After some prenatal testing, Maureen and Sterling Mortensen knew several months before the birth of their fifth child in November 1990 that their unborn son would not live past birth.
This notice gave them time to pick a casket and a burial plot, but mostly, it gave them time to shed tears.
"We decided to make a blanket for him to be buried in," Sister Mortensen said. "Each of our other five children put stitches in the quilt. It gave me comfort knowing that he would be buried with a warm blanket in the winter."
The family released balloons at the funeral, a blue one for him, a white balloon for each of the other children.
"We then had a choice to make," Sister Mortensen said. "We could be miserable and bitter over our loss, or we could make the best of the situation. The answer came after a lot of prayer."
They chose to channel their grief in a way that remembered their son, and comforted others. For his birthday one year, the family made a quilt for the intensive care neonatal unit at the hospital. The next year they gave hand puppets to the pediatric unit.
This year, they gathered around the Salvation Army Christmas tree at a local mall where each member of the family chose an ornament representing a needy boy or girl.
"One 6-year-old boy wanted Legos, another boy wanted an art set. A 12-year-old girl needed a jewelry box," Sister Mortensen said. That night, family home evening was spent scurrying about the mall buying gifts for each of the children.
During the past eight years, since David's death, Sister Mortensen says she has felt the sweet companionship of her son in ways too tender to tell.
Still, his loss was hard. "I spent many nights that no one knew crying alone," she said. "A mother's empty arms
In retrospect, as she watches her children mature, "my children have expanded in their ability to love and understand others they don't know," Sister Mortensen said. "They have been enriched by this, and are aware of the needs and pains of others, and are willing to give." Shaun D. Stahle
Illustration by Alex Nabaum.