What to do on an anniversary of such conflicting emotions…pain, grief, guilt, pride…a day of mourning and celebration.
November 9th. It is November 9th. Again. Somehow. Has it really been a year? It is almost unfathomable to believe that one year ago today our lives were shattered and everything changed, in an instant.
Luke’s first birthday. How to honor this tiny person, this beautiful soul who never breathed but who has shaped the course of our lives forever? It’s a difficult question. First birthdays for living children seem so easy and simple in comparison, even if Pinterest may tell you it’s quite stressful to create the perfect day. Pick a theme, get a smash cake, invite friends and family, snap pictures, capture memories and joy and wonderment. So easy.
What if the child who is celebrating their first birthday is no longer living? What if their date of birth is the same as their date of death? November 9, 2020 – November 9, 2020…such a hollow thought. He was stillborn, but he was still born.
Today is a day worthy of celebrating, even if it is hard. My son, Luke, is now one year old. It may seem odd to think this way…but to loss parents it is natural. Our child is not with us in body, but he is always with us. We must recognize the passage of time for him, even if time will not recognize him in its passage. He won’t grow older…but we will, and we will keep his flame alive in our hearts and in our minds. So why not light a candle and bake a cake for his birthday? There is so little else to celebrate or find any joy in, even if that joy is deeply bittersweet.
Celebrating Luke on His 1st Birthday
- Baking cupcakes. It’s a birthday…of course there will be cake. I got some candles also. Regular ones and ones with stars on them, because the birthday boy needs a special candle. We will enjoy them as best we can, and maybe give some away as well.
- Cards. We are writing Luke a birthday card. Of course we are. It has R2-D2 on it 🙂 And we received this beautiful card from the Still Loved foundation, an organization that sends out free cards to babies who have died on their birthdays. As they say: ” “Having your baby remembered, especially on their birthday is so powerful.” We were so thrilled that they chose to send a Luke Skywalker card, by the way. Very on theme.
- Receiving gifts and thoughts. To anyone who decides to reach out in any way, great or small, this is very meaningful to us. No one is obligated, of course, but outreach at any time, but even moreso today, is a gift beyond words. Our son is not physically by our side, so no one can ever comment to us on him, or ask about him, or say how much he’s grown, or looks like his dad/mom, or anything at all. But knowing people remember him even if only a passing thought…it does mean a lot. Some of our friends had a star in the sky named after Luke…so now we can find his star and know he is shining down on us. We knew this already, but the thought is ever so touching.
On this note, I need to be better about remembering my friends’ children’s birthdays…knowing how meaningful this is to us. Though it’s different when the child is alive, as all the added weight outlined above is lifted. The child’s laughter can be heard, instead of simply dreamed about.
- LEGO building. On Father’s Day, I built LEGO Luke Skywalker’s X-Wing. It’s becoming a bit of a tradition that on meaningful days I will sit down and build a LEGO Star Wars set, as if Luke and I are playing together in some way. It brings us closer and helps me…and that’s all that matters. It seems appropriate to have another Luke-themed LEGO set today, so I’ll be putting together this landspeeder. It will join the rest of my ever-growing Star Wars collection. A childhood collection which I seem to have revitalized after this loss. Perhaps to fill a void that can never be filled.
- Writing / this blog. I write this post and maintain this blog as a way to honor and remember my son. Infant loss is a taboo subject in our society, and breaking down barriers on this topic is important to me. We must speak of these things and confront the reality that, yes, all babies can die. It can happen to anyone, from any walk of life. Before, during, or after birth. Being willfully ignorant of this fact helps no one. I will write or shout from the rooftops about my son, stillbirth, and infant loss as long as I live.
Kelly is joining a letter-writing campaign today, with other loss parents, to notify a prominent medical organization about the dangers of small placentas and how they can be prevented. Losses like ours don’t have to happen…simply measuring the placenta can save so many lives. We must pay it forward to help others avoid this fate. Hopefully, someday, this will become reality.
