Two days after Will passed Taylor and I had to go to the funeral home to make final plans for our baby. It was agonizing. Taylor and I took Caroline with us and pulled into a cemetery near our home. Sitting in the passenger seat I looked around at all the headstones. Lots of years between each dash. Not for my baby. It didn’t seemed fair. Right before we got to the funeral home we drove past the section reserved for children. I could tell because it was littered with stuffed animals and baby blankets and little angel statues. All I could think was that I couldn’t leave my baby there. We got out and walked in to meet a nice lady who sat down at a conference table with us. She had a folder with pricing and options and we were supposed to make decisions and sign a death certificate. We had just gotten his birth certificate and now we were supposed to sign a death certificate. I just sobbed as Taylor tried to talk to her and read my body language as we answered her questions. She thought he was a stillborn at first, then noticed the 96 days of life he had here on Earth and apologized. She tried to be sympathetic, she said she understood because her daughter was in the hospital some when she was younger. I just nodded, she didn’t understand but what are you supposed to say to us? There is nothing to say.
“Do you want to see him?” she asked, tilting her head sympathetically. Before we arrived I told Taylor I didn’t want to see him. I said it out loud because I wanted him to hold me accountable to that decision. I knew that I wanted to remember him alive, plus I had already seen him with no breath inside him and it was terrible. I also knew that when we got there, when we were so close to him, I might want to change my mind and end up regretting it. When she asked part of me wanted to scream, “YES, give me my baby!” Part of me wanted to check to make sure he still wasn’t breathing, maybe the doctor was wrong, maybe he still had a heartbeat. Part of me wanted to hug and and kiss him one more time. Part of me wanted to touch him and wrap him up in his blanket and just hold him. A bigger part knew that I shouldn’t, I couldn’t allow myself to see him again. I said goodbye when he was safe in my arms. I kissed him for the last time and laid him down in this tiny basket and wrapped him in his blanket and told him I loved him. He wasn’t here anymore and if I walked in to see him one more time I would see a shell of the body he once lived in. He was not his body, his soul was with Jesus. “No,” Taylor replied as I shook my head and cried. She brought me the outfit and blanket we had dressed and wrapped him in and handed it to me in a neatly folded stack. I held it the whole way home, it felt like all I had left of him.
We choose to cremate Will and place his ashes in a ceramic jar. It sounds silly but I just couldn’t put my baby in the ground, I wanted him “with me.” I know there are some pastors that I respect and some smart Bible theology people that disagree with this decision, but it's where my heart was, wanting my baby with me, in my home and with his family. The thought of burying him was traumatic but at the same time I couldn’t stand the thought of his little body being sent to the crematorium. No one could understand how precious he was. But I kept telling myself that he is not that little body. The truth that he was in heaven and not in that body anymore is the only thing that helped me go through with it. One of the next decisions we had to make was which urn to choose for him. I searched for baby urns online and as I typed it in I thought about the word urn and how it’s not a word that should be used in the same sentence as “baby.” I found one that was handmade, ceramic, simple. There is a verse in the Bible, 2 Corinthians 4:7, that says, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” God brought this verse to both my and Taylor’s mind separately and when I showed him we both agreed that it was what we wanted for Will. He is a treasure. On the front we have his name printed, “Will King Hughes,” and the back says part of Romans 12:2, “God’s good, perfect and pleasing Will.” We claimed that verse many times over our son and we think it describes him in our eyes and God’s - good, perfect and pleasing.
Taylor went to pick up his ashes a few weeks later. It was just the smallest little bag and the urn hadn’t come yet, so I put the bag in my bedside table. It just felt so wrong but there is no right when it comes to the death of a child. I wanted to get a shelf to hang up in our home and put some of Will’s things on, including his urn, but I procrastinated on it for a bit and the ashes stayed there in my beside table for a few weeks. All I could think about was how he was supposed to be sleeping by my bed in a bassinet, how this was wrong in so many ways. This little shelf would possibly, probably, be the last thing I would ever buy for Will and I didn’t want it to be over. I finally ordered the shelf and Taylor hung it in a corner in our room when I was out of town. I came home to this empty shelf that I was supposed to decorate with Will’s things. I wanted it to be filled with meaningful objects so that every time we looked at it we were reminded of his joy, his perseverance, his sweet spirit.
