Twenty-five feet of crystal-clear water rolled between the pier where I stood and the smooth, colorful boulders on the lake floor. I was enchanted by this simmering window into aquatic life, mesmerized, in my own world. “Ann-Marie, the line is moving,” a voice called out. My parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, and I were all about to board the ferry for Mackinac Island. Each step in the line gave a new perspective on the world below my feet and of the majestic sailboats that effortlessly floated by the pier on the waves.

I think of these things as I stand in the cemetery where my sweet baby boy is buried. Feet firmly planted in this world and my mind in another, I look down to see this inscription:

I saw a ship a-sailing, a-sailing out to sea, and oh, but it was laden, with children good to see.
Strong arms that held the sails tight, red cheeks that laughed at cold, and every child upon it was worth his weight in gold.

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My finger rests on my lip as I gaze up, trying not to let the tears fall to my cheeks. It lasts for a moment. I give up, close my eyes, and sigh as I feel the hot tears stream to my chin. I think about that ship.

I think about my little boy, whole and healthy as he should have been in another life.

I wonder, Is this how he made his way to Heaven: on a ship in a crystal sea?

My mind wanders down the halls of my memory to that Saturday, the Saturday before his delivery. A pile of clean baby boy clothes lay folded on the living room sofa–a garage sale haul from the weekend before. The sounds of my husband and eldest daughter playing outside can be heard. I sit on the living room floor. Repositioning my achy, pregnant hips from side to side, I paint a sailboat under a crescent moon. It is a gift to put in my little boys’ nursery, something from mommy, just for him.

That day was the last day I know for sure I felt him kick. It was not a contraction I mistook for movement but a good, hearty kick. Was this his last day alive?

I clench my eyes tightly. Recoiling from the thought, I rewind through the corridors of my mind, firmly planting myself back in the cemetery, body and soul.

I open my eyes to see the plaque again and the little garden around it which denotes “Babyland,” the area where my baby boy and many other little ones are buried. I never imagined that sailboats would be one of the things that would remind me the most of my son.

I guess we, as bereaved parents, do not get to choose these things. They somehow choose themselves.

I suspect that these little signs and moments of remembrance mean all that much more for this reason. If we chose them, they would not hold our wonder.

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Last summer, instead of our usual trip to Indiana to visit my family, we packed up the vehicles with all the grandparents, aunts, uncles, kids, swimsuits, and snacks and headed up to northern Michigan. This time it was my children who stood on the dock, full of excitement, wonder, and imagination as we waited for the ferry to take us to Beaver Island. In their view, to sail on a boat was just as exciting as the destination itself. As the ferry motored into the deep waters of Lake Michigan, I looked out and saw a sailboat in the distance and imagined my little boy on it–healthy, strong, and free.

Originally published on

Ann-Marie Ferry

Ann-Marie is a nurse based in the Midwest. She and her husband have been married for close to a decade. She has three spunky girls and one sweet little boy in heaven. After nine months of hyperemesis, hemorrhage, and pre-term labor, her first pregnancy resulted in a full-term baby girl. Kuyper, her second child, was stillborn during his second trimester in 2013. Her third pregnancy concluded six weeks early resulting in a NICU stay. Although, still complicated and high risk, she would describe her fourth and final pregnancy as a redeeming experience.