Eighteen years ago today my baby sister died of SIDS. I mentioned her a while ago, but on the anniversary, I wanted to take the opportunity to share my memories of that day.
Thanksgiving fell on the 23th that year. We’d had a lot of family in town, and once they all went home, the weekend was quiet. We always liked to get into the Christmas spirit right away, and in that particular year we got our tree on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. After leaving it in a bucket to hydrate for a couple of days, we brought it in and decorated it on Monday the 27th. Amy loved looking at the decorations and touching the twinkling lights. That night she said her first (and only) word: “lii” (light).
Mom had a meeting Tuesday evening, so we five kids (myself, age 8, then my sister, two brothers, and of course Amy-9mo) were home with Dad. I don’t remember anything particular about the evening, so I’m sure it was quite routine. Amy was always a mommy’s girl, and she struggled to calm down for anyone else. That night, she finally fell asleep in Daddy’s arms. When Mom came home, Amy was not breathing. Dad began CPR, the ambulance arrived 4 minutes later. Shortly afterwards someone (I don’t even know who) arrived to stay with us older (sleeping) kids, and Mom and Dad went with Amy to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead. The official cause of death: Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (which is the medical term for “we don’t have a clue why she died”).
Mercifully, the older four of us slept through everything—the ambulance sirens, the paramedics running past our bedroom doors, everything. In the quiet of morning, our parents came and gathered us all into their room. We all sat on their bed and Dad said “we have something we need to tell you.” I knew what it was before he told us. All my siblings have told me that they also knew before being told. Amy had died in the night. Children have perfect faith, and while we knew we would miss Amy, we also knew that she was in Heaven, with Jesus…so what’s to mourn?
I remember sitting in the rocking chair next to the wood stove. Neighbors and people from church came and went all day. Mom was weepy I guess, although I don’t concretely remember that. I do remember that it was raining (typical for November in western Washington), and the day was cold and grey. I had just begun reading a novel, so I continued (and finished) reading it that day…that novel (“Summer of the Swans”) is not very happy to begin with, and now that I associate it with that day, I will always consider it depressing.
Someone from church offered to make a burial gown for Amy. She made a long white dress trimmed in pink ribbon. There was a matching slip and bonnet. (Thanks to the bonnet, we were able to take locks of Amy’s hair for each sibling to keep.) Mom said she was relieved when Dixie called and said she would make the dress—Mom could not have handled doing it herself. There was some leftover fabric and ribbon, so Dixie made a little pillow for mom to have for remembrance.
Mom had been breastfeeding Amy of course, so there were physical pains to go with the emotional ones. Her body continued to make milk, and without a baby to feed, she became very engorged. (I have experienced some engorgement as my body adjusts to my baby’s varying feeding needs, and it is very uncomfortable.) Of course, my nursing baby relieved the pressure on a regular basis, and I could also pump away extra milk to ease the pressure. With no nursing baby, Mom needed her milk to dry up, so could not even pump. She has told me that she would stand in the shower, letting the milk drip with the warm water, as though her body were weeping too.
Amethyst, “Amy” was our family’s precious jewel. She lived 9 months and 3 days. She has now returned to the Father* who sent her to us. We miss her here, but know she has work to do on that side of the veil. In her baby blessing, she was told that she would be a missionary to millions. Mom originally thought that phrasing was born of Dad’s penchant for exaggeration, but we now realize that it was not. Her tombstone reads “The Crown Without the Conflict.”
*We believe that little children are pure at birth, and remain so for the first eight years of life. During this time they learn right and wrong, but are incapable of true sin. At 8 years old, they are baptized, and then become accountable for their choices. If a child dies before the age of accountability though, they are still perfect, and therefore return directly to Heavenly Father’s presence.