My mom recently found an old piece of her writing when we moved to our new house. She left in on my desk one day without any explanation, so I read it. Only a few pages in with many tears already shed, I decided that everyone should read her beautiful story. So here it is.
written by Nancy Wilson Buckler, April 1996
“It’s a boy!” cried the whole room at once. He was beautiful and huge – nine pounds even. We were so happy and thankful that our second child had just arrived safely. We named him Blake Wilson Buckler and off he went with the doctors and his Daddy to see big brother Joshua, a very excited three-year-old. Both sets of grandparents came to meet him, too. It was a happy day spent gazing at each other, cuddling and dozing, and I was totally unprepared the next morning for our world to fall apart.
“We found something wrong on Blake’s x-rays…no left ventricle of the heart…incompatible with life…” these words pounded in my ears. The neontologist said that he wasn’t a cardiologist and he hoped that his diagnosis was wrong, but Blake was being sent to Egleston Children’s Hospital in Atlanta immediately.
Suddenly we were all crying and I was in shock. All the ultrasounds, stress tests, and checkups during the pregnancy had detected no problems – a low heart rate was laughed off as “It’s a boy!” Our whole world was spinning, and next thing I knew, I saw a team of doctors and nurses who were transporting Blake running up the hall to my room so that we could see him before he left. All I could do was sob. I couldn’t hold him because he was hooked up to so many monitors, so they quickly took him to the waiting ambulance. My doctors would;t let me go even when I pleaded with them (I had just had a C-section), so my husband Steve drove the 90-mile trip back and forth and tried to be my link to Blake.
At only two-days-old, Blake underwent a heart catherization and the original diagnosis was confirmed. He was missing the left ventricle of his heart, called hypo-plastic left, and he was also double-outlet right and a list of other more minor problems…so many medical terms. The pediatric cardiologists and surgeons decided to try and repair Blake’s own heart at the age of two weeks. This would be the first in a series of surgeries. I went to stay with Blake as soon as I could, and my two sisters flew home to help my parents with Josh and take shifts at the hospital. The waiting and rocking (there were big, comfortable rockers for all the parents) and praying became our routine. Life inside a children’s hospital is something I will never forget, nor can I forget the parents and children we met and all the caring staff that are there to help people through life and death battles every day. Each one of them has my deepest respect.
The day of Blake’s surgery was so hard. My mother and sister Mary sat with us through the doctor’s terrifying explanation of that they would be doing and why. I could write for hours about how traumatic is was to hand my baby over for open-heart surgery and hear the odds of him surviving it, and the hours of tearful praying and waiting. Blake beat the odds, thank God, and did very well through the surgery. Except for a shaky day or two in intensive care, the doctors were pleased with his recovery and ten days later told us to take him home and enjoy him. Many other parents were not so lucky, and it was heartbreaking when several we had gotten close to lost their babies. Blake’s next surgery would be at age 2, if all went well.
We were so thankful and thrilled to finally have Blake home. It was a happy, emotional homecoming to Nana and Papa’s house where we stayed for a week or so. The Steve’s new job took us to Florida and he had the apartment all ready for Josh and Blake and I. We were finally together as a family, and we treasured each day. The new pediatrician was wonderful with Blake, but on the very first visit, she thought he didn’t look well. More tests were run and we were immediately on our way back to Egleston. I prayed that Blake’s original doctors would say he was just fine; unfortunately, they didn’t. The bands were apparently too tight on his arteries, and a second surgery was planned for October 16.
The days waiting for the surgery at Nana and Papa’s house were filled with special moments, lots of cuddling and picture taking. Blake was baptized in our “home” parish, St Joseph’s Catholic Church in Athens, Georgia. Steve and I both grew up in this parish and were married there in 1984; Joshua was also baptized there. Blake was always smiling and “talking” to those who got to know him. He was a beautiful baby who never looked sick, although we knew he was. We showered him with love all the more and knew each day was a gift.
October 16, 1990 was the hardest day of my life. We lost out precious Blake during his second open-heart surgery. He was three months old. Steve and I and our families, the doctors, nurses and staff all cried together in the little waiting room. I was in shock and my heart was breaking, but I felt strangely peaceful too. That night we picked up Josh and I had to explain it all to him. This was the next hardest thing I’d ever done. I told him that Blake was with Jesus now in heaven, but we would always have him in our hearts. I said he had been the best big brother to Blake and helped take care of him. Now Blake would take care of us and be our special angel, and would always know how much we loved him. We cried together and held each other very tightly.
