A Heavenly Hope
A heartbreaking introduction, a healing friendship
Moms find solace in memorials for their babies
By: Elizabeth Leland
Kiele Cox (left) and Maggie Laskowski will place engraved bricks at Our Children's Memorial Walkway in honor of their sons. Somewhere in heaven, Brody and Nicholas are laughing. Their mothers envision them chasing butterflies, splashing in puddles and holding hands, two friends side by side. The boys didn't know each other before they died, and neither did their mothers. It was shared grief that led Maggie Laskowski and Kiele Cox to each other a month ago and now to a tiny patch of garden in uptown Charlotte, Our Children's Memorial Walkway, where bricks are engraved with names of children who have died. Because no matter how supportive family and friends are, only a mother who has lost a child can understand another mother's heartbreak. Maggie and Kiele both had healthy pregnancies last year, anticipating their first contractions with excitement, never suspecting anything might go wrong. Kiele felt Brody move around so much during her pregnancy, it was if he were doing somersaults. She warned her husband, Chris, that this child would be unlike their older son, Denzel, now a docile, easy 18-month-old. Brody, she expected, would be their wild child, a climber and a jumper, spirited and mischievous. She felt him many times in a day, every day, but only once on Saturday night, Feb. 18, nine days before he was due. It was so unusual, she mentioned it to her husband. It never occurred to them something could be wrong. Most of us carry our babies to full term, and think the worst is over. Kiele went to the doctor that Monday for a routine checkup. The nurse's aide, as always, listened for a heartbeat. This time, she didn't hear one. Another nurse listened. No heartbeat. They called in the doctor. The umbilical cord had wrapped around Brody's neck, then kinked, cutting off his oxygen. He was stillborn the next day, Feb. 21, 6 pounds 1 ounce. Kiele had dreamed for months of holding Brody. She wondered about his personality and how he and his big brother would get along. She pictured the two of them in the tub together, water splashing everywhere. Our children aren't supposed to die before we do.
~A HIGHER CALLING~
Maggie learned about Brody's death through a friend, and even though she didn't know Kiele, she felt compelled to reach out: "I ... share your tremendous faith in our Lord that there is a purpose for the tragedies in our lives," Maggie wrote Kiele, "and that our sons were meant for a higher calling." Maggie's son, Nicholas, was a little over 2 months old when Brody died. Nicholas was a beautiful boy with steel blue eyes, his mother's full lips and his father's blondish-red hair and big feet. Because of complications in labor and delivery, he was deaf, nearly blind, severely mentally retarded and had cerebral palsy. When he was born Dec. 5, the doctors said he might live a few hours. Or a few days. Maybe a few months. Maggie's wish had been that Nicholas would live long enough to go home. On his 25th day, he did. An alarm would go off when his oxygen was low, and sometimes the alarm went off 10 times in a night and each time Maggie or her husband, Michael, raced to his crib. Is this it? Nicholas was always in pain. It hurt to see his face contort into a grimace. Still, Maggie didn't want her son to die. She didn't feel strong enough to watch him die. Always a mother. And then one night, as they finished bedtime prayers, Maggie found the strength. Nicholas was lying on his father's chest, and Maggie put her head next to Nicholas, nose touching nose, and she told her son: It's OK to go. Daddy will take care of Mommy, and Mommy will take care of Daddy. I love you, Nicholas, and I am so very proud of your strength and courage. He died the next afternoon, in his mother's arms. As painful as it is to see your child die, Maggie believes Nicholas gave her the greatest gift of all -- to be a mother. Whether or not she has another child, she will always be a mother. Kiele learned of Nicholas' death through a friend. She had never answered Maggie's letter, she was so consumed by grief over Brody. Now she felt compelled to write back: "Every morning I stop and spend time with God and with Brody, trying to imagine what is going on up in Heaven, for some insight into my son's activities. This morning I asked Brody to find Nicholas if he hasn't already." She asked Brody to show Nicholas around. And then, she asked him to do one more thing: I want you to find out from Nicholas what it's like to feel your mommy's arms around you. Brody died before Kiele ever held him.
~A LOSS IN COMMON~
Kiele went to Nicholas' funeral, hoping to learn about the little boy she believes her son befriended. She didn't introduce herself to Maggie, but she signed the guest book: Kiele Cox, Brody's mom. A few days later, Maggie e-mailed Kiele: "Although I know our losses are so different and the circumstances behind them are very different also, you are the only person that I know right now that can relate to what it is that I am going through." They met for lunch, and talked that first day for nearly six hours, and have talked nearly every day since. It's as if Brody and Nicholas introduced them. Kiele, who is 32, can call Maggie, 40, when she feels guilty because somebody asked how many children she has and she said one, knowing that the person didn't want to hear about her baby who died. On days when Maggie feels guilty because the tears don't come, she can call Kiele. She calls her, too, on days when the tears won't stop.
Maggie and Kiele read about Our Children's Memorial Walkway in an Observer story, and decided it would be a place for them to honor their sons together. It is a brick walkway in Frazier Park off West Fourth Street. Around it are cherry trees, roses and three sculptures of children, a boy in overalls pushing a wheelbarrow, a girl in pigtails holding a watering can, another boy looking to the clouds. As you walk through the park, look down. Engraved on 700 bricks are the names of children who died: Megan, Jacob and Kya. Daondra, Jada and Michael. Travis, Wassim and Frankie.... Maggie and Kiele and their husbands joined other parents Saturday in a ceremony at the walkway to honor the children. This summer, when a new shipment of bricks arrives, they will lay two more, engraved with the names of their sons, Brody and Nicholas, side by side.
~MEMORIALS TO BE INSCRIBED ON BRICKS~
Nicholas M. Laskowski
God's Lil Messenger
Our Lil Sugarbear.
We love & miss you
Mommy & Daddy
Brody W. Cox
Born into God's arms
February 21, 2006
Play, Laugh, & Love
Mommy & Daddy