On January 10, 2002, I was induced into labor at around 6:30am. At 12:35pm we were blessed with the birth of our daughter, Amy Jo Johnson. She was just perfect; healthy with reddish-blonde hair, blue eyes, beautiful skin, the most heart-melting look in her eyes and Mommy’s long toes. Through the next 4 months, she continued to grow and grow. She had one of the most infectious laughs I’ve ever heard. Other than a slight upper respiratory infection in April, she was perfectly healthy.
But on May 7, our lives were changed forever. I dropped little Amy off at a dear friend of mine so that I could go to work, which was the first time I was leaving her with someone. I was assisting with an MRI on a dog an hour away. When we got back into the car, after the procedure, I got the most shocking message from Jim (my husband) telling me that our beautiful daughter was in the ER and wasn’t breathing. She had gone down for a nap at around 8:15 and when my friend went to check on her at 8:30, she wasn’t breathing.
My boss drove as fast and safe as he could to get us to Round Rock. On the way, I first called our pastor, Steve Clem, so that he could go be with Jim at the hospital until I could get there. Then I called my dad, who was four hours away, so he could start driving. I called my closest friends too. I think I already knew that Amy wasn’t going to make it. Unfortunately, I knew timelines for lack of oxygen and I knew it had already been too long.
I remember saying “God, this isn’t really happening. Please let me wake up. This can’t be real. This is just a horrible nightmare“. But I also remember praying, “God, it is in Your hands. I am leaving it up to You. Do Your will, but please give me the strength to go on and to be able to handle it, whatever the outcome is”. I remember asking Him to protect Amy Jo, love her and keep her safe until I can see her again in the Kingdom of Heaven.
I can remember that horrible feeling as I walked into the ER. My insides sunk. When I got to the trauma room, I knew she was gone, for sure, but they were still working on her. It had already been about 2 hours from the time 911 was called. They had an infant specialist team coming from the children’s hospital in Austin. I remember asking them “Why aren’t you stopping? She’s already gone.” I could feel that she was gone. It was almost upsetting because they wouldn’t stop. I just wanted that part to be over.
Once the specialty team arrived and assessed everything, they did finally let her go. Amazingly, the EMT that had been doing chest compressions on Amy, the whole time she had been in the ER, didn’t want to stop. He had to be physically removed and restrained by the doctors and other staff. That was so touching to me and I still remember that moment very vividly. He was having a hard time letting her go, too, even though she was “just a patient”. We have continued to stay in touch with him, Cole Rich, and another nurse that was also caring for Amy, Laura Sievers. When we found out about our third child being a boy, we were able to pick the first name pretty quick, but we really struggled getting a middle name. Through some brainstorming and remembering Amy, it came to us: Jacob Cole. When we looked up the meanings of the names, Jacob, the one who follows after, and Cole (from Coleman), the little dove, we got the one who follows after the little dove. How appropriate! This gave us a way to honor him for his passion and emotion that day. We didn’t tell him of our name plans until he came to visit me and Jake in the hospital, after delivery. We wanted him to know how much we appreciated his dedication to our daughter’s care, even though she didn’t make it. It truly blessed me to see how much even perfect strangers were affected by that precious little angel.
The evidence of that kept coming in the next several days after her death, through an outpouring of love and support from our church and friends. We met people at her funeral, that we didn’t even know, who had been touched by her in some way. Doctors, nurses, firemen, paramedics, and police officers showed up too. Way more people were there than we ever expected. It was standing room only at the funeral home. She had truly blessed a lot of people with just her presence and her cute little smile.
I can’t describe to you what it is like to lose your child, it is too difficult to put to words. However, I can try to tell you what it is like to have God carrying you through such a difficult time. To be able to get out of bed, eat and sleep every day was God’s work for a while. I could feel Him making my legs move and making me take each breath, when all I wanted to was just lay in bed and cry. I trusted Him to help me do what needed to be done to get through that grueling first couple of weeks. I realize now that I was submitting to Him and most of all, I trusted Him. I now understand how important it is to turn everything over to Him and to trust Him to do His will.
After her death, we searched in our area for a support group. We never found a group that was specific to our needs as parents who had lost an infant unexpectedly to SIDS. I started researching on the internet. We tried a SIDS group in San Antonio, but because it was not a Christ-centered group, it was not a good place to live with the hope of seeing our little girl again. Others at the group were holding on and having a real hard time letting go. I can’t blame them because it is hard to say goodbye to your baby, but they didn’t seem to have a hope that they would ever see their babies again. We felt empathy for the others there who just couldn’t let go of the anger and sadness. We continued to try to find grief support locally, to no avail. We were truly blessed with a wonderful church family and group of friends that were there for us, no matter what, through the reminiscing and through the tears. We would not have made it through that time without them. They were our reminders that God’s will would be done and that He never leaves or forsakes us. They also helped us see how much of a blessing little Amy Jo was to so many people.
I had the desire to start some kind of support group. I had gone to The SIDS Alliance, but in order to start one of their groups, I had to have a licensed therapist to facilitate, and I couldn’t base it on Christ. I had absolutely no idea even how to begin. I finally gave up and just tried to keep busy.
On Amy’s first birthday, we planted a tree at our church, Pflugerville Community Church. We surrounded it by a flower garden and Austin stone, the same used to complete that church building in September 2002. Someone planted four little evergreens at Amy’s tree, which are just beautiful and green all the time. The Willinghams donated a plaque with her name, dates, and this verse: “…Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me. Do not hinder them, for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to people like them.’” Matthew 19:14 This verse means a lot to me because I picture Jesus, opening His arms, lifting Amy Jo up and cradling her, as if protecting her from tears and pain and hurt that she would only have here on earth. He fills her with even more joy than she showed us here on earth. I changed flowers out according to the season. Christmas 2003, I put jingle bells in the tree and poinsettias under the tree, so that when the wind blew, I would hear those bells and think about Amy’s first Christmas in Heaven (see poem to follow). I still go back and change out flowers at her tree. I use silk so that no one will see dead flowers representing such a beautiful little angel’s life.
In November 2004, we made the decision to move to East Texas. While searching information about churches, on a lead from our pastor, we found Grace Community Church. I researched their website before we moved and found a curious link, Glory Babies. This of course is the title to a song by Watermark that a friend had given us for comfort after Amy Jo died. Glory Babies is a Christ-centered support group for anyone that has been affected by the death of an infant, a miscarriage, or a pregnancy loss. It got better, because there in front of me was a way to get involved in helping others heal from the loss of an infant. Jim and I attended the first meeting, as soon as we could, and immediately got plugged in. We were excited to become part of this awesome ministry helping others in the name of Jesus. Wow, God’s timing is His and His alone, isn’t it? He wanted us here in Glory Babies, not in some “sadness group” in Austin. He knew exactly what He wanted to do with us all along. Although, I miss our old church, my friends and family, and being able to see Amy’s tree every week, I know that God has brought me here as part of my journey. What an adventure He takes us on!
I am blessed to have Nikolus, 2/12/96 and now, Jacob Cole, 10/28/04, with me to be able to guide and teach and love.
– Judy Jo Johnson
Glory Babies Group: Tyler