Fourteen months ago, the Howard family’s lives were changed forever. Luke and Carmen’s youngest son, Bennett, who was only 5 months old, died.
The young couple live in Durban but were born and bred in Port Elizabeth. They have two other sons, Grayson, 4, and their rainbow baby Gabriel, who is 5 months old.
This is mommy Carmen’s story.
“Bennett was the most beautiful baby, our second born. Grayson, our older son, was 2 years and two months older than Bennett.
“Ben was born at 36 weeks and spent a few nights in the NICU with fluid on his lungs but we eventually went home to be a happy family of four. The boys filled my life with lots of love and laughter. Gray absolutely loved Ben and became very attached to him, looking over into his cot constantly and as time flew by Ben became in awe of Grayson too.
“Ben was almost 6 months old on the Sunday night that he started coughing. By the Tuesday, Ben did not look any better so we took him to our GP who advised us that he had croup and gave us medication to treat it. Ben seemed to come around and his nanny mentioned he was quiet but he was eating so we had no cause for alarm.
“On the Wednesday night we struggled through a terrible night where we just couldn’t settle Ben. He eventually fell asleep on my chest for a few hours but when we woke up we noticed Ben’s lips had become blue overnight and he had a temperature. I rushed him straight to the ER. I prefer to describe the next few hours as a blur, with many doctors and nurses running around.
“Ben’s paediatrician arrived and everybody looked very worried about Ben. The blue lips indicated he had pneumonia, an x-ray confirmed a collapsed lung, blood results showed that he had a terrible virus. He was quickly going into respiratory failure and his heart rate couldn’t stay below 200bpm. Even in these moments, I trusted Ben would pull through just like the many times I’ve been in hospital (ICU twice) and come out healthy. Surely with all this care and new medicines, he would be fine?
“He was moved from the ER to high care at about 11am. Later on, I had rushed home to back a bag and just as if he waited for me to leave, the virus took a turn for the worse at about 2:45pm and his tiny heart went over 300bpm and simply stopped. Doctors tried for more than 30 minutes to bring him back to us but he had already gone to be with Jesus.
“I got the dreaded call to come back as he had taken a turn for the worse and raced back to the hospital, running down the passage to draw the curtain to the image of them trying to resuscitate him but I was told to wait outside. Then the moment you only see in movies, the paediatrician came out sobbing and shook his head and hugged me. I broke down and asked to see Ben. I held him for the last time sobbing, apologising, promising that everyone had done their best and he just got too sick too quickly. The complete hardest moment of my life, something no parent should ever have to go through.
“This moment completely changed us and our family forever. It is difficult to look at other babies and not wonder about all that Ben would have been or become. It’s given us some comfort that it was simply Ben’s time, if this is what one virus did to him I cannot imagine how he would have suffered from anything else in his life. Grayson asked for Ben during those first months quite often but knows now that he is safe as an angel in heaven.
“Ultimately what this tragedy has taught me is to see life differently, soften my heart and have more grace.
“It’s been tough. So, so tough. I don’t question God but it doesn’t mean that the tears have stopped or that the triggers that remind me of that day don’t often haunt me, it simply means that I can somehow slowly start putting one foot in front of the other and start walking again. Ben is a piece of a puzzle that will forever be missing from our family.
“Love your children every second that you have them with you, they are the greatest blessings in our lives. Play with them, take more photos and videos of your special moments with them. Find beauty in the simplest of times that you spend with them. Kiss them and hug them a little tighter every night.
“Ben Ben, you came early and you left us too early. We miss you terribly and think about you every single day. Our little guardian angel, I will hold you again in Heaven my baby boy but until then – dance with the angels my precious.
“Right from the moment we heard Ben had passed I chose to walk in complete GRACE with what had happened to us. I never questioned that the doctors could have done more, I never went back to the hospital to read his medical file and research what medications he was given. I never blamed myself, the doctors or God. I simply chose to walk in grace and it was extremely hard on certain days when all I wanted was answers and to point fingers. I knew that would only bring me more turmoil when what I needed was peace and acceptance. We also had months of formal counselling which helped tremendously, I don’t think it’s a process you can go through without the expertise of a trauma psychologist. We were part of a church before Ben died but we have since become more involved in our church community and that has helped us cope as well.
“God promises that there is a hope of better things to come and in May this year our rainbow baby, Gabriel, was born. He has been a complete blessing and filled our hearts with so much love. He has quite literally been the rainbow after the storm for our family. So Gabriel and Grayson fill our days with laughter and so much joy.
“During this journey a song that has always been an anthem for me is the Desert Song by Hillsong, and while it speaks of being refined in the flame it ends with a verse that says “This seed I’ve received I will sow” and I know that I will one day use my story to help or encourage moms who have been through a similar experience but until then I hope to always be obedient to hear his calling over our lives.”