Mourning Sawyer

Trigger Warning: Death of a child

READER POST: October 28, 2017 marked the one-year date of the death of my 10-year-old son Sawyer. It was obviously traumatic and shattered everything I knew about what was right and true and good In the world.

I sat in the piercing parlor that evening, looking around at the clientele, realizing how out of place I looked. I worried getting my nose pierced at age 41 would seem silly to everyone. I had to convince myself over and over it wasn’t about what others would think, it was about what I wanted.

There I was, standing in the parlor choosing which nose ring I was going to get. Me with my grayish brown hair in my Ann Taylor dress and designer handbag, sitting next to a woman with a purple mohawk and tattoo sleeves, I waited. On that same day one year earlier, I sat in a hospital, in my sports bra and sneakers and watched my son die.

Reflecting on his loss as I waited my turn, they called my name, and I got butterflies in my stomach. I’d gotten a tattoo when I was in college. It was small and on the inside of my ankle. I put it somewhere that no one would be able to readily see it. But really, by “no one,” we all know what I really meant was that I got it somewhere neither my parents nor my bishop would see.

I had wanted a nose piercing my entire adult life, but I felt like it was too obvious, too in your face, too defiant, too much for the saints in my congregation. My husband served on the High Council and in various bishoprics, including as a bishop, and each calling for him meant more eyes on me. At least that’s what I felt like. And I didn’t want to rock the boat. I didn’t want to make the calling he’d been asked to do any more difficult by drawing unnecessary attention to myself. Because that’s what we’re taught right? What we wear and speak and say all reflect on our husbands, and we don’t want them to look badly. 

And I wanted to be obedient and faithful. It’s not like my husband ever told me I couldn’t get my nose pierced, but I always felt like it would be a slap in the face. Whose face? I’m not sure. It was my hang up, not his. I was critical of myself for letting other people’s interpretation of my faithfulness impede my decisions about my body in such a trivial way.

Rewind to October 28, 2016, the day Sawyer died. I’d dropped him off at school like it was any other day, and, on my way to the gym, my phone rang. I didn’t answer because I was pumping gas, but when I got in the car, I saw I had also missed several texts. I was told I needed to head straight to the hospital. Sawyer had suffered a seizure at school and lost consciousness.

It was a soul crushing, heartbreaking six days. As those same dates in 2017 were approaching, I was inconsolable. We’d handed out bracelets at Sawyer’s funeral. As a family, we felt a bunch of 10 and 11-year-olds needed something positive to remember him by. Sawyer’s nickname was “Soy.” We identified three words we felt embodied Sawyer’s personality. Strong. Outrageous. You. He was unique and energetic, outrageous, and extreme. We wanted people to embrace those qualities.

It was time for me to be “S.O.Y.” I did the most outrageous, true to myself thing I could-I got my nose pierced.

I didn’t know how long I was going to keep it in, but I needed a way to express my anger with God. I needed a way to tell the world that I was struggling with my faith and that I was angry. I needed to defy the establishment somehow. To the world, what a silly thing this symbol must represent. But growing up in the LDS culture, from my perspective, only the “truly rebellious” would do something so attention seeking. At least, that was my impression. And I did still have a testimony. I didn’t want to do something that would jeopardize my standing in the church. I had already lost more than enough.

As I went to church the following week, I said nothing. Neither did anyone who saw me. I think everyone just pretended the nose ring wasn’t there. People knew I had been through a lot. Me, the bereaved mother. What were they going to say?

During my decision about getting my nose pierced, I thought a lot about the religious garments I was given in the temple. They were explained to me to be an “outward expression of my inward devotion.” I have used that phrase many times to explain my garments to friends not of my faith and the purpose they serve. They are a powerful reminder to me of promises I have made and a commitment to my God. In a strange, some might say trivial way, my nose ring serves as a similar symbol with similar power.

One day in Sunday school, a woman turned around to me and said, “I love your nose ring. My husband would kill me if I had it done.” And that was when it just came out of my mouth, “Well, it is my outward expression of my inward rebellion, and my husband loves me regardless.” And that was that. She turned back around, her husband next to her pretending not to be listening, and we just let it be. That was the end of it.

I imagine someday, when I am further along in my healing, I may take it out. But I might just leave it in so someday Sawyer can see it, too. 


Jaime Clemmer is the mother of four children, three living, and is an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She works full time for the judicial system to strengthen collaborations with community partners and develop special projects related to domestic and sexual violence issues. She has a B.S. from Brigham Young University in Women’s Studies and Psychology and is married to a great partner who embraces her and her outlandish ideas.

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