Overcoming The Loss Of Our Son: Levi's Legacy
16 January, 2014
I was eight days overdue with our son, Levi, anticipating his arrival at any moment.
The evening was much like many previous ones, a lovely dinner with Andreas who was exhausted after his long exams, and then a film to wind down.
We got ready for bed around 10, and moments after lying down, I commented to Andreas that I hadn't felt Levi move in awhile. I wasn't sure exactly how much time had passed, but as I reflected back over the evening, his most active time of day, I realised that I hadn't felt him kick for at least a few hours. My heart sank. I asked Andreas to come and talk with him as he did most every night, always getting a series of big kicks in response. but this time, there was nothing. In that instant I knew, as only a Mamma can, that my baby was gone...into the arms of Jesus.
But in the millisecond that lasted an eternity, I experienced both panic and a palpable deep peace. Andreas rang the maternity ward in hopes that we were terribly wrong and that there was something we could do to bring life to our precious Levi. The midwife on duty assured him that everything was okay and that I just needed to drink something cold and sugary to get Levi moving again. But in my Mamma heart I knew that the action was futile.
I asked Andreas to ring a taxi, and we both grabbed our hospital bags and prepared for what should have been the most exciting moments of our lives. As we waited, I rang my bestie and Levi's Godmother, Cathy, who also tried to assure me that everything was going to be okay.
At The Hospital
We walked into the maternity ward a short 20 minutes later and were escorted into an examination room where a midwife immediately began the search for a heartbeat. After several minutes of silence, I angrily turned toward her and said, "you can't find a heartbeat because there isn't one; just say it."
She coldly responded that she had to get the doctor who followed her in moments later to do an ultrasound. Seconds later I saw my precious Levi's lifeless body on the screen as tears streamed down my face. But everyone was silent. I looked at the doctor and said, "just tell me what we already know. He's dead." And he looked at me and confirmed that Levi's little heart had stopped beating.
And still the peace was there. God was there, and He was holding onto me as He simultaneously held my little miracle in his arms. Oh the miraculous peace that overwhelmed me.
I went into practical mode and asked, "okay, what do we do now?" The doctor explained that whenever I was ready, I would be given an IV to induce labour and that I would then, within a relatively short time, deliver my son. My instant response was, "there is no way in hell that I'm going to push my dead baby out of my vagina." Were these people crazy? No, God was using them for what I didn't know at the time would be one of the best decisions that was made that night.
Before going any further, the hospital staff offered to give us some time alone. After ringing and texting a few friends and family members, my weeping husband and I sat down together. I looked at him and said, "I know that this is going to sound crazy, but I have a supernatural deep peace right now, and I know that the Lord is with us. We need to praise Him in this moment and not give Satan a foothold in our lives. Our God is a miracle-working God, and it's not over." Andreas expressed that he was experiencing the same peace and agreed that we should praise God, so right there in that little room where we sat, I turned on Israel & New Breed's "It's not over," and we sang our praises to God through the tears. We thanked Him for His provision and for our little Levi's life. We prayed that he would bring life and breath back into Levi's heart and lungs if it was His will but that if it wasn't, that He'd carry us through the pain and be glorified through Levi's life and death.
Andreas' Mom, Carina, came to the hospital to be with us, and then the midwife returned to give us the options of going home for the night to "get a good night's sleep" (?!?!?!?!) before returning the next morning or of checking into the hospital immediately. As we didn't have a car, we chose the simplest option and checked into a delivery room. We were both given sleeping pills and I was, by the grace of God, able to sleep almost six hours.
17 January, 2014
Unfortunately, the previous day's nightmare wasn't just a dream. After being given breakfast on Friday morning, Andreas and I spent a few moments praising God and crying out to Him. He was there with us in that delivery room, and He would not forsake us.
I was then given drugs to induce labour, and we began the waiting process. There was no TV in the room to help numb our minds, not that it would have helped, but it would have been something. I had checked Facebook on and off during the night and been encouraged and strengthened by the messages I received. But on friday morning as word of Levi's death spread, texts, emails, and Facebook messages started pouring in, and I have never in my life been more thankful for social media and modern technology than I was then. I am quite certain that the flood of God's perfect love through those messages that washed over us during the most gut-wrenching hours of our lives carried and covered us in ways I may not understand until we meet our little Levi in heaven. I am eternally grateful.
Andreas and I decided that we needed to get out for a few minutes, even if it was painful. We left our room and walked the hospital corridors past walls covered in pictures of newborns and past delivery rooms filled with joyous sounds of life. How could we do this? How could this be happening to us? How were we going to get through it?
We ended up in a little restaurant filled with chatty hospital staff and visitors. It felt so wrong to eat, to even breathe, but I knew that I needed strength for the marathon my body was about to run. Cathy arrived while we were eating, and I wept as I hugged her. I knew that her strength, support, stability, and ability to deal with me during this crisis would be most needed and appreciated.
