessings and love he brought to our family will last a life time.


  1. I can feel the month you put into this... the care and love and grief and celebration of a life that affected so many.

    You paid tribute so beautifully, friend, and the love you have for Hunter and your entire family is palpable. I wish I had better words to say after you so generously handed us your heart... other than thank you for sharing him with us. He's beautiful.

    When my friend Kelly's young daughter died of cancer, moments after Kaitlyn slipped away, Kelly turned to me and said, "It just doesn't make any sense." And in that moment all that came to my mind to say was, "I just don't have any words." It wasn't until that moment that I understood what your sister-in-law shared with us... no words are enough for a mom with empty arms. Thanks for reminding us of that, too.

    Love you.

  2. Vicky,
    What an amazing story. What a tragic event to have gone through. It sure makes you appreciate what you have in front of you. I'm sorry you had to go through this.
    Thank you for sharing the story.

  3. Sharing a story such as this is taking a HUGE risk in how it will be received. But I knew those that come to read are loving and would help me show some love at this anniversary time. I so appreciate all of your words, always Gitz. Missy will too.

  4. Amy,
    Hey I'm sorry I missed you at the game last night. Colton has just had a cough the last few days, but then yesterday he got a high fever again... thanks for coming to read and leave your kind words. Yes, I have such a good reminder every day to be appreciative!

  5. Vicky,
    Thank you so much for blogging about this. I have to be honest, I'm having a hard time figuring out the right words to express what I feel. I will never forget the day Matt called me to tell me that little Hunter had passed away. Our hearts overflowed with sadness not only because of this unbelievable loss for Missy and Dan but also because we hadn't gotten a chance to get to know Hunter yet. The pictures on your post of Gunnar and Hunter are so adorable, what little angels they were. I'm not sure how a parent gets through a loss like this but I do know that Missy is truly the strongest person that I know, she is amazing in her strength and positive spirit.
    I understand the pull you felt towards being home and it's amazing to look back on the path that got you back there and the moments that impact your life so significantly that it makes you look at your life in a different light. You are right, as we sometimes need reminding, family is the most important thing.

  6. Julie,

    Thank you! That was beautiful. Ditto everything you said. I'm soooo glad Missy was willing to let me share about him. Her strength is truly amazing along with her loving spirit. Please give Miss Mackenzie a big hug and kiss from us! And so you know, we plan to come visit as soon as we can! The boys would do it today if we could :)

  7. Vicky: Since I am now home with two sick kids I can post! Anyway I remember seeing that posted at work b/c your father in law was a teacher at the HS. I remember feeling so sad because I had a little baby...God does things we can never understand.
    I am so glad that you were able to pay a tribute to him. There is never a "too late" when it comes to honoring people.

  8. Bonnie, who is sick? I'll cross my fingers for no vomit!
    We never know what is in store for us do we? Thanks for taking the time to write when I know you have your hands full! And give that sweet baby boy a hug from me :)

  9. Vicky I've been gone all day to my sweet friend Beth's dad's funeral. It was a long way off and I kept thinking about your post. I hadn't read it yet but I could tell yesterday that it cost you something to write it.
    Sure enough after reading it I know it cost you emotionally. Thank you for taking us there. For sharing your heart about Baby Hunter. When a child goes before the adults there are so many feelings and questions and emotions...I watched my mom and dad and the pain they felt over loosing my little brother...pain my dad still feels, and one thing stands out to me...they don't want anyone to forget him. His life mattered, like Hunter's little mattered. Today, you pay tribute to a sweet baby whose life mattered and will always matter. I'm so humbled and honored to know a tiny bit about this precious little to all of you...

  10. Robin, I am so glad you shared about your own parent's journey with the loss of your brother. I love your voice of experience. I was thinking about you this morning as you too have had an emotional day and I am touched you still made sure to come here. Thank you for taking the time to share your heart! Your words were especially comforting to me today. Love to you too!

  11. This was an incredible post from start to finish. What a beautiful tribute to many things. I think you said it all when you said that Hunter bought many blessings and much love to your family which will last a life time. Thank you Missy and Vicky for sharing this beautiful angel with us. It could not have been easy to do but thank you. The messages are very pertinent to us all. Thank you.

  12. Lilly,

    I have been thinking about the fires all day! Thank you for your kind words, I am touched that you as well take the time to come here and read when you are in the midst of chaos. I will be thinking of you and coming back to check on things.

  13. Vicky,

    Thank you for your sweet email. It meant so much to me.

    I am so sorry for the loss of your nephew. How terrible that must have been for you, and for his mother. I have a friend who lost one of her twins at 3 mo. and it was so horrible for her. Sometimes I behave as though she has healed, I 'forget' that this is a burden she always carried. There is some healing, but it is always an aching empty hole, an absence that we have learned to deal with.

    Thank you so much for sharing this with us. I am sorry that you lost little Hunter. He was a beautiful boy, and I do not doubt for a moment that he brought you all great joy.

  14. Anita,

    I know it couldn't have been easy for you to be here. Thank you for your kind words. It was the icing on the cake to find your comment here when I got up this morning.

    Blessings and love to you this week :)


I welcome what you have to say. Thanks for taking the time to grace me with your thoughts and words!

When you get lucky

When you get lucky

Popular Posts - MN Weather, Map, Businesses and Blogs
Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape