As time goes by and life moves forward, our previous lives seem more and more unreal. The people that Jonathan and I used to be seem like figments of our imagination. We were discussing this earlier today, how our pre-children selves and hospital selves seem like part of a movie that we watched together one time and not our actual reality, much less our reality that we’ve lived in the past two years.
Two years ago today, we became parents. Two years ago today at 4:38 p.m. we welcomed our little fighter into this world, knowing that he was going to have a tough road ahead of him but not knowing how much he would struggle or for how long. We welcomed our son Lucas Dean Curry into our lives in the flesh, where as before he was unseen but definitely felt (especially with all his kicking) and already loved. Two years later, we are remembering that fight, that struggle, and still that love, but now we have to recognize and acknowledge the heartache that is now a part of that mix as well.
Today would have been Luke’s 2nd birthday. In my mind I can’t get past how he should be blowing out his first birthday candle (because no one year old actually does that at their first birthday) and ripping open presents. We should be teaching him how to smile and say thank you for each gift that he unwraps and birthday hug he receives, as well as taking pictures of him in his cute birthday outfit. But, unfortunately we are not. We are yet again reminded of what will never be.
It’s kind of funny how my mind works. With each time landmark that we should have celebrated with Luke, I mourn two versions of what should have been. Part of me thinks of what should have been had we never heard of CDH, had those words congenital diaphragmatic hernia never been uttered in reference to our own child. We should have a walking, babbling, tantrum-throwing little boy that we complain to others for being “such a handful!!” We should be chasing around a wild child who doesn’t like to wear clothes and is starting to get interested in things like the zoo, and Christmas lights, and playing in the mud. We should be saying things like, “Oh, yeah, Luke did that when he was younger, too.” or “Ugh, Luke also (enter behavior here) when he was Evelyn’s age, so it’s no surprise.” However, Luke’s reality would have actually been different than that, had he lived. We would not have had these same conversations or taken note of these same normal behaviors, but we still would have been talking about him somehow.
As we watch Evelyn move and grow and develop, it makes us realize how far behind developmentally Luke really was…but as we have said millions of times before, we didn’t care. So, with each monumental milestone in Evelyn’s life, we think of what could have been with Luke, even if it would have been delayed. With each thought of the events of what should have been Luke’s life, we are more aware of what it should have looked like.
In reality, CDH is a mean beast and did and would have continued to have made Luke’s life harder than “normal” little boys. We would have been still discussing night nurses and breathing treatments. We would still be going to doctor’s appointments and following a routine of trach care and sponge baths, probably. We would have been juggling doctor consultations and what was to come next in Luke’s development both physically and mentally and figuring out how to balance that with the schedule of Evelyn’s life and care.
But what I wouldn’t give for all of that anyways. I would take endless doctor’s appointments and consultations over not having Luke at all.
Don’t get me wrong. I love what we have now. I love our daughter and the life that we are creating with her; but, I wish that I would be able to identify with all the other mothers who talk about how their second child is so much harder than the first because of the extra little one running around while they have to take care of the baby. My second child will never get to meet my first until she leaves this world. I yearn for the running around of my first born child as I try to take care of my daughter and for the chance to lament to my friends over the loss of another good shirt to grass stains and dirt.
A couple months ago Jonathan and I were a part of the Remember Me Always ceremony at the Texas Children’s Hospital. It is an annual ceremony that commemorates all the babies that have lost their battle within the past year at TCH. I was asked to represent the parents’ point of view and speak at the ceremony. I was honored to represent and speak to the strong group of individuals that are grieving parents. I hope that I was able to inspire some sense of hope and encouragement within their hearts with my words.
I posted part of my speech here, starting with how I felt right after Luke passed away because today I was thrown back to that time in my mind over and over again. I feel that the words are relevant to the state of mind I had today:
For me, I didn’t know how to react. I just kept thinking how the battle was over. There was no more hope of a future where we would be telling the story of all that Luke had overcome and survived. That was not to be our reality and it just felt unfair. We were now in a world without our precious child’s spirit and everything just seemed empty. At the funeral we didn’t know how we were supposed to act. Were we supposed to be friendly, like hosts of a gathering? Was I supposed to be crying? I felt nothing and everything. I thought maybe I’m supposed to do something to honor Luke. I’ve always been the kind of person that does things. I’m a go-getter and am not used to just doing nothing. So, I should be doing something for Luke since that’s how I could continue to be his advocate. Is that what God’s plan for me is? Is that what my purpose on Earth is, what Luke’s purpose was? Would any of those things keep Luke’s memory alive? Wasn’t that what I was really trying to do? Even I didn’t know. I didn’t know how to feel, what to do, what not to do, what I was supposed to do, when all I really wanted to do was hold my son and imagine the future we were going to have together and all the possibilities. I kept thinking of how much our lives had changed over that year and I felt like we were expected (by no one in particular) to go back to how we were before.
