A Letter to My Son – Three Years Later

I was going to write a poem this time, just to keep it different. That reminded me of when your aunt was in Cameroon for a long time and I sent her 100 letters. It took me two years and each one had a piece from a jigsaw puzzle and something I thought she’d enjoy reading. I’d send her lyrics, poems, stories, jokes, news, speeches, just whatever random thing I was thinking about at the time. Most of them were lost, but I think she liked the ones she got. The puzzle was a little cat and a duck. I thought about starting to do that, since maybe you’d rather read something else, but then I started writing this letter. I’m just going to keep going with it.

I’m still trying to be better for you. I had expected it to get easier eventually, but I’m giving up on that at this point. Nothing seems to be getting easier, so I’ll try harder. Your sister makes me so happy that I don’t cry as often, but it hurts to see her play with older kids, or even playing by herself. I can imagine her playing with you, and how much she’d look up to her big brother, and how much you’d love her. You were so perfect. She is just like you.

Your sister is so beautiful. She is growing up fast. Everyone says she is adorable and how she looks like me, which doesn’t seem possible, but it’s true. I bet you would’ve looked like me, too. She likes bubbles and dogs and she can put her own shoes on, even the ones with the straps. She loves her mom and Nana and Grampa so much. She knows what a cow says, and she can count to one. We’re still working on two, but she already has five and eight down so we’re almost there. I tell her I love her and kiss her as often as I can. I did the same with you, I just didn’t have as many chances. I think of you every time I see her and I love you just as much.

Your Great Grandma Betty died on the 21st. You technically met her once, when we visited while your mom was pregnant with you. She gave me a bunch of tools that I haven’t really used much yet, but she was excited to meet you. Maybe you’ll see her around. She loved you.

I still haven’t moved your box. I reached for it once, meaning to move it, but then I didn’t know where I’d put it, so I just left it. It’s fine where it is, really, but I promise I’ll be strong enough to open it soon.

I’ll get to work on that poem. Please watch over your sister and keep her safe.

I love you, Calvin.

Dad

A Letter to My Son – Two Years Later

Your sister is beautiful.

She was born last November. She smiles all the time. She sleeps through the night. She gets quieter when she cries. People keep telling me that we have the perfect baby. She is so happy, so smiley, so pretty, so cute. They say we’re lucky to have such a reasonable and well-adjusted baby. We are. Then they say we probably won’t be so lucky with our second child. That is the part that gets me. Everyone always asks the same basic question.

“Is this your first?”

I say yes because I think that saying no, or even hesitating before saying yes, would make people uncomfortable. I don’t like to lie, but it’s probably for the best in that context. If you really can see me from heaven, you know I apologize under my breath every time I say yes. But just to you. No need to make people feel bad. The one thing most people said immediately after you left was “I can’t imagine how you’re feeling” and I could never figure out why they were trying to imagine something so awful. I wouldn’t wish that feeling on anyone.

You never took a breath, or opened your eyes, or heard my jokes, or felt me kiss your head as many times as I could. You waved at me during the last ultrasound we saw. You were alive. I never thought you were saying goodbye. But you are still our first.

I’m still too scared to open the box we took home from the hospital with all your things. It hasn’t moved since I told you about it last year. It sits in the corner of our bedroom on top of your mom’s dresser. I’ve wanted to open it, but I never got up the courage. I keep telling myself that I left you alone because I wanted to make you a better box before I see you again, but I’m just not ready. Honestly, I don’t know when I will be.

But your sister is beautiful.

Her name is Samantha Alice. We call her Sam or Sami. She is perfect, because of you. You are the reason she exists. Your sacrifice made this perfect little girl come alive and make me happier than I’ve ever been. I will tell her about you when she is older.

My sisters love her. They are better aunts to her than I could have ever hoped. I couldn’t draw up two more amazing role models for my little girl than my own two sisters and I am so grateful they love her as much as I do. You would’ve loved them.

