One of the greatest fears that parents could ever think of is something happening to their child. When a newborn baby comes into this world, parents are overjoyed, excited, and jubilant. Before the sun broke the horizon, the clock struck 4:42 a.m., on Jan. 16, 2019, and Jordan Cree welcomed his newborn son, Emerson, into the world at Yale New Haven Hospital in Connecticut.
“We didn’t expect to have a baby and we didn’t expect to get pregnant, and the biggest thing wasn’t about whether or not we were going to do it, but how,” said Cree.
Emerson was born three months prematurely. To be born premature means a baby is born before the pregnancy reaches the 37-week period. When something like this happens, the babies can be born with particular health conditions that force them to stay in the hospital much longer than those who are born at the normal 40-week period. Emerson was born at 26 weeks and had a healthy heart and strong lungs. But, the major issues revolved around his Gastrointestinal (GI) tract.
Cree, who is in his senior year at Springfield College, was immediately forced to change a lot of the things in his life following the news that he and his fiancé, Kim Saltzman who is a student in the graduate program here at Springfield College, were going to be expecting a child.
When Cree was growing up in Agawam, Mass. his parents were his biggest supporters. His father was a member of law enforcement and spent time deployed in the military, and his mother worked primarily as a social worker. Cree’s father, Bob, was his role model growing up, and a lot of the things he taught both Cree and his three siblings have paved the way for Cree to get to where he is today.
“There are a lot of things that my dad did that didn’t seem like it was really impactful. But there are a lot of things that I aspire to do, because of the way we grew up,” he said.
Cree’s father taught him how to act the way he was supposed to, to take things in stride rather than focus on the big picture all of the time, and the idea that something is better than nothing. But most importantly, he taught him about facing humility while never losing pride. The fact that regardless of what happens, when in the face of adversity and humiliation, to keep one’s head high and react with pride.
“‘We came from dirt,’ he’d say,” Cree recalled. “‘But we are a proud family and you carry the Cree name with you everywhere you go, and it is attached to everything you do, and is everything you are. So be proud of what you do and who you are. Carry it and let it represent who you want to be.’”
A major factor in Cree’s life was financial instability at times during his childhood. At one point, his father had been laid off from his job and turned to ministry as a backup plan, leaving the only paycheck coming from his mother. They were forced to live paycheck to paycheck for months with several mouths to feed in the house.
“We relied heavily on other people that we didn’t know, coming to our house and giving us food. It’s a weird feeling asking your mom ‘What’s for dinner?’ and going to the front porch to find out,” said Cree.
Now, with graduation on the horizon and student loans piling up, the real challenge was on the forefront. Cree was faced with responsibilities of supporting not only himself, but his fiancé and soon-to-be newborn baby as well. But, those thoughts changed quickly on Jan. 23 at 1:00 a.m., when things took a turn for the worst.
After a long seven days in the neonatal ICU, Emerson Cree died at Yale New Haven Hospital. Cree was dealt a hardship that put a strain on him in all facets of life. He was physically, mentally, and emotionally changed by this moment. The hardship of losing a child is one that is engraved within a person for their entire life and may never go away. Saltzman and Cree were together on their way to the ICU and were completely heartbroken after receiving the news.
“When Emerson passed, we were devastated as any parent would be. But, we knew that he was the most loved and cared for little man in the whole world,” Saltzman said. “Every day hurts just as much as that night we got the call while driving to the hospital. We believe that no matter what, he will always be our son and the love of both of our lives.”
The lesson of something is better than nothing was one that Cree carries with him to this day. The fact that he was able to hold his son for some portion of time is a moment that he will cherish for the rest of his life. This was something that he hoped to bestow upon his own son one day. But unfortunately, he never received the chance to do so.
“I don’t think we fully realized how much we were gearing our lives around this little guy until he wasn’t there anymore,” he said. “I can be mad that he came in the first place. I can be mad that he’s not here right now. But, the truth of it is I got to hold my son for a solid five seconds, one time.”
Saltzman spoke about the way Cree has grown and ultimately how he has been impacted by the entire situation.
“It just makes him stronger. It makes both of us stronger,” she said. “As parents, as people, as fiancés, (and) as role models, we can understand the good even more now, because we have seen the bad. We have seen the worst and we survived it and continue to survive through it every single day.”
With the help of their closest friends and family, they hosted a Celebration of Life at Hope Community Church just up the road in Feeding Hills, Mass. Those in attendance were dressed in a plethora of their favorite colors. Both Cree and Saltzman wanted to celebrate the life of Emerson and the love that he had from so many. It was a time for the family to reflect on his life, and the beautiful moments that they were able to share together.
Cree said, “There is always damage when things take a turn for the worst, but there are also these things that are structured in a way that become beautiful.”
As Cree begins to wrap up his undergraduate years here at Springfield College, he has his mind set on Graduate School, with hopes to further his education in the field of psychology with a focus in Youth Development. He wants to be able to impact people and invest in the human potential of others, in order to benefit not only them, but himself in the long run.
Photo Courtesy Kim Saltzman