I’ve struggled for the past month or so trying to think of a way to celebrate Luke’s birthday, so this part of my speech about trying to keep his memory alive applied to how I feel about his birthday. Last year was our first year without him, so we had a birthday party and invited everyone to celebrate what would have been his first birthday. However, I didn’t know if that would be appropriate to do again. I know the automatic answer would be that “whatever I thought was appropriate” would have been fine, but still. I don’t know if it is “normal” to continue to hold a birthday party year after year for your deceased child, but what do we do? I didn’t want his birthday to come and go unrecognized and unnoticed. So, Jonathan and I planned on visiting his grave and going out to dinner to celebrate his life with our own, intimate mini-birthday party (which got postponed because Jonathan is currently sick and in bed).
We are expected to move on with our lives, minus one very vital member, and act as if everything was normal. Normal now meant something completely different than before. We weren’t those people anymore. It was so weird to see other people around me continue on with their lives normally when ours has been affected so drastically…but why would I expect anything different? No one else had lost their child. No one else had made a hospital their home for an extended amount of time, much less almost an entire year. Everyone had been so supportive and understanding and caring, but how could we ever move on? I eventually came to the realization that we are not meant to ever move on. Those that have lost a child can never move on, but we can move forward. By being a part of this club that we never wanted to join, we can honor the lives and memories of our children and think about how they impacted this world while they were here, however short a time. I constantly think about the purpose of Luke’s short life and ultimately my purpose. Luke’s life did have a purpose, one which we might never really learn but about which we can always wonder. He was here for a reason and he went through all that he did for that reason, to teach us something and it was my job to honor that. I used to hate when people told me that it would get better, but it really does, even if it doesn’t seem like it at first.
About three months after Luke passed away we got pregnant with our daughter, Evelyn, who was born this past July. We were not planning on having children so soon, but again it is not our plan, but God’s plan and I guess Luke and Him got together without consulting us and decided that it was the right time. I believe that had we not had the experience that we had with Luke, that we might have taken many of her small accomplishments for granted. For example, her crying all the time and staying awake at night is still annoying, but is also such a sweet sound…because we never heard Luke cry. Evelyn’s ability to wear clothes, to roll over on her own, to nurse, to be picked up without the assistance of three other people are all things for which we are grateful, and of which we probably would not have even taken note of before Luke.
When I woke up this morning, I immediately thought of Luke. He is on my mind everyday, but today more than most. As I got Evelyn ready to accompany me to my pie-making party at my friend Sheila’s house, I thought about how things would have been different if Luke were still here and how I would be getting him ready, as well, since Jonathan is sick. As I held Evelyn today almost nonstop because she wouldn’t let me put her down, I thought of Luke and how I didn’t get to hold him very much, so I wasn’t annoyed with her. I was grateful for my ability to hold her, even if it meant I wouldn’t get to make my pie (which I did, eventually), but Luke was on my mind all day. As we all joked around and laughed and cleaned up our mess of flour and sugar and cinnamon and others’ kids ran around us, I imagined how Luke would have fit in with them. Would he have ran around with the other children? Would he be annoyingly following one of the older kids, trying to emulate his/her actions and talking, or would he crying to me the whole time? Would he be interrupting us and telling me over and over again about how he wanted to help?
And as we stood in the kitchen and talked, someone mentioned Luke’s birthday (I wasn’t planning on diverting everyone’s good moods to focus on my reality) and Sheila made a toast to my baby boy. Even though I often feel that bringing up Luke and his passing almost always makes most people feel awkward and uncomfortable around me, it truly touched me that he was important enough to others to be on their minds today, too, without me saying anything, enough to commemorate his birthday with a pause in our social activities for a toast to my sweet child.
I learned from Luke that life is precious. Our priorities have changed. Some things don’t seem as important, while other things seem more important. Simply breathing was a battle for him, but he still fought for the right to do it. Everything is a gift. During that year in the NICU we watched how much Luke had changed the lives of everyone around him by simply continuing to exist, to fight for a life that many of us take for granted in this busy world of ours. We chose to take this experience and to honor Luke by continuing to exist ourselves and to continue to look for the positive all around us and to find the joy in our surroundings. We have not moved on and we will never forget our first born child. He will always be our guardian angel and we cherish the small amount of time that we were given. Luke made us better people and because of him we are able to move forward with a greater joy and appreciation of life, and maybe that was his purpose.
Because of Luke, we truly are better people and I will continue to find the joy around me every day that I continue to be alive. Happy birthday, sweet baby Luke! I hope that you are having a fabulous party up in Heaven and are blowing out that birthday candle!