Grieving Raleigh mother creates Keepsake Boxes to help others who lost infants

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Xaviera Bell's son, Xander, lived for just five hours, but his memory lives on. (WTVD)

Xaviera Bell, or Zay as she politely says I can call her, greeted me outside her Raleigh apartment.

We had spoken on the phone that morning, her confident voice going into great detail about a tragedy that forever changed her life.

When we sat down inside her living room, even before we started chatting, she showed me a special glass display in memory of Xander, her late son.

It's one of the precious mementos she holds onto to commemorate his life.

Back in April, Bell went in for what was believed to be a routine check-up nearly 22 weeks into her pregnancy, when doctors noticed something off in her cervix. She was instructed to go to UNC Chapel Hill to have the matter addressed.

When she got to the hospital, doctors delivered devastating news.

"They were like, 'we cannot perform the procedure. You're going to have to have him, and he's not going to survive,'" Bell recalled.



A life-changing experience, for all the wrong reasons.

"I'm planning a baby shower, not a funeral," Bell said, as she shared her reactions.

Despite the prognosis, Xander's heart was strong.

"I was devastated because I knew that as long as I could keep him inside me, he was OK because his heartbeat was 160 beats per minute. He wasn't a sick child," she said.

Bell shared with us an audio recording of his heartbeat, which she keeps on her cell phone.

On April 25, at 10:53 a.m., Xander Monroe Preysley Dorcilien was born. Quickly, family and friends at the hospital snapped photos of mother and son embracing, not knowing how much time they'd be together.

Since Bell was just 21 weeks, six days into her pregnancy, Xander didn't have the ability to open his eyes, but she says his heart was beating.

At 3:08 p.m., Xander passed away.

"When they say light and darkness cannot exist in the same place at one time. And I had him ... that's exactly what happened to my life," Bell said.

Hospital staff provided Bell with a Keepsake Box full of mementos. Displayed on her living room table, she lifted the lid and showed us what was inside - a mold of Xander's footprints, pictures, clothes he was set to wear home from the hospital, a book commemorating his birth, and a blue teddy bear.

The box itself was a white, paper container, one you'd commonly find carrying a cake. Outside was a white sticker on top identifying it as a Keepsake Box. Otherwise, it was non-descript.

A couple days later, Bell was finally set to leave the hospital. When she was looking for her car in the parking lot, she and a friend approached a parking attendant for assistance. In an attempt to be friendly, the parking lot attendant asked Bell a question.

"She was like hey, can I have some of your cake?' And my heart just stopped," Bell said.

After explaining the meaning of the box, the parking attendant was apologetic for his mistake.

The miscue inspired Bell to prevent such interactions from happening again.

In memory of Xander, she created Zeal of Xander, specially-designed Keepsake Boxes.

"I think one of the most difficult prayers that I prayed in reference to Xander, as God - allow for me to let him be as effective in his death as he would have been in his life. And it's my prayer that he will," Bell said.

She also wanted to provide resources for grieving families.

"What type of medications are available? What type of counseling is available? And also the funeral homes that are around the area," Bell explained.

She's working to try to negotiate lower rates with funeral homes for such memorial services and to create a support group in Raleigh.

"There are women who have lost babies, 20, 25, 35, 40 years ago that still grieve and still miss them. And they still need to have somebody to talk to, and they still need to have a support system, and that's what we want to provide here in the area," she said.

Bell is engaged to her fiancé, Dan Dorcilien. He lives in Florida and is working to start a support group there for fathers

As she continues her work, Bell is left looking at the ultrasounds, each with a special memory.

"He was sucking his thumb in this ultrasound. I was like, 'yeah, that's pretty Xander. He's really greedy, he likes to eat," she joked. "He has a Caribbean palette like his dad does."

His loss even affected the family dog, 9-year old Madison, who used to lie on Bell's pregnant belly and listen to Xander's heartbeat. Bell said she thinks Madison is just beginning to get used to not hearing that anymore.

Throughout our conversation, Bell speaks confidently - wavering between calmness and animation - but never too high or too low.

She expressed hope that our discussion would help drive home a simple message to mothers who have lost children.

"You don't have a living child, but you do have a child. And you are very much so a mother," Bell said.

In appreciation of their efforts in caring for her, Bell and Dorcilien threw a luncheon for UNC Hospital staff who helped her navigate the difficult procedures and decisions surrounding Xander's life.

In October, she plans on distributing the boxes to hospitals, including UNC, as part of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month.

With that mindset, Bell carries on, declaring her wish for Xander's impact:

"It's my prayer that everybody will know who Xander is ... not who he was, but who he is."
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