Trigger Warning - This isn’t for the faint of heart. This is an in depth account of my experience the day my son died. Read at your own discretion.
“You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.” ~ C.S. Lewis
Some say this is a story I don't need to tell. That these are thoughts and experiences that I should just leave buried in the past. I’ve learned a lot over the last four years though and am finally able to ignore the opinions and expectations of others.
I’m here, standing grounded and naked in my truth despite what anyone else thinks; taking off my armour piece by piece.
This is my experience. My truth. My life. My story to tell. And I hope by sharing it I can help others feel less alone.
It is in sharing our stories that we can begin to heal and begin again too.
It was the day after Braedon’s surgery.
The one we hoped would be the answer to our prayers.
After multiple attempts, taking him back to surgery again and again in efforts to stop internal bleeding, doctors called all of us into a meeting room just off the ICU at the QE2 in Halifax Nova Scotia.
Boxes of tissues had already been strategically placed around a large otherwise empty & desolate conference table.
We nervously gathered and settled into our seats desperately waiting for good news with our hope still intact. Braedon’s doctor walked in through the door and swiftly crushed it though as he impetuously but with total certainty told us, “Braedon will die today, there is no question about that; there is nothing left we can do for him!”
He spoke strictly in fact without an inkling of emotion, as if he was describing the weather that day and not telling us that our baby, my son, was going to die on that very day. At any given moment.
The blood drained from my head and my vision blurred. It didn’t feel real. Suddenly I felt like a stranger inside my own body. Like I was somehow just watching a movie unfold right before my eyes and had no control over anything that was happening.
The back of my throat began to water and I thought I might be sick.
Almost instantaneously it felt like the air was being sucked out of the room & ripped from my very lungs. The floor crumbled beneath my feet and the world crashed into me like the waves of a tsunami.
An eerie numbness, a numbness that would soon become very familiar washed over me all at once and I couldn't feel my legs.
He was a living miracle, this couldn’t be true; I tried to rationalize in my head. He still has so much light to share with the world; he’ll pull through; I tried to convince myself.
Yes, he’ll pull through and we’ll go see that funny superhero movie with Ryan Reynolds
and eat popcorn with peanut butter m&m’s until our bellies hurt. We’ll travel to Toronto to see Bruno Mars like we talked about and we’ll get his youtube channel off the ground. And what about Europe? We have to walk the ruins, eat gelato and explore castles together.
There was still so much for him to do, see and experience in this world; this couldn't be the end. This couldn’t be his fate or mine.
I sat at his bedside desperately praying over and over, again and again, continuing to beg and plead with God for another miracle. I’m not an overly religious person. To be completely honest I’m not too sure where I stand anymore. I believe in a higher power but it’s something I usually refer to as the Universe but I guess I also believe in some sort of God too though I can’t really define it.
In those moments I could have been convinced of anything if I thought it would have saved him. I was spiralling out of control on the inside and the shock of what was happening had me grasping at anything at all.
I pressed my lips to his forehead giving him a gentle kiss as I ran my fingers through his baby soft hair. His skin was cold and it sent shivers up my spine. I wiped away what looked like a teardrop from his left eye with a tissue clenched tightly in my right hand.
That tear, well at least I thought it was a tear and feared it was a tear. The doctors assured us that he wasn’t in any pain though. Still, that tear haunted my dreams and stole my joy for so long. That tear lived inside my head rent free and led me to some very dark places in the early days, weeks and months of his passing.
Even though he was bleeding internally uncontrollably, his organs were shutting down, and he needed a machine to breathe for him; I worried that he was all alone; trapped inside his body knowing what was happening but not able to cry out.
I worried that he was aware that he was dying and that nearly ripped a hole through me.
I was afraid that maybe while I was there sitting at his bedside begging God, the universe or whoever was listening to save him, maybe he too, from somehow in some way was also pleading with God to let him live.
Those thoughts horrified me. They gutted me from the inside out. Even now four years after he’s passed I am overwhelmed typing these words. It’s getting harder for me to breathe and an ocean of emotion is spilling down my reddened soggy cheeks. That tear still haunts my dreams.
He needed his Mama
I carefully wrapped my arm around his swollen body fearing I’d cause him any kind of pain. I laid my head on his bed near his shoulder. I wanted to be as close to him as possible; I am his mama. He needed his mama, I thought to myself.
