Kim’s aunt read one of these interviews and connected me with Kim, who instantly agreed to share her family’s story. I love Kim’s genuine and unapologetic enthusiasm for talking about her son’s life and death. Though she doesn’t shy away from the depth of her pain, I come away from every interaction with her feeling more joy than sorrow. I also appreciate that she talked about her faith as an intimate, central aspect of her grieving, though she never mentioned her particular church or religion to me, that wasn’t the important part. What shines through is her strength and love.
What is the name of your child who died?
My son who died is Ethan.
How old was he when he died and how did he die?
He died when he was 7 and a half. The half was important to him, so we always include it.
Ethan had a headache in the middle of the night. My husband, Marcus, was out of town. When Ethan passed out from the pain, I called 911. He was rushed to the ER. There I was told he had a severe bleed and would either die or not be the same again. That was a Monday. Saturday we chose to take him off life support.
What was your initial reaction to his death?
Since we knew we were taking him off life support at 9 am, I knew all night what we were preparing for. I cried until I couldn’t cry any more. I certainly did not sleep. I was 6 months pregnant and everyone was concerned about the baby and had tried to make me sleep each night that week. This last night no one bothered me. When it came time to unplug his life support, we knew it would be just me and Marcus in the room. Our kids had said goodbye the night before.
Within minutes, he took his last breath. I cannot ever deny that our spirits live on. I know they do! I know Ethan gave me one last hug. I felt it. This is definitely the saddest moment of my life, but also my most spiritual moment.
At 9:30 the doctors told us they were ready. We headed in. What was I thinking? I am not sure. I was a little numb I think. They unhooked Ethan from all of his cords around 9:40. It was just Ethan in the bed. I got to cuddle right up next to him while laying on the bed. I loved this! My last cuddle. Marcus held his hand on the other side and talked with him and sang to him. I just loved on him. Within minutes, he took his last breath. I cannot ever deny that our spirits live on. I know they do! I know Ethan gave me one last hug. I felt it. This is definitely the saddest moment of my life, but also my most spiritual moment. I am sure there were angels in the room with us that day. After his last breath, his body continued making strange sounds. I couldn’t handle those so I plugged my ears. I was bawling the whole time. My husband was a rock. I have to say again, Marcus was a-mazing. I had jumped off the bed because of these sounds, but came back to hold Ethan’s left hand. His heart stopped beating moments later. He was pronounced dead at 9:45. I said goodbye to him, but didn’t feel that was him at this point. I was ready to leave the room.
We left the room. I couldn’t look back. I knew he was being wheeled down the hall behind us, but I couldn’t look. Family members came out to have one last look, but I couldn’t do it. I remember him laying in his hospital room looking like he was sleeping. That’s how I always want to remember him in that moment. Marcus and I both had very spiritual experiences that day which will be with us our whole lives. It is amazing how we are not forgotten in our hour of need.
I remember going back into the quiet room where the family had been waiting. I sat down in a chair and said, “I feel good. I can do this forever if this feeling stays.” Both my mother and my mother-in-law have lost children and they both simultaneously answered, “it will.” I knew in that moment angels were holding me up. Literally holding me up. I have NEVER felt so much comfort and love in my whole life. I felt so much peace, it was almost unreal. I couldn’t believe that I felt this way after watching my child die. It is a true testimony to me that God does not leave us alone. That is the only explanation for the peace. He makes sure we have it during these trying times. I survived on His peace for months and pray it stays with me as much as possible!
What, if anything, helped prepare you for this experience?
If anything prepared us for this experience, it would be the deaths of our siblings. When my husband was 9 he lost a brother to a hiking accident. When I was 5, I lost a sister to SIDS. Not only did this help us experience death, but our oldest (a boy) was 9 when Ethan died and our youngest was 5 (a girl.) We felt we knew how they felt, at least to a degree. Certain things we have done since have been because we knew what it was like. For instance, Ethan is an open topic. We are allowed to talk about him, pray for him, laugh about him at any given time. It is not taboo. Our kids love to remember what a naughty little guy he was.
Is there anything you can think of that might have helped prepare you better?