Sami helps me at work sometimes, making sure I know where the phone cord is when I’m trying to talk to people and banging on the space bar when I’m typing. Bananas are her favorite food, though I’m still trying to get her to love avocados. She really likes our dog and cat and yells “AH!” at the cat every time she sees him. We play catch with a practice golf ball my dad gave her and she rolls the ball back to me. Her favorite trick is standing up in her crib, trying to show off when she is supposed to be going to sleep. She’s such a smart little girl.

Please help me and your mother take care of her. Keep her safe when I screw up. Give her advice when she needs it. Protect her from all the dangers in the world that I can’t see. Do your best. I know you will.

I love you as much as ever. I’ll never forget you.

Love,

Dad

A Letter to My Son – One Year Later

Calvin,

I had this entire thing planned out in my head before I sat down to write to you. I have thought about what I’d write to you in this letter for a whole year, minus the two days it took me to realize we’d be coming home from the hospital without you. And now I feel like everything is being said for the first time, like none of the thoughts I’ve had about you for the last year will make it to this page. I’m worried that I won’t be able to remember everything I wanted to tell you, but maybe you’ve heard the important stuff already.

When we got home from the hospital, I started to make you a box. It gave me something to do and kept me from crying all day, so I thought it was a good project for me at the time. I screwed up a few times, as usual, but I made something that was eventually worthy enough to store your pictures and some other things that they gave us at the hospital. It wasn’t perfect, but it had the Polish War Eagle on top and looked pretty bad ass so I thought you’d still like it. The box now sits on top of an armoire in our bedroom, in addition to the original white cardboard box that originally held your things. I haven’t actually looked in either box since we put them there, but I’m pretty sure your teddy bear is still in the cardboard one. I’ve planned on moving your things to a better spot for a while, but right now your things are safe from the cat and that is really about the best I can do because the cat is a jerk.

We received your ashes a few weeks after I put the box together, so they have been hanging out in a special place in a glass cabinet that overlooks most of the house. It’s a pretty good spot, I guess. I can kind of talk to you from anywhere in the house, so sometimes I do. I’ll usually ask you a question, hoping you’ll somehow help me out. I often actually figure out a decent answer to my problems, so I suppose I can credit your guidance for at least some of that luck. Thank you for listening.

The doctors found out why you died during your autopsy. They fixed the problem with your mother and your sister is going to be born in November. She is doing very well right now and will be grateful your bravery. I will make sure she knows everything about you once she is ready. I will do everything I can to make sure she remembers her brother.

Some of my friends have kids that were born around the same time you were. We have this stupid thing called Facebook and it makes sure we know everything possible about people we rarely talk to. That has caused me to have this weird thing with a few babies I’ve never met – every time I see them, I think about you in the same situation. I don’t know how I feel about that yet, whether it’s good or bad. I can’t fault my friends because I’d be proud of you, too, but it still hurts to see those kids doing things you never got to do while reminding me that this is around the time you’d be doing it. I suppose that I’ll have to figure out how to deal with that eventually.

A couple weeks ago, I talked to a person I’ve known for a long time for the first time since last summer. She asked how you were doing and wondered how much trouble you’re getting into now that you’re getting so big. It was the first time since the first couple days after you passed that I had to tell someone that you were dead. “He didn’t make it,” I said. I did pretty good for about two minutes, but fell apart almost immediately after they left. I’ll probably do that forever. I just came back to this paragraph after a couple days of thinking and did it again, so seems to be a point being proven.

We won our softball league tonight. I pitched and did a good job for most of the game, but then I got tired and started to screw up in the last inning. I’m guessing you heard me ask you for a strike while I was struggling. The next pitch, I threw the most beautiful knuckle ball of the night – it just danced all over the plate and I smiled like crazy watching it move. It landed perfectly for a strike. The ump called it a ball. That *#$% called your pitch a ball. I threw plenty of correctly called bad pitches during that inning, and that ump is actually a good guy, but your pitch was a strike. You did great. We won, anyway, but I just really wanted that pitch to be a strike.