- Walking and reflection. Today is a beautiful day. We will look to walk and reflect back on this agonizing year. In a way, it feels like it should be a dark day (see my earlier post on how beautiful days are often the hardest). But I am happy the sun is shining brightly today. It seems fitting for Luke – Lucas is derived from the Latin word lux…meaning light. The sun is his. My son’s sun.
- Love. We will simply love our son today, as we do every day.
Happy 1st birthday to our firstborn son, Luke. We love you, always.
Reflecting back, one year ago…
Additional thoughts on a hard day, looking back over the course of a year…
November 9, 2020. We had left the hospital on Saturday, November 7, after being there for five days. Throughout, the doctors did all they could to stop early labor, to give Luke the best chance for survival. He was healthy – there seemed no reason for him to be born early. Throughout the stay, he was healthy and strong; Kelly was hooked up to an NST almost all the time and his heartbeat never faltered. We left Saturday morning. I got a haircut on Sunday. I was back to remote work on Monday morning. I went to CVS to pick up something for Kelly. I got home and something seemed wrong.
We were back in the hospital on Monday, November 9, 2020…around midday. We thought Kelly was in labor for real and needed to deliver ASAP, so we rushed to Labor and Delivery. The baby hadn’t kicked that morning in a bit and we couldn’t find his heartbeat on our home doppler…but we chalked that up to user error. They saw us immediately, taking us back to a room to check on the baby. He wasn’t even Luke yet…he didn’t have a name. I still remember that the nurse asked if she could take a restroom break and we were like, of course, of course. We’ll be here. She came back and hooked up the ultrasound machine…but couldn’t find a heartbeat. Now we were terrified. She called the doctor and they wheeled in another machine, to make sure it wasn’t faulty equipment. By then…shock and horror took over as the doctor said that he was gone. So many questions…so many racing thoughts. Mostly just…why? What? How? Utter disbelief.
Then, the baby still must be born. Hours go by. Joking anesthesiologists who the nurses yell at for their insensitivity. Labor. Kelly with a task at hand, being a warrior. Cutting the umbilical cord. No sounds. The nurses wash him…Nurse PJ says “he is beautiful.” He is beautiful. Beautiful and heartbreaking. Holding him. Naming him – “he looks like Lucas.” Clothing him. Baptizing him. Kissing him. Singing to him. Touching him. Saying hello. Saying goodbye.
I’ve thought back on this day so many times – there’s so much more to it than the above. I could write a book simply on that day. Not to mention the days that followed, as well as preceded. The year that came and went in the blink of an eye but also stretched out for all eternity. How can time flow so quickly and yet so agonizingly slowly, all at the same time? A paradox.
Today is a remembrance of joy and pain. Grief and love. Life and death. Dream and madness. Hope and loss. Full and hollow. Celebratory and mournful. A hard, bittersweet day. A wibbly-wobbly day.
Again – happy 1st birthday to my son, Lucas Henry.
4 thoughts on “Luke’s First Birthday”
You are true gifted writer. Your words come to life and help us understand what you’re going through. I remember that day vividly, the shock, horror and grief. And so much crying. We think of Luke everyday , but especially today. Happy Birthday little Angel.
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Matt, your words are both heartbreaking and beautiful. You do such an amazing job expressing all that this day is for you and Kelly. Such loving parents you both are.
All of the activities that you participated in today in honor of Lukas’s birthday are heartwarming and so special.
Surrounding you and Kelly in love.
Happy Birthday to your angel Lukas Henry🙏
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There are no words to tell you how good of a writer you are. You help understand the grief you are going through. It also breaks my heart just like a year ago when I got your phone call. I will never forget it. Shock , grief , horror and so much crying. Can’t talk about it anymore. Just know we are thinking of you as always. Love
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Love you brother – thank you for writing❤️🙏🏽👍🏽. So good…yet so sad. I guess that is life though huh? God bless you and Kelly!