Twelve years ago today, I couldn’t have imagined my life this morning. My son is cleaning his toys up off the playroom floor after eating pancakes and toast for breakfast (he’s a big carb guy). My wife and daughter have gone off to the salon to get a trim up. And I’m sitting at my computer, listening to Harry Connick Jr.’s rendition of “Danny Boy” drift slowly through the house.
On most days it’s enough to help me forget. But today isn’t most days. Today is THE day. And so, for today, I choose to remember.
Twelve years ago, our first child, Ruthanne, was born. She was long. She was beautiful.
I remember so much. I remember the ultrasound that showed her heart wasn’t beating. I remember calling my dad. I remember calling Rachel’s parents. I remember holding Rachel’s hand.
I remember the weight of my daughter when the nurse placed her, pink and lifeless, into my arms. Her tiny fingers. Her lips. Her eyes.
So much to remember.
It’s funny — the death of a child is a paradox. While you want so badly to remember every detail, there’s also a need to forget. There is no way to separate an event like this from the emotional pain; even sitting here writing this post has brought back tears. As I strive to remember her hair or her skin, I cannot help but feel the despair and rage and helplessness I felt as I held her in my arms that day.
But to not remember — to let her completely go — would neither be healthy nor helpful. As much as her death ripped me apart inside, it allowed me to be rebuilt into a better man. Ruthanne taught me so much, taught our family so much: time is precious, people matter, life is a gift. What we once thought of as cliches, we now intuitively understand as simple, profound truths. A messy bedroom isn’t a life or death matter in our house, because we know what life and death really are.
We will go this evening, the four of us, and we’ll place new flowers on her headstone. She’s buried at Chestnut Grove, just a short drive from our house. We’ll present her with her birthday bouquet, and we’ll stand there, holding hands, and sing her “Happy Birthday” for the fifth year in a row. Ella and Jon will ask questions about what she’s doing now, and Rachel and I will answer with as much honesty and hope as we can muster.
I’ll look at Ella and Jon with a love I didn’t think possible. I’ll pray over their futures. I’ll thank God for their lives, and for the brief life of their sister that taught me to be a better man than I could’ve ever hoped to be.
We’ll stand there, our complete family, and we’ll celebrate the birth that was death for Ruthanne.
We’ll stand there and remember while trying to forget.