Imogene Dent, our CEO was phone interviewed by Project Feel Good to give to tell her story to help raise Awareness for Infant Loss Awareness Month.
Imogene was smiling when she answered the phone. The only reason that is believed is because it came across that way. Her youthful tone, and the vision that she was bouncing on the end of her bed were particularly giggle worthy.
Imogene searched for where to begin with her story. It has been 10 years since six and a half months old Israel passed away, but reliving it can seem as if it happened only yesterday.
On August 20, 2006 Imogene woke up and got ready for church. During the course of showering, brushing her teeth and getting dressed she stole a peek over at Israel as he slept calmly.
She selected what he would wear and placed it on the bed. After taking care of herself she went over to dress him. He wasn’t breathing. She called his name and gently shook him, thinking he may be in a deep sleep. When she realized he was non-responsive she called an ambulance, and her struggle began.
It was later determined that Israel experienced Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) – the sudden unexplained death of a child less than one year of age. Before this time Imogene had no knowledge of SIDS. She was beside herself and did not know how she was going to make it through this. In some aspects she felt guilty and blamed herself for it happening.
Imogene was a young mother and wasn’t married when she got pregnant with Israel. She was not sure whether she was ready to face motherhood. She had already helped her mother raise her younger siblings, and was ready to be free from some of the responsibility of that. Also, she and Israel’s father decided a continued relationship was not in their future, which added to her feelings of uncertainty.
*Imogene is overcome with emotion and a brief moment is given for her to get comfortable enough to resume.*
Imogene picked up the session telling how she wore clothing that was too big and never stopped a very rigorous sports routine in an effort to hide the pregnancy. She would figure out later what to tell everyone, but for that particular time it worked.
While she carried him, Imogene experienced difficulty in bonding with Israel. The thought of abortion had entered her mind, but she still was not sure what she should do. However, in the end she decided she would have him. Also during the pregnancy Imogene met and began dating a wonderful young man named Joshua. Without hesitation he accepted and assisted Imogene through this turbulent time in her life. He was equally as devastated with the loss of Israel.
On August 28, 2006, eight days after Israel’s death, Imogene and Joshua were married. Imogene received harsh criticism and rebuke from those who wondered how she could get married so soon after the death of her son.
What outsiders did not know is Joshua was due to enter the military and did not want to leave without assuring medical coverage and benefits for Imogene. The plan had also been for Joshua to adopt Israel once they were settled. Within hours of their marriage Joshua was sent off to training.
That left Imogene alone to sit inside the home where Israel passed away. She blamed herself. She wondered if only she had gotten up and checked on him a few times that night, even though she never had to before.
Imogene does not recollect who was there with her and did not particularly care to be around people. Her grief was hers and no one was entitled to that. She was tricked into the lease where she lived and was unable to break it. She had to get away. She had to go somewhere. She couldn’t stay there with all the memories.
Imogene went to St. Louis to be with family. That was enough distance from the memories. Yeah, that would be the perfect place to move forward. No, Imogene masked her feelings and suffered a prolonged grieving process as a result.
Israel’s birthdays were very hard for Imogene. She often wondered what he would be like. What his favorite color would be and the little things that mothers often find themselves thinking about.
A blessing in disguise came in the form of the kinship that was renewed when Imogene and Israel’s biological father supported one another after Israel’s death. They communicated for some time on the anniversaries of Israel’s birthday and death. Imogene shares the feeling that in her mind it somehow seemed easier grieving with someone who was connected to Israel via conception.
Although she was married and life seemed to be working in their favor, Imogene downplayed Joshua’s request that they have a child. Imogene was still reeling from the shock of losing Israel. Imogene went on to say one of her biggest regrets is for some reason she did not take many pictures of Israel.
*She is overcome with sorrow again and a break is taken.*
Imogene did not give Israel his birth name. There was a medical emergency during delivery (her heart rate was high and Israel’s was low), which prevented her from focusing on that aspect of his little life. It was her father who named Israel.
On the day of his passing, leaving the hospital without Israel left Imogene with the emptiest feeling.
In 2013 Imogene and Joshua became parents to a son, Iyan. Imogene cried upon learning she was pregnant with Iyan. She still did not have a firm grasp on her emotions concerning Israel. She spoke of being paranoid and checking on him often throughout the night.
At some point she even had him sleep on her chest. She needed to feel and hear Iyan breathing.
Four women in Imogene’s bloodline lost male children and Imogene wondered whether it stopped with Israel. Imogene’s grandmother lost a son. Imogene’s mother lost a son (tragic accident at 5 years-old). Imogene’s sister had a miscarriage, and Imogene lost Israel to SIDS.
Imogene began to cry again as she recalled how Israel looked into her eyes and rubbed her face as they lay on the floor one day. She said there was an occasion to wonder whether that was his way of letting her know he would be leaving her.
Imogene believes God worked through Israel to show her what she needed to be as a mother and how to embrace it wholeheartedly. The experience with Israel taught her to be more mindful of what a child’s life is supposed to be, and empower parents with what they need.
Imogene’s sentiment is the process of grieving can be complicated by what other people impose on you and suggests that mothers not get caught up on the “Why?” Enjoy the time you had with your child and create your own place of happiness.
When a husband loses his wife he is considered a widower. When a wife loses her husband she is considered a widow, but there is no name for a mother who has lost her child.
This confusion was compounded the Mother’s Day after Israel’s passing. The pastor of Imogene’s church asked for all mothers to stand. Imogene did not know whether to stand since she had lost her child.
Insensitive comments people made are still fresh on her mind. The most frequent one being – “I’m so sorry for your loss. Don’t worry you can have another one.”
Imogene also shuddered when asked “Is this your only child?” It put her in the uncomfortable position of wondering whether they should explain about Israel. She also didn’t want to rob Joshua of the joy of having his first biological child acknowledged.
It makes perfect sense. People do not normally ask perfect strangers if the clothes they are wearing are all they have or if the car they are driving is their only one. How is it appropriate to ask if a child is the only one?
It is understood that no intentional harm is intended, but it is uncomfortable just the same.
Sadly, one of her friends experienced the loss of a child. Imogene was able to assist her through the process because she knew firsthand how she could assist her friend through the grieving process.
Words she would share with others? “Grief is Grief. It doesn’t matter whether your child died in the womb or days, months or years later. Be thankful for the time and do not take the people you love for granted.”
As the interview drew to a close Imogene was curious to know what grief looks like. She talked about how people seemed shocked or put off by the fact that she did not look raggedy or drugged out. She wanted to know if your grief seems genuine when you have bags under your eyes or are walking around looking dazed and confused.
Her response to that? Everyone grieves differently. Grief is not something you can package up and make universal to all people. People grieve for different periods of time and the mental and physical variations are a piece of that puzzle.
Imogene’s final words were that someone experiencing loss must be allowed time to grieve and come to grips with their loss. Supporting person(s) should not overwhelm them with insensitive questions or statements or force themselves on grieving person for extended periods of time.
“Mommy’s Angel,” as Imogene fondly refers to him, only lived for six and a half months, but what Israel left Imogene and Joshua with will last them a life time.