Amazing Grace

by Walter Pierce

Life and parenting after loss

Life and parenting after loss. By Kelly Leger

Monday, Dec. 2, 2013

Abby, 3, with her brother Lane, 11 months. Lane died in 2005, and
mother Kelly says Abby has since found support at Healing House
for grieving children.

In 2005, my husband Jacob and I lost our 11-month-old son Lane Michael. To say it was sudden is an understatement. Within 24 hours of learning he was injured by his caregiver he was gone. What followed were years of court battles and legal proceedings as we sought justice, answers and "closure."

In our search we found relentless pain, gut-wrenching, never-felt-before raw emotion and all consuming-blinding-utter confusion. We found that the justice system is imperfect and often fails miserably. We found that there are no answers this side of heaven. We found that the word "closure" does not exist in the vocabulary of a parent who has buried a child.

We also found boundless, endless grace. We found a deep personal connection to heaven. We found a path that while we would never have chosen it for ourselves, our marriage and our family - it is a path we would not change if given the choice. Our journey is eight years in the making, and along for the ride are our three daughters - Abby Kate, Mary-Grace and Molly Claire.

Abby was 3 years old when Lane died. Because of the circumstances and the urgency of the situation we made a very quick decision to send her off with a family friend until further notice. She never saw Lane in the hospital. We have never regretted that decision because we felt that the image of her baby brother with tubes and wires connected should not be ingrained in her little memory.

She saw Lane that Thursday morning with a cookie in his hand and then six days later she saw him again very peacefully sleeping in his "new bed" all dressed up to go and meet the angels. When visiting his grave after that, we simply referred to it as visiting Lane's name and picture. It was important to us that she imagine Lane running, jumping and playing in paradise. As she grew older, she better understood that the grave held his physical body but his spirit and soul were in heaven.

Before we met with the funeral home, Jacob and I met with our priest looking for guidance. He helped us grasp the concept of death and heaven more clearly. The day after we buried Lane we had our first counseling session at The Family Tree. We were completely lost and dazed with how to cope and live in a world without our son. We had no clue how to help Abby cope with the death of her brother. For four years we sought counseling, sometimes together and sometimes apart. Our counselor had a deep Christian faith and the encouragement and guidance she provided was always biblically based. She prayed for us. She prayed with us. She prayed over us. She prayed us through.

We learned very early on that we simply grieved differently. My husband needed to retreat and deal with his loss alone. I needed to talk. And talk and talk. So we gave each other respect and space. I don't know what he said to Lane on his sometimes daily trips to the grave or what he screamed at God from a mountaintop in Evanston, Wyo. And he doesn't know the nights I sat up pleading with God at 3 a.m. or what I wrote in the sand alone at the beach. All we knew was that we lost our son and we had to find a way to function and raise a healthy, happy daughter in the process.

At age 4, Abby and I started attending Healing House group sessions. She joined a group in which every child had lost a sibling. The ages ranged from 4 years old to teenagers. The difference didn't seem to matter. All of those children had pain. While they played, created, sang, ran, punched pillows, laughed and cried, we parents had our own meeting.

Kelly Leger, after suffering the loss of her son in
2005, says giving her girls freedom has been the toughest
part of the grieving process.

The pain in that room was sometimes so thick - especially if we had a new member that day. We had all lost children, all in different ways. Our losses ranged from sicknesses like heart conditions where those parents had months or years to prepare for the inevitable to boating accidents and asthma attacks that took children within minutes or hours. Despite the manner of the loss or amount of time they had to prepare, we all shared one common thread - a parent is never prepared to bury their child and a sibling is never prepared to say goodbye to a brother or sister.

Jacob and I also attended several local Compassionate Friends meetings at the beginning of our journey. While we didn't find the meetings were the right fit for us, we have found much healing and hope every year at the candle ceremony at Christmas time.

When Abby was younger, issues would creep up from time to time. She developed several irrational fears, including becoming terrified of ceiling fans and dishwashers. We are not exactly sure how or why those particular things caused her so much anxiety, but in time it faded. We acknowledged that her fear was real and tried to protect her as best we could - making sure fans and dishwashers were off wherever she went, and our family and friends always accommodated her. Our counselor would offer insight and resources to guide us as we navigated what we needed to treat as a phase and what we needed to be truly concerned about.

Losing a child has changed the way we do everything. The way we pray, handle challenges and most noticeably, the way we parent. Letting our girls find their wings has been the most challenging part of the grieving process. It is something we battle every day. We want to lock Abby, now 12, in an ivory tower for a decade or, better yet, send her to the convent. We want to wrap Mary-Grace, 3, in bubble wrap with a leash attached to her waist.

And we want to swaddle Molly, 3 months old, up to her neck and keep her safe in her crib with the rails raised high. But we can't do that (or so I'm told). So we let Abby have a social life and a cell phone. We let Mary-Grace climb the ladder to the slide and walk on the green line in the school parking lot without holding our hand. And we let Molly roll and play on the floor and go barefoot even though it's below 78 degrees. Because it is Abby who kept us breathing and putting one foot in front of the other in those first devastating years. It is Mary-Grace who answered so many prayers and has filled the house with unending laughter again. And it is Molly who surprised us beyond belief into knowing how much the Leger train needed her to be the caboose. We owe it to our girls to let them spread those wings and fly. (But Momma's got the bubble wrap in her purse!)

[Editor's Note: In 2005, 11-month-old Lane Leger died after suffering a skull fracture and brain injuries. His then babysitter was prosecuted in his death and later convicted of negligent homicide and sentenced to five years in prison. Following his death Lane's family founded Lane's Promise to provide Christmas to local families in memory of their son.]