I tried to make it meaningful, include things that remind us of him, things that we can tell his brother and sisters about one day. His urn, filled with his ashes, our treasured son laid to rest in a jar of clay. The "first tooth" and "first curl" boxes I had bought for him, nothing will ever be in them, but it still didn't seem right to get rid of them or hide them away somewhere. They were in his stocking. A picture of him, which I see every time I walk into my room. I couldn’t decide which picture to choose. Part of me wanted to put a newborn picture from his first day of life. No cords, no equipment and not sick. Instead I decided to choose this picture of him in the hospital when he was a few months old. Yes, he has tubes in his nose and tape on his face, but his little eyes. I just love the way he is looking up with his little eyes and the kind, sweet expression on his face. That was Will. On the top shelf I have his little dog stuffed animal, something he held and had in his bed. I have a box with the outfit we put him in after he passed away. Noah’s arc hat, blue socks and blue bunny sleeper. It has his name engraved on the window. I thought about the person filling my order. They probably saw “Will King” engraved on the box and thought it was maybe a baby shower gift, or something a new mom just ordered to display some newborn clothes in that her baby recently grew out of. One of his books, “On the Night You Were Born,” that we read to him. And a special wooden box given to me by a friend after his passing. My friend got this box on a trip out of the country and it has a small angel inside it. Inscribed on the box in German is “Good luck, angel.” It was such a thoughtful gift and it reminds me of all the support, love and prayers we had from so many friends. And Will was a little angel.
Shelves in my children's’ rooms are filled with pictures of them, painted ceramic artwork, their favorite stuffed animal when they were a baby, their first Mickey Ears. I reorganize the shelves as they get older, I add new art work or switch out a picture to a more current one. Will’s shelf is so finite. As I organized it I probably shifted around the objects dozens of times. I knew exactly how they would look the best, how they would fit well on the self, but I didn’t want it to be over. Decorating that self was something I could do for Will, and I knew it might be one of the last things I do for him. I am reminded of how I felt decorating that shelf often. I so badly wanted to be able to do more for him. I want to help him get dressed and put shoes on and brush his teeth. So many times when I get exhausted with one more person who needs something from me, or when all three children need me at the same time, I think about that shelf and my perspective immediately shifts. It’s an honor, a joy, to be able to do things for my children, even if it’s something they are able to do themselves. One day it’ll be the last time I pour them a cup of milk, the last time I help them tie their shoes or comb their hair. How I wish I could help Will do all those things, how I wish I could help him, teach him, bring him something, anything. I’m not advocating for being your child’s servant, I know that it’s my job to teach them responsibility and independence, but sometimes when I think about that shelf I just want to do everything for my Will, and since I can’t, I want to appreciate the gift of helping his brother and sisters. Will is a treasure and so are they, and what a gift that they are here with me, three people who I get to reorganize shelves for for years to come.
Making all those final decisions for Will seems kind of blurry now. Almost like I was inside some else’s body because how could this be my life? This is the kind of stuff you read about on some blog, written by someone you don’t know, and sympathize because you can’t imagine if that were you. It’s something no one expects and no one deserves. Googling “baby urn” and paying a cremation bill and writing a message about your son’s passing to send to family and friends is all just so unexpected. I have questioned some of those choices since then - did we pick the right urn? Is it okay that we choose to cremate him? Should we have given him a marker somewhere? Did we honor him well? Did we do it right? But I don’t think there is really a “right.” There is no manual for how to do this, how to lose a baby. We made decisions that we thought would best honor Will and continue to make him a part of our family and our home. I am always thinking each time I do something “for Will” it might be the last time, but it seems like there is always something else to do for him, in his memory or his honor and I hope there always will be. I feel like the best I can do is give him a legacy, help him be remembered by others, his name not be forgotten. His life, although much too short, mattered. He made more of an impact in 96 days than most of us will make with an entire lifetime. I thought of this idea of “96 days, 96 ways” (details below) after we returned from the funeral home that day. I didn't really know what to do with it or how to even make it happen. After a few months of it floating around in my head, I decided that it would be the perfect way to remember his time on Earth. I am looking forward to celebrating him each of of those days, and every day, until we meet again.
"But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us." ~2 Corinthians 4:7
In a few short months we will celebrate the one year anniversary of Will’s 96 days on Earth, December 1 - March 6. I know every one of those days will be filled with a lot of emotions, grief and joy as we remember a year ago when we had Will here with us. To honor Will’s 96 days on Earth, I would like to post 96 ways he has impacted others, one on each day he was alive. Whether you knew Will personally, are a friend of our family or don’t know us at all, if Will or his story has impacted you in any way, we would love to hear! Here is how to be included in 96 Days, 96 Ways:
1. Write they way(s) in which you have been impacted by Will. It can be one sentence, a story, letter or just a few thoughts. Nothing fancy or eloquent, just simply what our little boy and his story has meant to you, how it has changed you or encouraged you.
2. Email to email@example.com (please specify if you would like to be kept anonymous)
3. Look for your story during one of the 96 days and share with the hashtag #96days96ways
Thank you for you participation in helping us remember Will during this difficult first anniversary of his life and death. We are praying that as we share the ways Will has impacted the lives of others that God would be glorified and others would be pointed to Him.
Our mission is to glorify God by supporting children undergoing life-saving heart treatment and creating a caring community for their families in honor of our son, Will.
My name is Courtney Hughes and I am Will's mommy. I am happy that you are here to read Will's story and make a difference with us!