It has been hard carrying on after Blake’s death. The grief process is long and many times Steve and I have taken our anger out on each other. We shared and lost our precious child together; no one except Steve would ever understand it as Blake’s parent. This loss is the most painful and devastating thing that has ever happened to either one of us. Counseling was very helpful when we didn’t know how to help each other, and we also joined Compassionate Friends, a wonderful support group for bereaved parents. We showered our love on Josh and tried to let time heal our hearts. Our family and friends were supportive and patient, although some dealt with it by staying away – both during and after Blake’s life. A few embraced and loved Blake wholeheartedly, and we will never forget them.
About three months after Blake died, it was really a hard time. A well-meaning priest told me to “get over this and get on with my life” – he said I was the mother of a saint and that Blake was in heaven where we are all trying to get to one day. Although I firmly believe that he is in heaven, I was still hurting too much to “get over it.” I’m not sure you ever do, but certainly not in a few months. Then a wonderful thing happened.
Josh was sleeping next to me and it was 2 a.m. I had just finished writing my journal about Blake (a counselor suggested this as an aid in healing), and I thought to myself, “OK, God, I’m going to try to move on past the pain and only focus on all the good memories. I know I’ll still have bad times, but I have to try.” As soon as I finished the thought, Josh turned over and, still asleep, said, “I just saw a rainbow!” Then he turned back over and never once woke up. I sat there and stared at him. I had just read a poem that said rainbows are a special sign from God and your child saying, “Hey, Mom, I’m OK!” I knew I could go on, and I knew God was helping me. I still think about that night like it happened yesterday.
For a long time, we were scared to have another baby because of our increased risk to have another child with a heart problem. I struggled with this over and over, and Steve didn’t know if he could go through it again. But seeing Josh without Blake was very hard; he didn’t deserve to be alone and I didn’t know what to do. Medically, I was high-risk and no one was anxious for me to have another problem pregnancy. I was so afraid both of trying again and not trying. Blake had been gone for four years when I finally handed it over to God. If He chose to bless us with another child, I asked Him to promise me that this baby would be healthy; He knew that I could not bear another loss. I also wished an unspoken prayer for a red-haired baby girl, but all I really wanted was a healthy child. I have a close friend, Jan, who helped me through this tough time and knew about my struggle with faith versus fear. She cross-stitched a beautiful Bible verse for me that helped me so much then:
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” Proverbs 3:5
I read it every day and waited to see what God had planned for us.
On May 16, 1994, Steve stood next to me and watched as our beautiful red-haired daughter was delivered by C-section by a wonderful, supportive doctor who saw us through the entire pregnancy. We named her Samantha Corene, after my mother. She was perfect and healthy and has been a joy ever since. I think I cried for a solid month every time I looked at her out of relief that her heart was normal, that God really did love me, and maybe because she looked a lot like Blake. Samantha will never take his place in my heart, but I discovered I have a lot more love to give when she came into our lives. I think Blake probably smiles about that.
Watching Samantha, now almost two, and Joshua, now nine, together has been priceless. We made the decision for me to stay home and not return to work after Sam was born. It was a scary step for Steve, but we have managed without my income. We give up some extras, but our priorities are different now. Samantha is my constant companion and I cannot even express how precious our time together is. The few extra hours I spend with Josh during the day have been good for our relationship, too. Sam waits for Josh each afternoon and jumps up and down when she sees, “MY Josh!” She is a happy, affectionate bundle of sunshine. She has her Daddy smiling and laughing from the first minute he comes in the door from work, saying, “Hi, Daddy! How you?!”
When I look at Samantha, whose name means “heard – a parent’s prayer answered for a child,” I know that God heard my prayers, spoken and unspoken, and answered them. I thank Him every day for all three of my children. As painful as it was losing Blake, I would go through it all again in a second, no matter how brief his stay. God loaned Blake to us so that He could teach us about love and so that we could learn about being loved. We treasure every memory, and hold tight to the strength we gained from knowing him. I share our story in memory of our little angel, and I hope it will help someone else find the faith and courage to carry on.