Mary Engel and Richard Engel had only been married for four months when their first son, Henry, was born – the day was September 29, 2015. He was diagnosed with a condition called Rett Syndrome, which is almost exclusively diagnosed in girls, but he was one of the rare boys who was forced to fight it.
And fight it, he did – for nearly 7 years. Henry Engel passed away from the disease on August 9, 2022 – a month and 20 days before his 7th birthday. Richard announced his death on social media a little over a week later. “We always surrounded him with love, and he returned it and so much more,” wrote Richard.
Following their son’s death – before he was cremated – Richard and Mary were given the opportunity to spend a week with his body as they prepared to go through life in his absence. On Wednesday, Mary published an emotional essay about that week and what it meant to say their final goodbye to Henry.
She opened the essay by talking about a photo she had seen recently of a father holding his daughter’s hand as she lay – deceased – in a pile of rubble following the earthquake in Turkey. She didn’t compare Henry’s death to that, but she understood the father’s need for that physical contact with his daughter.
It reminded her of the week she spent with Henry after he passed away. Henry wasn’t there mentally or emotionally, but he was there physically. “As long as he remained a physical presence on this Earth, I wanted to be with him,” she wrote – adding she spent time with him every day, twice per day, for a week.
It was something she looked forward to, and being a creature of habit and routine, she saw him at 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. every day that week. “They would have him ready for me, and I’d go into the room and cry, stroke his hair and face and rest my head next to his,” she added. She also brought his favorite toys.
Mary Engel wrote about the grief she and her husband were going through and how it makes you ‘do some seemingly weird things.’ For example, there was a moment when Henry’s nose was running, so she wiped it with a tissue – she kept those tissues, and they are now sitting in a drawer in her dresser.
Mary Engel Writes About Henry’s Cremation and Ashes
Mary Engel wrote about how the funeral director told her she would know when the right time was to move forward with the cremation. While she originally thought she ‘would never be able to let his body go,’ she eventually learned what the funeral director meant. That time eventually came, and it was ‘clear.’
“The day of the cremation, we went multiple times to sit with him. At one point, we left for a little while to get a coffee. I remember feeling like an alien mingling with these people who were going about their everyday lives while we were preparing to take our son to be cremated,” she continued in the essay.
They ended up spreading some of his ashes near a tree at one of Henry’s favorite parks. She would return to that tree for months, and due to the dry summer, remnants of the ashes remained. “Six months later, I’ve now come to realize that he’s everywhere. Wherever I go, and whatever I do, he’s with me.”
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She concluded the essay by expressing how thankful she was to have that week with Henry – calling it ‘surreal, heartbreaking, gut-wrenching,’ but also filled with love. And while there was a lot of pain, she would go through it all over again if she knew she would get an amazing six years with her little boy.
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