Rambling thoughts on a first Father’s Day following the loss of a son. Trigger warning: infant loss, grief, sadness
Today is a difficult day. It is Father’s Day. Used to be pretty simple – I would honor my own father as well as the other fathers in my life: my brother, cousins, friends, co-workers. Now…all that still applies, but the day is much more personally complex. And a bit devastating.
What is Father’s Day to a father who loses a child? Especially if that child never drew breath, never opened his eyes. My son Luke, who was born still last November at 34 weeks, will never be able to tell me Happy Father’s Day, or even call me dad. But he is my son forever and I am his father. Does the world see me that way? Can people think of you as a father if you have no living child to mentor, to help guide, to keep safe, to play with? All I know is that I am a father to a son – he’s just not with me. He’s unseen, but always there inside my heart. I crave acknowledgement as a father, even knowing that people likely view me as less than one. Even I myself do, in my heart of hearts – am I an imposter to the club? No, I then tell myself. I’m still a father – I just fulfill my fatherly duties in a much different way.
I think often about what those fatherly duties are. How can I honor my son? I am proud of him and live to make him proud of me. I choose to honor Luke by sharing his story, which is our story. It is a story with no ending, that will span the course of our lifetimes and hopefully beyond. There is no greater sadness in my mind than him being forgotten and unspoken of. He is an indelible part of my life now, and the life of his mother. I want – no, need – people to know about him and what he means to us. That is probably why I write these posts and choose to write them fully from the heart. Maybe it’s difficult to read – but I don’t really care about that. Grief is hard. I will not shy from it. I live with it every day – I will speak about Luke at almost every opportunity I can, especially with the people I care about.
Picking out cards for my dad and brother this year was an emotional experience. Usually I love to do this, but picking them out and sending was tough. I knew that there would be no cards sent by Luke and received by me, ever, and that is a new loss. I think that’s maybe what people don’t always realize. This is a lifetime of loss – the small things you know that you would have had, but simply won’t be able to have at all. I picked out a Star Wars-themed card for my dad…”Yoda best dad ever!” I think it was. A fantastic card that makes me happy to send him. I want Luke to send one to me…
Instead, we tuck our memories and items inside a small box, engraved with our son’s name. This box is a sense of comfort but also sadness, as most things are these days. A constant duality of happiness and sadness, in often the simplest of things. Things that don’t seem complex, but somehow are, now.
I see all the other dads playing with their kids, and being honored as fathers today, and I’m filled with jealousy and sadness. My soul cries out with longing for the pictures I see online (before I hide the post), for the experiences I won’t have, for the memories that won’t be made. Co-workers or friends or people on TV shows talk of their sons graduating from high school and being sad about having an empty nest – and I think about that term with bitterness in my heart. An empty nest with a child who has left it and is flourishing is a gift. An empty nest because a child didn’t get the chance to learn to fly is truly empty. But I do not blame those who feel this way – I am simply envious of their sadness, because my sadness seems crueler. Similar to people who talk about going back to work and leaving their children for the first time. I expect that is very difficult – but it pales in comparison to having no child to leave. But that doesn’t take away from their emotions and feelings; I just find myself always comparing.
I don’t mean to make anyone feel guilty with these words. I’m guilty myself in having the thoughts I have. I just want to share honestly. I’m happy for others and want to experience the happiness of other families – I’m just always conflicted inside.
I think often and even moreso today about the few precious hours we spent with Luke in the hospital, after he was born. I held him as long as I could and we explored the hospital room together, which was all I could really do. I took him on small adventures that night and showed him things, knowing it was the one time I could. I sang Disney songs to him and had him baptized, after we put him in his cute blue outfit and hat with animals on it. I kissed him and stroked his hair, taking in all of him that I could. And, before, I helped the doctor and nurses deliver him, and cut the umbilical cord like dads are supposed to do. It was so hard, because you imagine the crying, and the happiness. But there was only silence. But I look back now with conflicting thoughts – it was certainly the worst day of my life, but also a beautiful day, which may seem weird to hear. One of only two days I got to spend with Luke. And, again, the only other day we were able to spend with him – at the funeral home. Where we were able to introduce him to his grandparents, and great-grandma. The only people besides us (and the medical staff) who got to hold him and see him when he was here. I sang “Hey, Jude” to him then. I showed him the sun through the window, since it was dark in the hospital, and I wanted him to see the light. We have pictures – they won’t be shared on this blog. But I will share them with people in person, especially if asked. I want people to see Luke’s beautiful face.
It would be remiss of me to not also honor my wife, Kelly, today. She is suffering as well, as I suffered on Mother’s Day, and as we suffer every day. And yet she is doing all she can to recognize me as Luke’s dad and to make the day special for me. I would not be able to get through this without her by my side. Not to be presumptuous, but I think the feeling is mutual. I cannot imagine walking this path alone.
I feel very reflective today. It is strange and crazy to think it is June 2021. We lost Luke on November 9, 2020, at 34 weeks and 2 days. About 8 months into our pregnancy. It’s almost been 8 months since that tragic day. I am struggling with the fact that soon Luke will have been gone longer than he was with us. It’s a difficult thing to process. These past months have felt like a blur, but also like the longest time of my life. Some days I don’t really even know what to do, where I am, or if I dreamed all of this.
I have only one plan for today, beyond writing this post, and some may think it strange. I am going to build this Lego X-Wing starfighter.
Not by coincidence, it is Luke Skywalker’s X-Wing. For those who don’t know, I am rather obsessed with Star Wars. It is also no coincidence that Luke’s name is Luke – we wanted to give him a great name that also could be secretly nerdy. Not that we named him after Star Wars Luke…but it certainly factored into the naming choice.
By building this, I will feel closer to my son. I built a small Lego set on Mother’s Day and it was really cathartic. I feel like it’s because it is something I know I would have done with Luke when he was old enough: build and play with toys, particularly Star Wars ones like this. I think this sort of thing will become a ritual, to help close the gap between us I wish with all my soul wasn’t there.
Speaking of nerdiness: we’ve had the “Always” picture below on our wall for a few years, but it’s taken on new meaning over this past one. For non-Harry Potter fans: one of the primary antagonists, Severus Snape, was deeply in love with Lily Potter, Harry’s mom, since he was young. This love is unrequited, however. She is tragically killed before the books even begin, leaving Snape to mourn her and his love for her in silence from that point forward.
At one point, Professor Dumbledore asks Snape why he is doing certain things. Snape produces his “patronus” – a form of advanced magic that takes the shape of something important to the wielder. Snape’s patronus is a doe – the same as Lily’s. Dumbledore realizes the significance of this, that Snape is doing everything because of his deep love of a woman many years dead, and asks him: “Lily? After all this time?” And Snape replies simply with: “Always.”
I will always love my son. I hold him in my heart and think about him every day, almost all the time. I live now to make him proud of me, as I am proud of him. I am proud to be Luke’s dad. I want the world to know that.