And strength we needed. A short while later, a hospital counselor came by to help us do the unimaginable: decide how to handle our little Levi's body and to plan his memorial service. We decided that we wanted an autopsy performed, although we didn't expect any answers. There hadn't been one single complication with my pregnancy, and he had been a happy, active baby in my tummy. We just wanted to know if there was something we could do to prevent problems in the future...but deep down in my Mommy heart I knew that all tests would return negative. My little angel was just too precious for this earth, and God chose to take him home for reasons I may never understand.
Sometime in the afternoon/early evening, my contractions started, and my water broke naturally. My "water" was all kinds of icky, an all too painful reminder that things had gone terribly wrong.
Thankful for all the pain-relieving options provided by Swedish medical care, I decided that the time for laughing gas had arrived, and it was so needed. In the middle of the sorrow, we laughed. I breathed that gas in like a pro, and Cathy and I laughed...and for a few brief moments, we felt normal, and I'm quite sure that our little Levi would have been so happy to hear us laugh because I know he's laughing in heaven with my Jesus.
18 January, 2014
Around half past nine on Saturday morning, the real, curse-of-womanhood contractions started. I latched onto the laughing gas again and waited to push. But in the middle of my pain, my gut-wrenching, heartbreaking pain that would not be forgotten with my precious child's birth, I sang. The Lord placed a song in my head and His promises in my heart. The words "Herren är min starkhet och min lovsång," ("The Lord is my strength and my song") found there way to my lips, and between every contraction, I sang. All the prayers prayed for me, for us, around the world were received and answered, and the Lord God Almighty, My Abba Father, was there holding me. Andreas, who stood beside me holding my hand, leaned down to ask what I was saying, and I told him. I told him that I couldn't stop singing.
Andreas' Mom, held one of my legs and the midwife's assistant my other. The head midwife was in place to receive Levi, and I started pushing. Toward the end, I thought that I would pass out from the pain, but when I wasn't singing or screaming, I could hear my dear friend, Lindsey's voice whispering in my ear the words she had recently said to me on the phone, "you were made for this." And I knew that she was right. I was made to bring our Levi into the world. Lindsey had even reminded me of that truth in a text she sent in the wee hours of Friday morning, "I suspect there will come a moment where you will feel like you can't do this, but I still believe, like I told you last week, that you were made for this moment. You CAN do it, and you will. It may be the worst thing ever, but YOU CAN DO IT. I believe in you, and I believe in our great God who is your strength."
In the last moments of pushing, of feeling that every bone surrounding the birth canal would crack and break, I screamed, "GET HIM OUT OF ME!!!!!!" and suddenly, through the little opening between my legs that my position on my side afforded me, I saw my precious Levi's perfect little face. And over the weeping all around me, I heard the silence that was filled with the void of my baby's first cries.
Levi was cleaned up and then given to us to hold and cuddle. But as beautiful as he was with his Pappa's perfect lips and my cute nose, his spirit was so evidently gone from his perfect little body. In that moment I knew that as I held my lifeless newborn and wept tears of sorrow onto his cool skin, that my Abba Father was cradling him in heaven amidst great rejoicing.
But here on earth, the tears flowed without ceasing. My dear Mom and Step-Dad, who had originally planned on flying over the following Wednesday, arrived just an hour after Levi. We hugged one another and lifeless little Levi and wept over him. How could this be? How could our long-awaited, perfect little baby be dead?
We attempted to take a few photos, and Godfather Gustaf, Cathy's husband, even came in with his nice camera to help us capture a few memories. But I didn't want to take photos; it all felt so wrong. I loved capturing life-defining memories in photos, But there was no life there in that room. I knew that we'd hate ourselves if we didn't take pictures, and now I'm glad that we did because there won't be any photos of his first smile or his first steps. Those precious moments will have to be saved for heaven.
Then Andreas and I sent everyone out of the room, and we slept for an hour or so. Later in the afternoon, we were moved up to a "normal" room, and two of our friends, church elders, came to hug, talk, and pray with us as well as to discuss a few details regarding Levi's memorial service. What a blessing to be part of the family of God, to be loved, supported, and surrounded by brothers and sisters in Christ around the world! I have often wondered how those who walk without God and his body, the Church, walk through life and face all the trials it holds without this support system, without His eternal life, love, meaning, purpose, hope, and healing. Oh the healing He provides for those who call upon His name in faith.
After dinner, we took Levi out from the little white satin casket the hospital had provided us, and I dressed him in the outfit in which we'd planned to take him home from the hospital. But his little casket was also a type of cooler designed to preserve his body, and his skin was loose, clammy, and cold. For nine months, no, since I was a wee child playing with and dressing my dolls, I had dreamt of the day I would have my own baby to dress in cute outfits. But here we were, and I felt so palpably how that dream, one of many I'd had, was crushed before my weepy eyes. It was all so wrong, and I trembled and wept as I dressed Levi. But the cute outfit didn't help. He was gone.
We sent everyone away again; we said our goodbyes to Levi; and then Andreas and I crawled into my hospital bed together and wept. We cried out to God and asked Him to carry us in our pain. We thanked Him for His provision and strength thus far, praised him for his sovereignty through it all, and thanked Him for the assurance that He was holding our Levi when we could not.
