People can find anything at garage sales. When an elderly couple went to their neighbor’s sale, they found a baby crib that they could repurpose. But this crib came with a troubling story, and the couple managed to turn it around in a clever way. Read how a stranger unexpectedly changed a mother’s life forever.
Going To A Life-Changing Garage Sale
It was an average day for Gerald and Lorene Kumpula. The retired couple lived in Cokato, MN, and spent time with their 15 children and grandkids. Gerald, who was 75 years old, was also an upcycler who repurposed secondhand furniture.
In spring 2014, the couple heard about a garage sale in their local neighborhood. They decided to visit it and search for some new furniture to repurpose, but they had no idea what tragic story was in store for them.
…With A Mysterious Seller
Gerald and Lorene arrived at the garage sale run by a young woman. Along with old household items, the woman offered baby clothes, children’s toys, and a crib. Although they had no need for children’s furniture, Gerald knew that he could make it into something else.
Neither of the Kumpulas suspected that something was amiss. Many parents sell their old baby furniture and clothes when the child outgrows them. But something seemed off about this seller.
She Was Hesitant To Sell Her Crib
Gerald was interested in the crib, which was the largest piece of furniture that the woman offered. But when he spoke to her about it, something seemed off. “She was kind of hesitant, I knew that maybe she didn’t want to sell it,” Gerald later said. “Yet she did.”
After purchasing the $2 crib, Gerald packed it into his truck and drove home. But during the drive, his wife Lorene rehashed the sad conversation that she had.
In The Car, Gerald’s Wife Revealed The Sad Story
While Gerald was examining the crib, Lorene scoured through the baby clothes the woman was selling. Lorene made small talk with the seller and asked how old her son was, since she no longer needed the clothes.
But her answer was not what Lorene expected. The woman replied, “He passed away in July.” She, her fiancé, and her seven-year-old daughter were still processing the death of her infant son. Despite her grief, she told Lorene the whole story.
Valerie Watts Had A Hopeful Future
The woman’s name was Valarie Watts. At 28 years old, she became pregnant with her second child, and was fully prepared for him. She bought the proper crib, baby clothes, toys, and books.
Valarie got engaged to her fiancé, Jimi Hamblin, during the same year as the pregnancy announcement. But the couple decided to wait until after the birth to get married. Their new son–whom they named Noah–came first. Although her pregnancy seemed healthy, Valarie noticed a few problems near the final term.
But Issues Began Late In The Pregnancy
Near the final days of her pregnancy, Valarie noticed less fetal movement. Although the baby’s lack of activity was concerning, she was only a week away from her estimated labor. She had no time to go to the doctor.
“All week, I knew–he wasn’t moving as much,” Valarie later told Fox 9 News. “I was very nervous.” After contemplating what to do, she and Jimi agreed that they had to wait until delivery and hope for the best.
A Tragic Delivery
On July 22, 2013, Valarie went into labor. After a long, arduous time in the delivery room, Noah had to be delivered through a cesarean section. Finally, the couple could see the baby. But they heard heartbreaking news.
Before Valarie could even hold Noah, the doctors told her that he had no heartbeat. He was stillborn. Valarie and Jimi could still hold their child, but he was not alive. The parents were absolutely devastated.
How Did This Happen?
Doctors believe that the fetus experienced a complication near the end of Valarie’s pregnancy. According to them, the umbilical cord had either tangled or constricted at some point in the final term.
The umbilical cord is a fetus’s “supply line” which provides everything from nutrients to oxygen. With a lack of oxygen, Noah could not survive. This occurrence is rare; umbilical cord accidents make up only 10% of stillbirths, according to the Stillbirth Collaborative Research Network.
Initially, She Did Not Want To Sell The Crib
Noah’s death was traumatic for Valarie and her entire family. She grieved him every day, and she did not want to let go of the unused baby supplies. Even so, she knew that she could. not hang on to them forever.
In May 2014, she gathered enough strength to sell them through a yard sale. But she still felt emotionally attached to Noah’s belongings, especially the crib. Gerald had sensed this, even though he did not know the garage sale’s true purpose.
Why She Sold It To Gerald
Although Valarie did not want to sell the white crib, she changed her mind after listening to Gerald. He told Valarie that he wanted to repurpose the crib into another piece of furniture, possibly a headboard.
This gave Valarie some emotional reinforcement and a feeling of closure. “I was a little bit at peace with it because he’d be making something nice,” she later told TODAY. After receiving two dollars, Valarie’s unused crib was gone.