I am not sure anything would have helped more. We experienced a lot of financial loss in the year previous to his death. His death became what we compared other issues to. Nothing is as hard as losing a child. Financial issues, we will handle. We can handle struggles because nothing compares. People ask how I can possibly be a high school principal. You must have thick skin, they say. Not really, I tell them, but nothing is as hard as losing my child so I can handle most things.
What has helped most?
Writing. I love writing. This has helped me in my grief process a lot. I also like to work on home improvement projects to keep busy. I do have a blog that I don’t keep up on like I should. But I blogged for a couple years after losing Ethan and I think that is the number one thing that helped. That and talking. I do love to talk. Anyone who was captured on my couch had to listen. And, I thought of one more. My friend came up with an idea to celebrate his death date and that is Errands for Ethan (we have a website and Facebook page.) We do this every March 26 where we ask people to do random acts of kindness (or angel errands) on the day he became an angel.
Is there anything that hasn’t helped?
I don’t think there is anything that hasn’t helped. I love that people still reach out to remember when they remember the anniversaries. I knew that staying in my bed wouldn’t help. I told myself from day one I would get up. Sometimes that is all I did, but I did it. I got up and out of bed each day. It helped that I had other kiddos to take care of, plus I was 6 months pregnant when Ethan died, so a newborn was there shortly after.
There were days I didn’t think I could make it at all. I was never suicidal, but I never thought the pain would subside enough to have a “normal” life again.
Has anything in this experience surprised you?
Five years later, it has surprised me that I am still here plugging along. Meaning, the pain didn’t seem like I could make it through. There were days I didn’t think I could make it at all. I was never suicidal, but I never thought the pain would subside enough to have a “normal” life again. It has surprised me the person I have become. I am much more empathetic and always wanting everyone to know they are loved. I don’t hesitate to share my thoughts like I used to. I guess I have more of a seize-the-day attitude.
What do you wish other people knew about grieving a child?
I wish people knew how difficult it was to grieve a child and that it never goes away. I still have breakdowns out of nowhere. They are not as often as they were. I wish they understood that just because your child is gone does not mean they are not a part of your life. My son is always my son. I will always talk about him. I will research life after death and my religious beliefs and learn about where he is now, just like I want to know what my living children are doing.
Have you changed?
I have changed because I do have a more of a seize-the-day attitude. I also don’t take time with my children for granted. My family is my purpose. I work full time, but my focus is whether my family is okay and taken care of. I make myself volunteer in their classrooms even if it means I take a day off. I want my kids to always know I am there for them. I was like that before, but not to the extent I am now.
Did you consider having another child after your child died?
I didn’t have a choice but to have a baby after Ethan because I was pregnant. However, it did give me life again. It was such a huge blessing with the timing of a baby. I think I will always have a special bond with this baby because he constantly reminds me what life is really about.
I want people to remember how much he loved EVERYONE. He didn’t care what you looked like, who you were or what you did. He loved you because you were another human.
What do you want people to remember about Ethan?
I want people to remember how much he loved EVERYONE. He didn’t care what you looked like, who you were or what you did. He loved you because you were another human. He made friends everywhere he went. He was literally alive all the time! We never want to forget how naughty he was either, because that was half the fun of him…always getting in trouble. The only call I ever had from a principal was when Ethan was in kindergarten. He was clogging the urinals and flushing them so the water would flood the bathroom.
Do you still feel connected too your child and if so, how?
I feel connected to Ethan all the time, especially during family functions. I know he is around. I feel him. I have deep religious beliefs that I know he is here. This is something sacred to me, something that comforts me and helps me through. I pray for him daily. I think about him daily. I know he watches over us.
What do you answer when people ask you how many kids you have?
I answer that I have 4 kids. If they press further than that and ask ages, I will always include Ethan. I usually would say Parker is 15, Ethan would be 13 this September but we lost him when he was 7, Madilyn is 10 and Brady is 5
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I would like to add that my blogspot is kimandmarcus.blogspot.com. If anyone visits and goes back to March of 2012, I shared memories every day that month of Ethan. It goes through the process of my story.
Kim Ellsworth is a 42 year-old mother of four. She prides herself on her family and her relationship with them. She has taught school for years and now works as a principal of a high school. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 602-290-8546