How has it been a whole year since we met you for the first and last time? I remember walking into the room after you were born so clearly. There you were, like a little doll in my sister's arms, all swaddled and cozy with the hospital-supplied knit cap on your head, covering your locks of dark hair. Eyes closed. Lips slightly apart, and so red. When I saw them I felt my breath leave my body and I couldn't catch it again. There was no room to breathe. I never in my life imagined I'd meet a stillborn baby, much less my own nephew in my sister's arms. She kept saying, "He's so perfect," and you were. In a state of shock, I kept expecting those eyes to open and those lips to breathe air into your body. Even after hours in the room with you, I couldn't shake the fantasy that you would just suddenly wail the newborn cry that every new parent is desperate to hear. But you remained silent.
I still don't think it really happened some days, when the sun is shining and we're laughing and life seems Normal. The events of that day feel like something I saw in a movie or on a TV show. But I know you were real. I felt you move in my sister's belly as we sat by the pool only three weeks prior to your birth. You weren't just a figment of our collective imagination. I know this because your influence in this world has been so tangible.
Luke, your life, brief though it was, has touched so many lives since that day. You have accomplished far more than the average one-year-old. No, we didn't get to see you smile for the first time, or roll over, or eat rice cereal, or babble, or take your first steps, but we saw you open the hearts of people near and far. They recognized the shared humanity in your loss. It could happen to anyone. Nobody ever wants to be anyone, but there we were. And this truth has resonated with everyone who never thought they could be anyone. For you, how many parents embraced their children a little tighter every night before bedtime? How many of us let the small stuff slide with just a little more ease? How many of us looked at the wonders of our lives with a gratitude we had never genuinely known before? How many of us cherished our loved ones with a newfound tenderness? How many of us decided that we didn't want to put off our dreams for a family any longer?
Your Uncle Andy and I fit into that last category (and all the others, eventually). Your cousin Madeline was born almost two months ago, and she has brought such incredible joy and love to our lives. In fact, you have two cousins now. Ethan was born the day after Maddie. He has your name as his middle name and bears more than a slight resemblance to you. Sometimes I wonder if you sent them to help heal our hearts. They have done that, but at the same time, they've made us realize the magnitude of your loss in ways that I can hardly comprehend. Every milestone we see Maddie reach is also a reminder of something missed, and of how much my sister and brother-in-law lost one year ago.
But I don't know if these two angels would have joined us had it not been for you, Luke. Would we have tried, or would we have waited a little longer? Would we have felt so sure we were ready had our hearts not been so raw and hungry for the love we lost when you left us? Those are questions we'll never know the answers to. But I do know that without you, I would not look at my daughter every day with the same awestruck gratitude and wonder at how such a little miracle came to be in our lives. I needed you to show me that. We can't take anything for granted.
I don't know if I believe in the type of heaven where there are harp-playing angels flying around in the clouds, Luke. But I do believe in the soul's energy and the presence of things we can't see, and I believe you're still with us in a way we can feel, even if our rational minds have other explanations. Sometimes you're in a song that comes on the radio at just the right moment, as you were when I heard Iz's version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" when I was driving to my sister's house the day after you were born last year. For some reason, that song brought me comfort and peace at the height of emotional turmoil. It was played at your memorial service later that week. And I'm certain I've seen you in rainbows twice since then.
The first time was after Andy and I returned from our trip to the UK last October. A double rainbow appeared right over our house. It was almost eerie how it framed our house perfectly and brought a sense of calm after a fall storm. A few days after that, I found out I was pregnant with Maddie. I thought about the rainbows and felt they were your way of announcing the incredible gift on its way.
Another double rainbow appeared over our house this past April. That was the day your mom called to tell me she was pregnant with your sister, who is due to arrive in December. Another incredible gift.
Despite these signs of your presence, the fact is that we miss you terribly. You have left a deep chasm in our hearts. Does it hurt more because we never got to know you? What fond memories of you do we have to look back on? It's so cruel, never having a chance. I've come to accept that you'll always be a part of our lives and hearts, our narratives, as a blank page we wanted so badly to see filled. How you can be so much without ever being here with us is difficult to understand, but isn't that life? Yin and yang, something and nothing, never and forever. Seems we are always stuck somewhere in between.
Your Aunt Ali