Thursday, July 22, 2010

Noah's 1st Birthday

The Memorial Statue

This is just part of the huge mass of families that showed up

Chris and I with Noah's Cake

Noah and his cake...

Me and the girls

Noah's Flowers at Church

I can’t believe my boy is a year old. It has been one of the hardest years of my life, but not for the reasons you would expect upon reaching your child’s first birthday. I figured by this point, I would be feeling a strong sense of accomplishment after spending the year watching him reach lots of milestones like the first time he sat up, rolled over, smiled, laughed, and began to make first tentative steps. I figured I would be tired from the repeated middle of the night wake up calls, flu bugs to navigate through, and the ups and downs of learning to be a parent for the first time. But overall I would feel elated that we had made it through our first year as a family. It has instead been a year of confronting life and death issues, grief, and learning to have meaningful life after losing someone so close to you. Regardless, it is an occasion to be celebrated. We have made it through a lot, and his life, although short was something miraculous and should be celebrated.

It has been hard to come up with the right way to do it. I felt a lot of pressure around it. I want it to be a family holiday. I want Aaron to grow up celebrating this day with us and even look forward to it and beg us to let him invite friends along because it is a day that we have a lot of fun together. Having Noah’s birthday in the summer is great because we can in the coming years take the day and go white water rafting, or ride mountain bikes off the top of Pike’s Peak or some other outrageously crazy thing that we have access to out here that is incredibly fun. The hard thing is that Chris and I are not the only grieving ones in this scenario. Our family and friends are too and have different limitations as to where they are in their own process and what they can and can’t do. It was a balancing act trying to include all that want to participate and find an activity that is healing and meaningful for all involved. We have years of Noah’s birthday ahead of us for the wild adventuresome things. Look for those blog posts in years to come!

What I found was an organization in Denver that does a yearly butterfly release ceremony to honor children (mostly babies) that have been lost at a memorial especially designed and placed for the surviving parents, family and friends. It happened to be on Noah’s birthday this year. What I think all of us needed most was to come together while this is still so fresh and new, and grieve him one more time. It was a very hard emotional day for Chris and I, and it ended up being the perfect way to get through it. We were surrounded by tons of families that have lived the exact same thing, and it was very comforting.

We got up very early. They did the event in the morning so that the butterflies wouldn’t stay in their packaging for longer than necessary. We all met at our house and headed up to Denver to the memorial. That morning my parents saw an enormous vibrant rainbow over their house and took pictures. Last summer after Noah died, there were the most incredible rainbows in the weeks following, We took it to be a sign. The fact that they saw one today was pretty neat.

When we got up to Denver, we found the memorial, got our butterflies and settled in. It was touching to see some of the name plates along the memorial wall. I have seen from my fellow grieving parents’ pictures on Facebook that this memorial is a design that is all over the country. The angel statue and memory wall is standard fare. I didn’t realize that we had one in Colorado. It was good to see one up close for myself, and it was both comforting and sad to know that this exists because there were enough parents out here that need it.

The other families filed in. There were so many! There were tons of children there too. Looking around at these folks, you can see the holes in their families where their child should be that passed away. It was also amazing to see the perseverance of those that went ahead with their families and had more children just as we have decided to do.

Eventually they started the service. They read some poetry and other meaningful things. The main part was when they read off the names of the babies. Again it was amazing to see what all of us have been through. Some families lost multiple children. I can’t even imagine! Hearing Noah’s name was hard. I think all of us shed a tear at that point. I appreciated that they took care to make sure that each name had their own space. They didn’t rush. Then at the very end, they played some music and we released the butterflies. It was so graceful watching them come out of their packaging, gently unfold their wings and take off. The neat thing was that they butterflies lingered a bit (likely shocked from being in their containers for that long), but all the children that were present went and chased them off out of the surrounding fields. There was so much joy in their little faces as they did it. It was really very poignant and moving. These are the siblings of these lost children that are here fulfilling some of our broken hearts. To see their joy was contagious.

It was hard to get good pictures during all of this. We were all feeling emotional, so it wasn’t such a great time to gather everyone together to smile and say cheese, so what we have are mostly candids. Noah was very much on our hearts through it all. It was very healing for all of us to be together and to do this symbolic act of releasing butterflies in his memory.

After the ceremony was complete, we went for breakfast at a country club down the street from the park. Everything was free with this event! The organization that does this works very hard with fundraising and does these wonderfully healing events without asking parents for a penny. The breakfast and club were absolutely beautiful. Being together at this point allowed us to laugh and enjoy one another’s company. It was a good balance between the more emotional heaviness of the ceremony.

Afterwards we came back home. I had gotten a cake for Noah along with balloons and ice cream. Noah’s Aunt Jenny got him a bee balloon as well which was really sweet. I got his cake from this wonderful Dutch bakery in town that made one of my baby shower cakes. I got the exact same flavors too. So, by proxy, he had this cake too once upon a time. I had them decorate it to match the bee design in his room. It was absolutely beautiful. We sang happy birthday to him (which I barely got through) and blew out a candle for him. The cake tasted amazing, just as I had remembered it. We spent a while hanging out with everyone which was nice. After a few hours, everyone went home. Chris and I then took a long walk through the park at the end of our street where I walked just about every day when I was pregnant with Noah. I also managed to get him through there once before he died. It is a pretty special place for us.

We spent the rest of the day together and went out to eat. It was a nice balance between celebrating Noah with our family and friends, as well as having time to ourselves to reflect. It was bittersweet. It was the anniversary of the best day of my life, and remembering the joyful details that made up that day was fun, however, not being able to celebrate it with Noah here was of course hard.

The next day at church, Chris and I sponsored the flowers up on the chancel. Again, this is another Noah spot for us. I sat there in church every Sunday when I was pregnant with him and felt him kicking along with the hymns. It was important to remember him there as well. The arrangement that the florist did was beautiful. My parents came to see them up there as well.

As with how all of these things go, we survived. We had a tremendous amount of support around us which was not only nice to have, but it was necessary. Our boy may not be here, but we are still so loved and cared for by those around us, and to be reminded of that meant so much more than I could possibly explain. The only way we have made it through this year is to have that kind of love around us. Thanks to you all and Happy Birthday Noah!


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