Last month, Ontario, Ohio police posted on their Facebook page a video of a very disturbing theft. In it, a woman is shown taking a stuffed toy duck from a child’s grave. The child, a fourteen month old boy named Hayden “Tank” Cole Sheridan, died in 2007.
The Ontario police decided to set up the camera after numerous complaints from his family. The suspect has since come forward. Her claim is that she needed to move the toy so a stray dog on the property wouldn’t destroy it.
As a bereaved mom, this story really hit home. I was especially struck by the words of Hayden’s dad. In an interview, Scott Sheridan said that they would continue to decorate their son’s grave. As he put it, “That way we feel we’re including him even though he’s passed away.” My heart really goes out to Hayden’s family. I have been there. In fact, I still am.
While my family has never experienced a gravesite theft, I sure understand their pain. After the loss of my nine day old son Liam in 2008, I was shattered. For the first few months, my husband and I practically lived at the cemetery. Our first project was decorating his grave for Halloween. We set up a little ghost and put down a couple of pumpkins. Just a couple of months earlier, we had looked forward to spending this first holiday with our son. But now, this was all we had. It was the only way we could parent our child. It was all that we knew. This was our new normal.
In our particular case, the cemetery has devoted a whole section to all of the children gone too soon. It is called Holy Innocents. Almost immediately, I was touched by seeing the other gravesites. I would wander around, learning the children’s names and wondering how they passed. Some graves had been there for years. I often wondered how the parents were doing today. Were they able to survive this nightmare? Did they go on to have more children? In the beginning, my husband and I could not imagine either. Our pain was still very raw.
Even in the midst of such a tragedy, there are heartwarming moments. I will never forget our very first trip to our son’s resting place. It was the day after the funeral. There was no headstone ready for him yet. But, we still needed to be there. Grief stricken and sobbing, two ladies noticed us. They were arranging flowers on a grave. They came up to us and offered condolences. The first woman said that it was her daughter that passed. Her little girl was two years old and had a brain tumor. They were crying with us. The other woman, a friend, said something to us in Spanish. The mom translated her words as “I feel your pain.” Days later, one of our family members noticed the same mom walking by our section. She stopped by Liam’s grave, bowed her head, and left him a little flower. This gesture meant so much to my husband and I.
We often wonder if any other family members and friends have stopped by to visit Liam throughout the years. It is always nice to know that he is remembered. Within the last year or so, we found out that a friend would come by frequently. He worked near the cemetery and would visit when he could. It really touched our hearts.
It has been almost six years since our very first visit to see Liam in his final resting place. Since then, we have been blessed with a daughter and another son. My son, at two years old, is still too young to understand. However, I do discuss Liam with my four and a half year old daughter. My journey as a mom has been bittersweet, to say the very least. I do struggle with my own guilt. As life tends to get crazy with two young children, we don’t get out to the cemetery as much as we used to. In the beginning of my grief, I never thought I would see a time when we wouldn’t spend every single day there. I felt as if this was the only place where we truly belonged. It seems that every time we go, there is a new grave. Another precious life lost. I always envision parents that are as devastated and lost as we were almost six years ago. Although painful to remember, I don’t ever want to forget. This pain never goes away.
The last time we went to see Liam was the day before Easter. Our daughter was especially excited to do so. In trying to find the perfect Easter arrangement for Liam, I knew I could count on my little girl. With each month, she has become more and more involved in the process. She decided on nice pastel colors and a little bunny. It really was the perfect choice. As we drove into the cemetery, overwhelming sadness, once again fell over me. It will never be fair. It will never be okay. Even years later, the pain is still raw. And my anger is overwhelming.
As we got out of the car, I didn’t even have a chance to reach for the flowers. My daughter got to them first. As I watched her approach the grave, with hands full, my eyes filled with tears. It was such a poignant moment: my little girl helping her daddy decorate the grave of her big brother. I was one proud mom. We had come full circle. We have a couple of little helpers now. It is times such as these that I don’t need to worry about little Liam being forgotten. He will always have a mom and dad that will love him. And, now, he has two amazing younger siblings that love him too. I am counting on them to keep the memory of their big brother alive. And one day, as they have their own children, they will hopefully pass on the love. It is a beautiful thing.