Name: Laura Becton
Number of kids/ages: Ryan - 18; Aidan - 15; Hope - 12
Career info: I was a 3rd/4th grade Teacher at PS 83 in Harlem, PS 207 in Harlem and then the Earth School in the East Village. I became a Learning Specialist/Special Education Teacher in 2001. Currently I have my own tutoring practice and work as an independent contractor in teaching reading, writing, math, and coaching executive functioning for Waverly Group, Greenwich, CT, a Pediatric therapy practice.
October was SIDS Awareness Month, and you mentioned you lost your son, Luke, to SIDS over 16 years ago. Would you share your family's story?
I am honored to share Luke’s story, to talk about Luke is to honor his memory and his role in our family.
On March 14, 2005 Steve and I had a baby boy named Luke Edward Becton. He had a ton of red hair and the cutest little legs. He was very fair, in fact once got sunburned in a rainstorm. He and Ryan were just 19 months apart. Every day, they went to the park together. Ryan was a terrific big brother. Luke liked the swings and he loved the baby bjorn. He had a sneaky little side smile. In the month of July he had developed a habit of "chatting" in his buzzy chair, he would chat loudly and smile, enticing you to pick him up. There was no way to resist putting him in your arms, he was too cute! Steve and I both come from close knit families so the grandparents loved to babysit.
While on vacation, sweet Luke was put down for his afternoon nap and didn't wake up. This is where it gets so difficult to imagine, he was healthy and chatting before his nap, and when he was checked on, he was no longer breathing. Being on vacation created challenges that made it even harder, we were not with our family or our neighborhood community. The doctors that worked on him and the detectives that had to examine the scene were very kind to us, but ultimately we left the hospital without Luke. The doctors explained that it was Sudden Infant Death Syndrome ( SIDS) but they had no answers. An autopsy would be performed but they were sure this was the cause. Leaving the hospital was surreal, we thought SIDS only happened to people who couldn’t take care of their babies. Luke was loved and well cared for. SIDS had never touched anyone close to us. We were devastated, and confused.
The next day, we returned back to our New York City apartment with a member of our family gone. Steve and I decided to have a funeral mass for Luke three days after he passed. We believed it was needed for people to get to know a bit about Luke and our families and community gain closure.
It has been 16 years, Luke should be driving. People should be saying “you have a senior, a junior, and a sophomore, that’s insane”. A day doesn't pass that I don't think of him, we miss him terribly. Although this tragedy is part of the fabric of our family, we have been blessed with two additional children. We have come to grips with the idea that you can have grief, you can miss Luke, but you have to put one foot in f in front of the other. We have tried to incorporate Luke into our family and yet at the same time build our family and grow.
How are you involved now in supporting other bereaved parents?
Our family was fortunate to be put in touch with mental health experts from the start. The morning after Luke passed we were talking to a child therapist on how to work with Ryan and explain the loss of his brother. Additionally we wanted Ryan to know that he was safe. He kept asking, “Where did Gukey go?” This was an unexpected grief experience, how would we ensure Ryan’s safety? This therapy helped us tremendously. Additionally, from our pediatrician to our family and friends, we were advised to get help for ourselves. Seventy percent of marriages which experience child loss end in divorce. These mental health professionals provided the framework for Steve and I to learn to cope.
A friend of mine recommended a SIDS support group, if I could find one. Turns out she found one for me in Westchester. The first drive from the West Village to Scarsdale to meet the group was so nerve wracking, "Why did this happen to us? Why do I have to meet these people? Will they be 5 years out and still so sad?" Once Steve and I arrived, we were welcomed with open arms. This group is basically “The club no one wants to be in." Yet, these people were engaged in everyday life. Each member was at a different point in their grief journey but they were living their lives. They found comfort in each other and an understanding that no one else has . They know 'How many kids do you have?’ is a difficult question, the day your child should start kindergarten and graduate high school is devastating, and understanding that seeing Christmas stockings hanging on the mantle each December may make us cry, there is one missing.
After attending the group for 7 years, I started reaching out to new parents who had lost children as my role in the group. It was so difficult to reach out to these families, I felt their pain. It was so raw, I called sometimes just days after their loss. Talking to these families made me feel productive. I thought maybe if I can make just one person feel better, I am honoring Luke. Over time, the group leaders had children in college, went to work full time, or had life that took over. I was asked to run the group. Leading the group reminds me of where I have been and how far I have come. About 5 years ago, we moved the group to Manhattan since most of our participants were in the city. The first time a couple shows up to a meeting is always a challenge, they are so brave to attend yet they wish they didn't have to be there.
Being part of this group makes being a SIDs parent less lonely. From fundraising to Facebook groups, the group is a place to discuss ideas and sometimes SIDS research. One of the members of our group, who was in the film industry, was very frustrated with the lack of parental support and information for parents about SIDS. She worked with The Roberts Project at Boston Children's Hospital to create a video that explains what we know about SIDS and what SIDS is not. I find that facilitating the group is more fulfilling rather than rewarding. It gives me a safe place to discuss Luke and help others. Grief is so individual , this group lets us grieve individually yet know we are not alone.