Thanks to the help of sleeping pills, we slept. But the nightmare and the pain was still there when we awoke. I was instantly struck by the horror that awaited me in the "real world" that I would soon be forced to face. People who had not seen our story unfold on facebook would ask. strangers who saw my still pregnant-looking belly would ask. It was "normal" but I was not. I would never be the same...
Life After Levi's Death
For the year after Levi's death, there were visible signs of Levi throughout our flat in Stockholm. On the wall in the room that should have been his, hung a painting with his full name and birth information in happy, gold letters. And above the sofa hung two large black and white photographs from the photo session we had just a few weeks before Levi was born. We both have silver necklaces engraved with Levi’s name that we wear.
In spite of these signs, several people who visited us shortly after Levi's death didn’t asked how we were doing since Levi’s death. Even though we have been mostly positively overwhelmed with friends’ and the Church’s care—through encouraging texts and Facebook messages, that the freezer filled quickly with food, economic help, company, and prayers—others’ silence since Levi’s death has been rather difficult.
I wish people would ask if I can tell them a bit about Levi. Ask why we chose just the photos we did for the wall hangings, what he looked like, why I wear his name on my necklace. There are a thousand things to say! To some it’s like he never existed.
Andreas adds, "I believe that many people don’t dare ask questions because they’re afraid we’ll be sad. And of course we might be, but to ask us gives us a choice. Then we can say, 'We don’t feel like talking now, but we’d love to another time.'"
When we were planning the music for Levi’s memorial service, we discovered that several well-known Christian worship leaders—Brenton Brown, Matt Redman, Darlene Zschech, and Steven Curtis Chapman—had all lost children and then gone on to write songs that have touched many. We hope that our experiences can help others as well. Although we’ve cried and been angry, Levi’s death has not meant a great crisis of faith for us. Many have asked, "Why you guys?" and in the darkest moments, I have screamed that question, but often the answer has been, "Why not us?"
It’s a part of the western world’s culture, and especially Sweden’s culture, to believe that the world, that God owes us something. We’re used to being handed everything by the system. 'Here you go. Nothing’s going to happen to you.' But we walk with God when life is going along normally as well as in the midst of crises. As Christians, we don’t live in a protected bubble.
The Worst Thing
I think that the worst thing about losing Levi has been the loss of all the unspoken hopes and dreams we had for him and for our life as a family. When you lose a friend or family member, you lose what was, but when you lose a baby, you lose what might have been, and I think that all of our dreams that died with Levi have also been magnified because he was our first child.
On my first mother's day without Levi, I wanted to do something to help other Moms around the world, and decided to buy a "start package" for seven Moms through unicef which helps these Moms give their babies a safer start to life. The package includes: 7 mosquito nets, 14 measles vaccines, 21 polio vaccines, and 14 tetanus shots. I've wanted to get the focus off me because it's so much easier to be thankful, to see the blessings in our lives, and not to focus on our own burdens and heartaches, when we turn to others in need and love on them the way we want to be loved. This is part of Levi's legacy.
I know that my sweet baby, Levi, would be really happy to know that his legacy is about life, about hope, love, and second chances. It's about finding a way to give to others when you've been so generously given to yourself. That's what my little boy has taught me in his short life, and I am grateful. I want to always be a Mamma who honours him and somehow points others to Jesus because I know that because of Jesus' gift of life for me, I will dance and sing and play with my baby one beautiful, eternal day in heaven. And oh how I long for it!
The Choice To Have More Children
The choice to try to have another baby was an obvious one. We finally came to a point where we felt that regardless of how long we wait, we’ll still have the same questions, the same doubts and fears. But we were ready to be a family.
One month after Levi died, I sat in church, not listening at all to the sermon. Then I suddenly felt that God whispered ’Josiah’ to me. When I looked it up, I learned that the name means "God heals."
A few months later, we were pregnant again. When Andreas first felt Josiah kick, I was afraid that it would be more painful than joyful since Andreas loved to talk to Levi and feel him kick in response, but he started crying tears of joy. It’s truly a gift from God that we can experience such peace.
Levi now has two siblings here on earth. Levi’s little brother was born January 2015. His name is Josiah Gideon. His little sister, Tirsa Grace, was born October 2016.
Levi’s death is the worst thing that has happened to us, but it has also taught us that God’s goodness remains through it all.
-Jordana and Andreas Surell-
All of these stories and excerpts were from Jordana and Andreas' website. A few excerpts were from an article written by Linda Mattebo for the Swedish Christian Newspaper, called Dagen. Jordana translated it into English so you can read that article here.
If you want to read Levi’s whole story, as well as more recent updates, you can visit Jordana and Andreas' website. You can follow Jordana on Instagram @jordi413 to see their life today. Feel free to contact them with any questions.
Below you can watch an Episode of 'Stories of Legacy' with Jordana, where she shares their story as well as advice for others who might be grieving.