Losing Ethan

While I remember wanting to be a writer even as a child, the conception of Hearts Left Behind was really back in 1998 when Tammy and I lost our son Ethan. It was March 15th – his due date – and he was stillborn. In the weeks and months that followed, I did a lot of writing. I created a memorial web page where I shared some of my poetry and the pictures of Ethan, and created a guestbook there where friends and family could share there sentiments and condolences. The memorial site became a portal for meeting other other parents who had lost children. Some under similar circumstances, some not. Some recent, some not. It was cathartic for me. Not just sharing our story and keeping Ethan’s spirit alive, but also by meeting other parents online and taking turns at consoling and being consoled. We were complete strangers bound by a common horror and because of it we shared our innermost thoughts and feelings. Our past pains and future fears. And then, after a few weeks and a handful of email exchanges, we moved on and returned to being strangers. But I still remember what baby Sam looked like. And I still remember the young woman in nursing school. And my poetry and the soul of Ethan that moves within those words is still out there on other people’s memorial sites. It’s still touching people. It’s still making them feel understood. Those words are alive. Those words are immortal.

I recently read through some of the things I wrote back then. The below was written in the weeks after losing Ethan. It’s a fairly raw account of how we lost Ethan and the need I had to feel physical pain to go along with emotional pain I was experiencing. I’m sure that this isn’t uncommon. Perhaps it’s similar to what drives some to cut themselves, I don’t know. At any rate, here’s where I was in the weeks after losing Ethan…

Yes, a scar seems appropriate. A permanent disfigurement to remind me of that moment of impact and all that followed. I need that scar. I don’t need the reminder, I need the badge. I remember staring at myself in the mirror, looking for something that wasn’t there before. “Your son is dead,” I kept saying, staring into the mirror. “Your son is dead.” But nothing. I still looked the same. How in God’s name could I look the same? Then again, how in God’s name could my son be dead?

It was a Saturday, March 14th. It was our due-date. My wife had been having contractions five to seven minutes apart all that day. Tammy blames herself for not realizing until late that afternoon that she hadn’t noticed any movement from the baby that day – we were both so focused on the contractions that we just never noticed. When we did notice, Tammy had decided to call the doctor as a precautionary measure. Just to reassure us both that everything was fine. It took a good 15 minutes to get through to the doctor on-call and when Tammy explained that she couldn’t remember the baby moving at all that day, the doctor told her to wait until the baby’s “active time.”

“If the baby still isn’t moving, then call back and we’ll probably check you in to the hospital.”

Don’t call back unless he’s dead. Is that what she was telling us? I didn’t think so at the time, but how else can I interpret those words now?

What makes it so much worse is what happened after hanging up with the doctor. Tammy and I lay on our bed and put our four hands on her stomach, on our son.

“There. Did you feel that?” I asked.


“That sure felt like something, don’t you think?”

“It’s hard to tell with these contractions happening at the same time.”

And then the cruelty.

“Well now I’m getting nervous. You always here these horror stories about the baby getting wrapped up in the umbilical cord and choking to death, ” I said.

The conversation was brief. Just long enough to be prophetic. And it will haunt me forever.

But I was sure I had felt the baby moving. So I was back in labor mode, not crisis mode. Not only had I felt the baby move, but Tammy and I had looked through our various pregnancy books and found that it was fairly common for the baby to be inactive immediately prior to the onset of labor. It all made sense.

My mom and step-father had stopped by earlier in the day. When Tammy told them about her contractions, they insisted on taking Tory with them when they left. They were convinced that this was it, their grandson was on his way.

With our daughter off to grandpa and grandma’s and nothing to do but wait, Tammy and I went out for dinner. And then we just drove around a bit. At one point, she looked at me with those eyes of hers that flow so deep with love and said “I’m glad you’re having a son.” My beautiful wife. My beautiful Tammy.

We stopped by my mom’s to let them know that we were still having contractions and that Tory could stay the night with them.

“We’ll call you as soon as something happens.”

With that, we went home and decided to enjoy a few minutes of peace in our house before we became a family of four. Those precious moments in the family room were the last of our perfect little life. We will never be the same.

You know, it’s terrifying how life can turn on you in an instant. You go to the hospital expecting life and you get death. And rather than leaving with your new-born son, you leave with a bloodied receiving blanket and a “grieving packet.” You’re no longer discussing a college fund, you’re discussing plans for a memorial. People send cards and stop by, not to share in your love, but to share in your pain. And then, a few days later, you’re not standing above your son’s crib watching him rest, you’re standing above his grave.

Everything is opposite. Everything is wrong.

And so now, here we are with nothing. No baby to love. No memories to laugh over. Not even a scar.



Filed under Ethan Merrill Rempfer, Hearts Left Behind, Loss of a child, Stillbirth, Where The Broken Lie

3 responses to “Losing Ethan

  1. It takes my breath away to read your story–the story of Ethan. You bare your soul, and you are helping and will be helping so many people. By talking about the scar, or lack of, you’re helping others realize the need to grieve, to mourn, to feel the sorrow. And not just today. One of the power and benefit of writing is others will find it and read it five, ten, twenty-five years from now. You will still be helping people 50-yrs from now with the words you write today.


    • Thank you, Richard. That’s exactly why I do share these things and it’s why I wrote the book.

      “To live in the hearts we leave behind is not to die.”

      My prayer is that Ethan takes up a little space in every heart that reads his story.


  2. You truly write in a way that the reader feels the pain. Thank you for sharing these things which will be such a help to many in their grieving process.


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