On this day, 6 months ago, at 3:01pm EST, the first ever child born to my wife and I was delivered into our arms. The first time we met him, he had already left this world. By midnight that evening, he left our arms, and we never saw him again.
Many of my posts start with that same recitation of facts, although the amount of time that has elapsed since Matthew’s birth grows. It is a point in time, further and further in the past each day. Like a lone lamp post on a moonless night, the light of that moment grows more dim as we move away from it.
Someday in the future, his birth will seem more like the faint light of a star, shining down on us over immense time and distance. The star will appear to stay fixed in the sky, forever beyond our possible reach. The light of the star itself, when we see it, may be only a memory of what was, for the star may no longer exist in space. Yet, we continue to receive the faint light it casts from across the eons and the immense span of space, a reminder of its place in the universe.
Every day, I find myself doing something or going somewhere, and a thought enters my mind. “Would I be here, doing this, if Matthew had lived?” I usually assume that I would not, though I cannot know. I like to think there is an alternate existence where Matthew lived, and where my life is very different. Objectively, I cannot know if one is better than the other, but the idea gives me a small amount of solace.
This morning, I thought about how I have made it through these 6 months after my son died so suddenly. I know that some think I have done it because of my strength of character, my resolve, my willingness to press on in the face of adversity — and there have been days where maybe they were right. I think, though, that on most days I carry on because there really is no other choice but for me to do so. It’s not a march through life, so much as a drag. The world did not stop upon Matthew’s death. The world did not stop upon the deaths of the children at Newton, CT, or upon the deaths of the victims in the Boston Marathon Bombing, or upon the deaths of the persons working at the Navy Yard in Washington, DC, or the countless other deaths this year which have been as low profile as Matthew’s was. Death is mysterious, misunderstood, and unknowable, while it is also common, routine, and ordinary.
Regardless, the loss of a little one tears at our hearts more than the loss of others. The bargain for death is the promise of life, and we lament the loss of that promise, so much so that it can make our own lives seem less promising in context. Matthew is both strength and sadness in my life, and I am still learning how to use both in a meaningful way.
In the face of loss, we are sometimes given a second chance: a chance to redeem, a chance to realize our dream, a chance to rectify a mistake, a chance to move forward. Erin and I have been given a second chance. We have learned that we are expecting another child next Spring, around the same time of Matthew’s birth. Coming so soon after Matthew’s loss, it is difficult to be overly excited, and we also struggle to not assume the worse will happen. It is a peculiar situation we are in; normally, two parents would be thrilled about their expected new arrival. Instead, we are guarded. Our joy is tempered by our still-fresh sorrow and fears. We will never be able to look further ahead than the next day. For us, the road seems longer than before.