You died on the 25th, but you were born on the 26th. I think about you every day, but I’ve never really been sure which date I should use when officially marking your life. I decided to just celebrate both days, with the midnight between the two being your moment. This letter was written in a couple days, but I’ve thought about writing it for a year. I don’t really know how the afterlife works, so I figured I’d talk to you and write to you both, just in case there is some weird rule that you can’t hear the living. If that is a stupid idea, tell God that I grew up watching Ghostwriter so you can blame whoever that guy was. I think I’ll only be writing more often now.

As you can probably tell from your current vantage, I really don’t know what I’m doing, Calvin. I’m going to need your help if I’m going to be strong for your mother and sister. I love you so much. You motivate me to be a better person, and don’t judge me when I’m not. You are amazing and will be in my heart and mind forever.

Talk to you soon.

Dad

A Letter To My Son

A LETTER TO MY SON

We left the house at 8:23am on Tuesday, August 25 to go to your appointment. They were just going to do a routine ultrasound to make sure you were still growing, just as they had done a few times before. I remember the first ultrasound and how excited and nervous I got when I saw you for the first time. You were so small. The next time they did one you were bigger, and the third time you actually looked like a person. They paused at one point on the screen and I saw you open up your fist, kind of like you were waving at us. I knew immediately that I’d never forget that moment, and I never will.

But this time was different. This time, the ultrasound lasted about 10 seconds. The nurse said “The heart rate is a little low. We need to stop this right now and go get a doctor.” She seemed really worried, but I wasn’t at this point. I thought 78 beats per minute was fine, but I learned later that you were supposed to be closer to 140 beats per minute. The nurse left the room and brought in a doctor, who we had never met but said she recognized our name. She asked a few questions and then stood up and talked quietly to the nurse in the corner. The doctor told the nurse to call an ambulance and then told us we were probably going to have to deliver you today with an emergency C-section. They said there was a chance your heart beat would stabilize before we got to the hospital, but most likely you were going to be born today. You were going to be seven weeks early, but they said something was wrong and you needed to come out now. Now I was worried, but I was also so excited to see you.

The nurse left to call an ambulance and three more people came into the room. It was crowded now, but nobody was talking to us. They were looking at things on the computer and whispering to each other so we couldn’t hear. They kept saying the ambulance was taking too long and it seemed like we waited a long time. When they finally came, everyone in the office stopped and looked at us. While your mother was carted out, the entire building was silent and they stared at us as we left. I kissed your mother as her stretcher was being lifted into the ambulance and told her that everything was going to be alright. After the doors closed, a lady in the parking lot asked me if she could pray for us. I said yes, and told her your mother’s name was Lisa. I didn’t know your name yet or I would’ve told her to pray for you, too.

I followed the ambulance to the hospital and texted my parents. Lisa had an emergency and she was being taken to the UNC hospital by ambulance. I told them you were going to be born today and got so excited to see you for the first time. The doctor had said you would be small when you were born, so I was preparing myself to watch you through the glass in the NCCU and be “one of those” parents. We weren’t ready for you, but I wanted to see you so badly. I was so incredibly excited for your arrival. I followed the ambulance until it turned into a place I couldn’t go, then tried to find a place to park. Your mother and I had watched a TV show the week before where a father gave his daughter a parking ticket for her 10th birthday. The ticket was from when he parked illegally because he was rushing to see her born. I thought about doing the same, but I found parking in front of the hospital for $12 and figured that was easier. He told me where to go and I ran about a block to the emergency department entrance with your medical records and your mother’s purse.

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I wanted to hurry so I told everyone that my wife had been taken by ambulance for an emergency delivery. The check-in guy congratulated me, the policeman that searched the purse wished me luck, and the guy who took my photo for the visitor’s pass told me it was going to be a great day. “One you’ll remember forever,” he said. I took the elevator up to the labor and delivery floor and passed the place I was supposed to go because it said “authorized personnel only” and I didn’t realize that my visitor’s pass qualified me as authorized. When I finally figured out that is where I needed to go, a nurse was waiting for me. “Mr. Murdock?” she asked. She had to check the file when I corrected her, but quickly gave me a mask and hair net and took me to your mother.

