Kyle and Jenn Johnson were ready to bring home a new baby; the nursery was organized, their freezer was stocked with easy meals, and their bags were packed for the hospital — just in case.
They had a routine appointment on a Tuesday morning when Jenn was 37 weeks pregnant. The baby had a strong heartbeat, and everything looked great for a healthy arrival in a few short weeks. Two days later, their world turned upside down. Jenn hadn’t felt the baby move all morning, and went to see her doctor just to be safe. Before Kyle could join Jenn at the clinic, her doctor confirmed that the baby was gone. They checked into the hospital that afternoon, and Jenn delivered a beautiful baby girl early the next morning. They named her Eleanor Viola, or Ellie for short.
Shortly after Ellie’s celebration of life, the world came to a halt in the first days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Jenn and Kyle’s two-year-old son, William, could no longer attend daycare, and they both started working from home. Any support they should have had from organized bereavement groups or social gatherings was no longer available.
To help them navigate those early days, Jenn and Kyle started seeing a grief counselor. Kyle says, “We learned a lot about how we can trust each other and rely on one another for emotional support. Going through tough times can either push you apart or bring you together, and we worked hard to really lean on each other and grow closer.” As Jenn and Kyle learned to support each other and their son, they grew stronger as a family.
Leaning into each other
When they were ready to share their story, they sought solace in their friends and family. At first, it seemed difficult to relate with people around them. “People don’t really know how to talk about death. It’s human nature to not want to be uncomfortable, so it never gets brought up,” Kyle says, “but I had a couple opportunities to talk with friends about Ellie’s passing and how I was doing and it really helped. Even people I hadn’t necessarily considered close friends, but they reached out and were so helpful and willing to talk and ask questions.”
Jenn says continuing to include Ellie in their lives has helped her process her grief, but it also seems to help William understand what happened. “William has the biggest heart,” she says, “he still wants to include her in things; the first time we went to see Ellie after we found out we were pregnant, he was the first one to say ‘Ellie, we’re going to have a baby! You’re going to be a sister!’ He’s just so sweet, and it really helps us too.”
The rainbow after the storm
The Johnsons were blessed with a son named Oliver this year; he was born just six days before Ellie’s first birthday. They still have good days and bad, but they’ve both found ways to honor their daughter while continuing to heal and grow as a family. “I like to think that she’s still with us in spirit, and lives on through us. If I see things throughout the day that remind me of her, I’ll stop and meditate on that and allow myself space to appreciate that,” Kyle says.
For other parents who suffer a loss, Jenn says, “Don’t be afraid to reach out. After we lost Ellie, we felt so alone and still feel alone sometimes, but finding people that have been through something like this has helped. Be willing to share your story and don’t be afraid to reach out — connect with a bereavement group, counselor, family or friend — you have to lean into people who care.”
Kyle agrees, and he says, “It’s very intense grief immediately, but now after almost fourteen months have gone by I can say that I still feel her loss — and it doesn’t go away — but it gets easier. You learn to lean on people that are close to you, and you get stronger. But when it’s hard, just know that the storm will pass.”