Sadly, The Kumpulas Related To This Experience
When Lorene told Gerald this story on their drive home, Gerald resonated with it. Not only did he feel sorry for Valarie, but he had some empathy, too. He and Lorene had experienced the same scenario.
Gerald and Lorene’s first granddaughter was also stillborn. Many years ago, they held her and grieved for the life that could have been. The couple have dozens of grandchildren now, but they never forgot the pain that Valarie was also going through.
They Decided To Do Something About It
Instead of just feeling sad for Valarie, the Kumpula couple decided to do something for her. They understood how hard it must have been for her to give up the crib. And since they were retired, they had plenty of time to help a mother in need.
Gerald concluded that he should transform the crib into something for Valarie instead of for himself. But what could he make that would ease her grief instead of heightening it?
But What Could He Make?
Initially, Gerald was going to make a headboard out of the crib. But seeing the repurposed crib every night might not help Valarie and Jimi, he thought. So he decided to transform it into a bench.
“An unused crib is a sad reminder,” he explained while talking to TODAY. “A bench is more of a memorial. It’s part of that sad happening, yet it’s not a reminder like a crib would be, an empty crib.”
From Lost Hope To A Memorial
When he returned home, Gerald brought the crib to his work desk. His goal was to transform the crib without making it unrecognizable. For instance, he did not paint over the white wood.
Instead, he took the beans of the crib and turned them into the chair’s backing. He then used the scalloped edges to accent the bottom of the chair. Although it could only fit one person, it was still big enough to make an impact.
A Surprise Gift
Only a week after they bought the crib, the Kumpulas returned to Valarie’s home. The grieving mother had not expected them to return, much less with the crib. But the crib was no longer; it was now a memorial bench, an unexpected gift from strangers.
Valarie could not hold back her tears when she saw the bench. It’s beautiful,” she later told TODAY.com. “[When I saw it,] I thought, ‘There’s still kind people out there.’”
Much Better Than A Crib
The bench’s effect was exactly what Gerald had predicted. For Valarie, looking at the bench felt much better than seeing an empty crib. Before, it was a sad reminder of her son left discarded in her garage. But it had gained new life thanks to the Kumpulas.
“I’m overwhelmed with joy that it’s not just sitting somewhere unused,” Valarie said. “Now I can sit in it, hold his bear, think about him if I need to.”
Gerald Would Not Accept Payment
When Valarie received the bench, she insisted that she should pay Gerald back. But he, along with his wife, refused to accept money. He transformed that crib solely from the desire to do something good.
“It’s just nice to be able to do something for someone,” Gerald told TODAY. “It’s nice to help people.” His week of selfless work reinvigorated the Watts family and helped them heal. Valarie already felt a close bond to this stranger.
Inspiring People Everywhere
Since Gerald’s actions were so inspiring, it is no surprise that the story caught on. News outlets, from Fox to TODAY to Newsner, reported on Valarie’s story. Thousands of people felt touched by Gerald’s actions.
Amy Vickers, who transforms wedding gowns into “angel gowns” for women who have lost babies, told Huffpost why the bench is so important. “It doesn’t take the hurt away from them,” she said, “but it just lets them know that we feel like their baby’s life means something,”
It Now Sits In The Watts Living Room
Today, Gerald’s bench sits in Watts’ living room. It is decorated with Noah’s blanket and teddy bear. Next to it, there is a bookshelf with Noah’s handprints, footprints, photos, and ashes.
Valarie and her family have an area to sit and feel connected to Noah. Even Nevaeh, Valarie’s seven-year-old daughter, gets to use the bench because it’s low and small enough. Instead of being a waste of space, the bench is now something that the Watts can keep forever.
Bringing Awareness To The Issue
The inspiring story of Valarie and Gerald also brought awareness to stillbirth, which affects one in every 160 births. In the United States, 24,000 babies are stillborn every year.
“It’s a reminder that other women in her shoes may be suffering far too silently and deserve support,” Maressa Brown wrote on The Stir. Valarie’s story is not only inspiring, but it offers some hope for other families who experience the same thing. Perhaps we will see more crib benches in the future.
For Valarie, Hope For The Future
Although Valarie experienced a traumatic loss, she has hope for the future. She married Jimi in autumn 2014, and she still takes care of her daughter and babysits on the side.
“In a way, when I’m sitting in [the bench], I feel comforted by his presence, even though he’s not here,” Valarie said. “It’s like a peaceful, it’s-OK type feeling. When I feel down, I can sit on the bench and I feel OK, everything’s going to be OK.”