“MELANIE, ELIJAH DIDN’T MAKE IT.” Those were the first words I heard as I drifted back into consciousness. I tried to respond—to tell him that I knew, I understood—but no sound came out. There was something blocking my throat; it hurt. What was it? I tried to reach and pull it out and hands stopped me. I heard voices. People said I had come back. Who were all the voices? How long had I been asleep? I drifted back to the last thing I could remember . . .
“I’m giving you some medicine now,” the anesthesiologist said. “It will sedate you. Your throat may burn a little.” I noticed that my throat did burn and the nurses were draping a huge, blue cloth over my swollen abdomen. I felt tired and closed my eyes. I was pregnant. It was a boy! My husband, Rob, and I had four beautiful daughters and now God was giving us a son. We would name him Elijah Thomas Jex. Earlier that Sunday morning, I had awoken to strange contractions. They hurt my back unlike my previous deliveries. There didn’t seem to be a break between them. But that was ridiculous—of course there had to be breaks between contractions, if I could just focus. But the pain was intense. I wanted to get away from it. I felt liquid—my water must have broken. I called Rob and told him to come home from his meeting. Then I saw the blood. By the time Rob walked in the door, the ambulance was already there.
I was told that the baby’s placenta had pulled away from the uterine lining. The baby was in distress. There was no time to allow me to be awake for the Caesarean. No time for Rob to be in the operating room. He watched the surgery through a window. He watched them lift the lifeless body of our son from my abdomen and try to resuscitate him. He held Elijah’s body for hours, waiting for the doctors to stabilize me so we could discuss how to tell our girls that their brother was dead. It slowly became clear that he wouldn’t be able to discuss this with me. I was on life support and fading. I was receiving blood transfusions. The doctors were doing all they could, but a higher power would have to intervene to save me. Rob would tell the girls himself. He would tell my parents that their first grandson had died and let my little brother hold the body of the nephew he had wished for. Family members would surround Rob, lending what support they could. They would hold a family prayer at 5:00 p.m. At 5:10, the doctors emerged. I had “turned a corner,” and it looked like I might survive.
It was Monday morning before I woke up. The blockage in my throat was the breathing tube that had kept me alive. Now I was finally stable enough for the doctors to remove it. Rob brought me the perfectly formed body of our son. All his fingers and toes were in place, and his hair was soft and auburn. But his body was cold and stiff. I wanted to massage his fingers and toes like I do when my daughters come in from the snow. I wanted to warm him up, rub the life back into him, but the nurses told me that the coldness preserved his body for just a little while longer. Instead, I sang to him. I sang the song I had sung to him so many times while he kicked inside me. “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are gray . . . Please don’t take my sunshine away.” Then the mortician came to take him away and my arms were empty. My sunshine, my precious gift of a son had been snatched away. My body was like my son’s—numb and cold. I needed extra strength to deal with this. Somewhere inside me, the extra strength was already there. I had been prepared. Unbeknownst to me, my Heavenly Father had placed gifts of love in my path, keys that would unlock the door to a beautiful, undiscovered place in my soul—a garden full of sunshine in the darkest moments of my life.
“Mom, look! That little girl walking with her mom looks like me walking with you!” My four-year-old daughter was standing at the kitchen window watching a new neighbor walk by. It was two and a half years before Elijah was born. As I looked at the woman with her daughter, the Holy Ghost whispered that I needed to be that woman’s friend. I took cookies to her home and we had our children play together. Six weeks later, when her daughter was killed in a car accident, I cared for her other children. She talked and I listened to her pain, never dreaming that I would ever understand. I concluded that my strong impressions to befriend her had come so I could help her in her sorrow. Now the tables were turned and I was the one in need. She walked into my cold hospital room, bringing warmth and hope with her. I talked and she understood. I wasn’t alone in this.
The Lord loved me; He gave me a friend.
“Your daughter has meningitis.” Those words reverberated through my brain. They seemed to echo through everything around me. The frigid January air hung heavy with that word—meningitis. Six months before Elijah was born, my three-year-old, Sarah, was diagnosed with that dreaded disease. She had been running a fever and sleeping on my bed when her body had suddenly seized. Her eyes rolled and her limbs jerked wildly. My five-year-old screamed in horror. I called the paramedics who took us to the hospital, but I didn’t even think to call my husband for three hours. I stood alone in shock; the bitter wind that threatens death swept in icy blasts around me. Then, I collapsed. Over the next weeks, I suffered an emotional breakdown as I was stretched to my limit. Sarah recovered and so did I. Outwardly nothing had changed, but inside I was different, stronger. After Elijah was born, I discovered something about the way God works. He had helped me develop emotional and spiritual strength when my body was physically strong. The strength I had gained carried me through when my physical strength was gone.
The Lord loved me; He gave me a trial.
“The son you carry within you will die.” I was sitting in the Salt Lake Temple, eight months pregnant with Elijah. The thought of his death was not scary and I felt strangely peaceful. But despite the peace, I instinctively stamped out the warning voice as one squelches a threatening spark. I was just a paranoid mother. Every mother lives in fear of a child dying and Sarah’s near-death must be on my mind. The baby was healthy. Nothing would happen. Unbidden, the sparks came again—Elijah would die and it would be all right. I changed my mental tactic and tried to negotiate with the thoughts. If Elijah was going to die, perhaps it would happen many years down the road. He could be one of the apostles who would lie in the streets of Jerusalem for three days—only to be resurrected. The sparks that had been ignited in my brain still glowed, but this rationale kept them contained and under control. Periodically during the remaining month of my pregnancy the sparks flared and I immediately contained them again. When Elijah died, I realized that I had been warned. Even more importantly, his death was not scary. The feeling of peace I had in the temple replaced the thoughts that had threatened me. Everything was not as I wanted, but I knew it was as it should be.
The Lord loved me; He gave me His peace.
In the year since Elijah was born these gifts have equipped me with the keys to unlock a beautiful garden I carry within my soul. Before, I had never been desperate enough to go searching for this hallowed place. But now when my arms ache as I watch other mothers cuddling their infants, when memories of closing Elijah’s casket lead to nights when I hold his blanket and sob, I take the sorrows that threaten to darken my skies to gray into the garden and see them in a new perspective. In the sunshine of my garden I see glimmers of the Lord’s plan for me and my family, more than in my narrow tunnel of existence. My empty arms don’t ache as much when I see them in conjunction with the promise of what will be. For the Lord has given me the most priceless gift of all, the gift that makes all of the peace and promise in my garden possible—He gave Himself.