Roberts Project Video: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=JVm0vJ4sZm4&feature=youtu.be
What are ways our community can offer support?
As I mentioned, grief is very individual and each loss is unique. There are many ways to support each loss. We were very lucky, our West Village community rallied around us after Luke passed. Our community came together to plant daffodils in Bleecker park, so they would bloom yearly around Luke’s birthday. Our college friends ordered us dinner monthly from our favorite restaurant. Friends found us therapists and support groups. Our families respect that holidays can be hard.
The number one thing you can do is ASK! Ask your friend or family member how they are coping? Ask them what time they need dinner? Ask them if you can help with childcare? Some people are worried it will be awkward, it might be. Usually the awkwardness passes and you are doing what they need, listening. In the beginning time passes so slowly due to the pain, if you want to help think what can I do to help their time be easier?
People often think of the year after loss as the most important time to be there. I find that when I share with a newer friend about Luke, it is a sign that I trust them to let them onto the fabric of who I am. I have friends in Rye who text me on Luke’s birthday and understand if I need to see a movie on a bad day, although they have never met him. Our friends have supported us with our rainbow babies (the babies you have after the loss of a child) by understanding we lived in fear. At times we are irrational (especially following the field trip bus for 5 years!). Support your friend by meeting them where they are.
Over time, we want our loved ones to be remembered. This can be a challenge and I am not so sure I have a high success rate for other people but I try. I try to text or call on difficult anniversaries. Sometimes I find myself thinking of someone who has lost someone, I just call them. Just to let them know they are in my thoughts.
Lastly, if our community has a fundraiser for an illness, an organization, or a cause they believe in, we should support them. Rye is an amazing community, let's support each other even if we haven't been touched directly by those causes or know someone who has. Whatever you choose to do to help someone grieving is the right thing. Just find a way to do something, it may help your life process too.
What strategies do you recommend for dealing with grief?
We have all heard of the 5 stages of grief, but you can’t put labels on parts of grief because each person's experience with grief is very unique. I think when you lose a loved one suddenly and unexpectedly it creates a different set of circumstances. There are so many “what ifs”. Additionally, losing your child from SIDS, this is a great unknown. You are left wondering, what you could have done and why there are still no answers.
Initially Steve and I threw ourselves into fundraising for SIDS research and SIDS grief support. Over time, that felt less important. We wanted answers but also needed to find a way to have a life with our family of 5. From my experience, I think being in a group with others who have experienced a similar loss was paramount for me. I have had group participants over the years that just came to listen. Sharing and being comfortable with your grief doesn't mean announcing it for the world to hear, it means sharing any parts you feel comfortable with. I would recommend finding a place you are comfortable to share your story and your grief, which I am sure can be many different places and experiences.
One of the hardest parts of grief is when you get sidelined by it. Someone may ask you a benign question that really hurts your heart. I think finding a strategy that works during these times is essential, such as going for a walk, or looking at a picture of your loved one. Additionally, I might find a standard answer to those questions that can be hard. That way you are prepared and can repeat it many times.
Initially after losing Luke I could only find comfort when I was with Ryan and Steve. It was the only time I felt safe. Over time Steve returned to work and I had to learn to be on my own. When one is left with their own thoughts, that is when the grieving process really takes place. I learned to love the movies as an escape from my thoughts when I wasn't ready to face them. . I learned to walk in nature, which makes me feel more rooted in my life. Before the pandemic I held babies in the NICU at Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx. Being with babies, holding them when their parents can’t, and watching them sleep provides me great comfort. I wasn’t able to enjoy the baby's stage as much as I would have liked with Aidan and Hope. Holding these babies provides me comfort and a feeling of peace. I also find comfort in my support group, being with others who share a part of my story.
Any words of inspiration for other moms?
I wish I had words of inspiration, I often still wish that I was not a SIDS mom. Losing our son has changed me. I try not to worry about the little things (easier said than done), I try not to get involved in experiences that don’t represent my values, I try to put my energy into being a good person for my family and our community. I really try to be happy at the moment. I never wish for time to pass (even COVID). Additionally, prior to losing Luke, I didn’t like to share my inner thoughts and I am not sure I was available to hear others. I have learned, when challenges are thrown your way, find support, seek comfort, and share. By sharing our challenges and celebrating life’s victories, we gain perspective. I still have a hard time when someone says “Our kids are going to be fine." The unknown makes me uneasy. I like a plan. For years I tried to control every aspect of my life since what happened was beyond my control. I learned we have to live. Look for life’s little moments, hug your kids often, and smile and laugh when you feel able. Luke gave me these gifts, this inspiration.
Social media links you'd like to share?
The Roberts Project website has many useful resources:
A useful book:
Resources- This video was made by an amazing woman in my support group, we have been supporting each other since the day after her daughter died:
A Message from Dr. Hannah Kinney and Dr. Rick Goldstein. For SIDS Famili...: Video:https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=JVm0vJ4sZm4&feature=youtu.be