A poignant photo of a swaddled infant is going viral for its combination of heartbreak and hope. In the image, posted to Twitter by the baby’s aunt, the girl is nestled between her parents’ backs and their pair of tattooed angel wings — a memorial to the couple’s first child, who died at just 14 months.
“My sister & her husband got tattoos of angel wings after their son died 2 yrs ago. They had a baby girl in June,” wrote Grace Arend above the beautiful black-and-white photo. “This moves me to tears.”
The tweet, from Aug. 8, has been retweeted more than 19,000 times and received more than 67,000 likes; commenters have expressed joy and sadness through GIFs and through many brief admissions along the lines of “I’m crying.”
My sister & her husband got tattoos of angel wings after their son died 2 yrs ago. They had a baby girl in June. This moves me to tears. pic.twitter.com/2sVwxkfuBG
— Grass (@Grace_Arend_13) August 9, 2017
The baby in the photo is Claire, not quite 2 months old. Her parents are Steven and Gloria Kimmel of Kendallville, Ind., and the angel wings — one tattooed on each of their backs — are to honor the life of their firstborn, Isaac, who died in July 2015 due to Type 1 spinal muscular atrophy, also called SMA or Werdnig-Hoffmann disease. It’s caused by a gene mutation and leads to muscle weakness, difficulty breathing and sucking, and a very short life expectancy. Several other types of SMA have different prognoses.
“Isaac was diagnosed with SMA Type 1 when he was 6 months old. It was right after Thanksgiving,” Gloria, 29, tells Yahoo Beauty. “We were told to take him home and love him as much as we could, as the disease, at that time, was terminal.”
Although she and Steven, 30, were able to get their son into a clinical trial for a new SMA drug and he initially regained strength, the tiny patient eventually suffered from a collapsed lung and spent three weeks in ICU before his final two “beautiful weeks” at home, his mom says. “We have always felt that if he had been able to start the treatment when he was younger, before the disease had progressed so much, he would have lived,” she says.
Gloria shares, “The grief that comes with losing a child is unimaginable. I don’t know how we made it through the drive home from the hospital without him, but we did. I don’t know how I made it through the viewing and funeral without my broken heart ceasing to beat in my chest, but I did.”
She says that she and her husband have dealt with their grief in very different ways but that going through their loss together, and taking it one day at a time, has strengthened their relationship. “Even now, two years after his passing, I am still learning new ways to deal with my grief,” Gloria says. “I kept a grief journal to write all the thoughts that were bouncing around in my head down on paper. It helped to clear my head so that I was able to sleep. We have a loving support system with friends, family, and our church community.”
A week and a half after Isaac’s funeral, the couple got their matching tattoos from artist Don Hankey at Fort Wayne’s Studio 13. “We wanted to have a beautiful physical reminder of his life and the promise of being with him in the afterlife,” Gloria explains. “The tattoo was meant to be his angel wings. He was half of each of us, so we each had one of his wings to hold us. He was the angel that was holding us together when we were so lost without him. The tattoos are a reminder that he is always with us in spirit.”
Gloria says she knew “right away” that she wanted to have another child, and while Steven took a bit of convincing, they both took comfort in waiting to conceive until an SMA treatment became available. Claire does not have SMA.
But, her mother notes, “She looks so much like her brother. There are so many bittersweet moments when she reminds me of my son that I no longer get to hold in my arms, but because of my loss I truly appreciate the beautiful gift that she is and I cherish every second of every day with her. I can feel Isaac’s love as I look at her sweet face; he must have picked out her beautiful soul and sent her to us.”
The now-viral photo, taken by Megan Baker-Miles as part of Claire’s newborn shoot when she was about a week old, brings comfort to the couple. “When I look at it,” Gloria says, “I see our entire family, with Isaac there with us — the product of all the love, hope, and prayers over two years.”
The huge reaction to the image on Twitter has taken Gloria by surprise, particularly since she hadn’t realized her sister had posted it. But Gloria says she was thrilled when her sister (one of three; she also has two brothers) showed her the post several days after.
“It was so heartwarming — and at that time it was only 700 likes, so you can imagine how moved I am now!” she says. “To quote what [my sister] said, ‘I am so proud of the internet.’ There are so many wonderful people out there who can send their heartfelt condolences and congratulations in waves. And we can feel it!”
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