Every part of me wanted to crawl in that bed with him, wrap myself around him and tell him everything was going to be ok. But everything wasn’t going to be ok. Nothing was going to be ok. I so desperately wanted him to wake up. I wanted to tell him everything he meant to me. He was so many important things, he was all of the very best parts of me.
My lips quivered and my heart broke a little more as I thought of all the things I’d never get to say to my sweet boy. Of course I told him I loved him nearly every single day but I’d never get to tell him just how much he impacted me or how simply knowing him transformed me into a better person.
I’d never get to tell him that I felt lost for most of life, “...like a plastic bag drifting through the wind…” I’d never get to tell him that he was my compass and that being his mama saved me from myself and helped me find my way home.
Those beautiful brown and sometimes greenish eyes, with lashes for days they were my home.
I was numb and raw and I could barely speak even though there were so many things I wanted to say I just couldn't find my voice in those moments. Every minute felt like an eternity and at the same time not long enough as I tried to memorize every curve of his face. I just told him I loved him over and over again though and I held his hand, and I continued to wipe that tear from his eye until he took his last breath.
His heart stopped beating and so the machines that had been helping to keep him alive were silenced and the air instantly felt thicker making it even harder to breathe. The whole room felt cooler and goosebumps crawled up my arms and legs. As his final breath escaped through his lips ever so gently taking all that was him in one fell swoop I knew nothing would ever be the same; I would never be the same.
He never did wake up after surgery and he passed away the next day. As much as it pained me that I never got to talk to him or tell him all the things I wish I said I try to find solace in the fact that he didn’t know he was dying. At least I hoped and prayed he didn’t know.
Sleepwalking through life
The truth is though we all know that we’re dying and yet some of us never truly live. We sleepwalk through our days going through the motions day to day living our lives on autopilot.
We constantly tell everyone how busy we are and don’t make time for the things we say
are most important to us. We make promises and commitments to ourselves and others and often fail to follow through and simply tell ourselves that we’ll always have more time.
Braedon’s passing doesn’t just remind me of the fragile nature of life, it has truly made me more aware of my own mortality and compelled me to take inventory of my life and how I was living it.
It forced me to recognize the vast difference between living and being alive and I wanted to live fully alive; like Braedon did. I don’t want to go through life as a mere shadow of who and what I could be. I don't want to constantly break my commitments and promises. I don’t want to waste the very thing that was taken from Braedon and I don’t want his passing to harden the jagged edges of my broken heart either.
Contrary to popular belief I don’t have superhuman strength either. I am a mom though and what I do have is an unrelenting will to continue being the kind of mother my son deserves whether he lives here, in heaven or on some other realm.
I like to think that he lives in heaven now but since I’m still here I really can’t say for sure whether there is or isn’t life after death. I plan to live the rest of my life with the assumption that there is though because if there’s even the tiniest molecule of a chance there’s he’s out there somewhere I want him to be the proudest kid in heaven when he points down and says that’s my mom.
There is nothing I can do that will bring Braedon back so I’m painting the most beautiful picture possible with the life I’ve been given even though the whole world tells me I shouldn’t be able to get out of bed. (A story for another day.).
I say screw that though. Life is far too short. Braedon went to school on a Friday, worked his part time job on Saturday and we ended up in the ER on Sunday. Five months later I was holding his hand saying goodbye forever.
I’m letting grief ravish me, teach me and forge me into a more courageous, kinder, more compassionate and generous human. I’m creating something beautiful for Braedon to see.
Everyday I wake up I dare to live as bravely as Braedon even though a lot of the time it still feels impossible. He is my light, my teacher & my compass. I know that with him guiding me I'll always find my way home.
How can you be brave today; even in the face of heart wrenching loss or tragedy?
Tiffany Agnew's son Braedon Beebe Lyon died in 2018 just four months after his 18th birthday and three
days after Mother's Day that year. His short life transformed every part of who she is and he continues to guide her from afar. She has found healing through writing, speaking, coaching and the work she does with with The Braedon Foundation which she founded in his memory soon after he passed away.
How are you honouring your child in heaven? We want to hear your story. Email TIFFANYDAGNEW@GMAIL.COM using subject line honouring my child in heaven. We may share your story.