As we opened the door to her room, there were seven people in the room, including your mother. The nurse leading me into the room said “Dad is here.” It was the first time anyone had called me Dad. Everyone else had used Father up until then, but I wanted you to call me Dad. One of the doctors said “Hello, Ryan” in a happy tone of voice like she knew me, and I thought I recognized her, so I smiled and said hello back to her. That was the last time I smiled. As I got closer, I could see your mother was crying on the bed and the doctor asked her if she wanted to tell me. Your mother told the doctor to tell me, instead. I grabbed your mother’s hand and looked at the doctor. I don’t remember anything she said, except “we lost the baby.” I just stared at your mother and she started to cry harder. I was in shock and just said “OK” because it was the only word I could remember. Your mother asked them to do one more scan on you to make sure they were right and they showed your heart on the monitor. It was still. They said there would be colors on the screen if there was any blood flowing to your body, but it was all grey. I could see your head and your feet and the hand you used to wave at us, so I knew that you were there. But somehow you weren’t. They had prepped to do an emergency C-Section, but said they stopped when they realized you were already gone.

You passed away sometime between 9:48am and 10:21am on August 25.

There was no need to rush things now, they said. We could take our time. They put us in a regular delivery room down the hall. After sitting with your mother and holding her hand for a while, the first time I noticed on the clock was 10:43am. That was the first time I cried for you and I haven’t stopped since. We still didn’t know if you would be a boy or a girl.

I have no idea what happened for the next few hours. Your grandparents came to see you and we had to tell them what happened because they didn’t know yet. That was really hard. A couple nurses and doctors came in to introduce themselves and were really nice and quiet and apologetic. Our first nurse, Shannon, was amazing. She was calming and relaxing and I was somehow hopeful every time she said anything. That was ironic because my sister, Shannon, is in medical school and had been begging us to be a part of the delivery. The next nurse was named Vanessa, which is the name of your mother’s best friend and the maid of honor at our wedding.

A few hours later, your mother thought she felt you kick and asked them to do one more ultrasound to make sure. They did, but it was still all grey. It was just some sort of contractions, they said, that happen when your body is ready to give birth. That was when I first realized that we still had to deliver you. Even though you passed away, you were still with us and still in your mother’s womb. It didn’t seem fair and it still doesn’t and it never will. We still went through the birthing process, but knew the whole time that you weren’t going to be alive when you were born. We could do a natural birth, they said, because it wouldn’t make a difference anymore. I’ve never felt so helpless in my life.

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They asked us questions and told us we didn’t need to know the answers now. Do we have your name picked out? Did we want to hold you after you were born? Did we want to have pictures taken? Do we want the chaplain to speak with us before or after the birth? Did we want to perform an autopsy? Did we want to have you buried or cremated? I hope nobody ever has to answer those questions at the same time again. We didn’t have the answers.

They gave your mother some medicine to induce labor around 6:30pm. Your mother had already started dilating and they said she didn’t need to get very far because you were going to be so small. They said your labor could begin pretty quickly. Your grandparents left to take care of our dog and cat. You would have loved playing with them so much – we have told them about you so many times. Your grandparents came back later that night with some extra clothes, a toothbrush, and my glasses and left just after midnight. I tried to sleep on the couch but I couldn’t sleep much. I was so tired and just couldn’t stop thinking about you. I saw your face every time I closed my eyes. Someone was coming in to check on your mother every twenty or thirty minutes so I would wake up to listen. They said everything was progressing normally and she was doing a great job. Your mother is so incredibly brave. She endured so much pain and cried, but only for you, not herself. I’ve never loved her so much. She began having pretty bad pain from contractions and finally asked for the epidural around 11pm. I knew that meant you’d be probably be born sometime in the next twelve hours.

At 7:34am on Wednesday, the doctor told your mother that she could begin labor whenever she was ready. Your grandparents weren’t back yet, so we called them and asked them to come. She wanted to wait until they were there. While we were waiting, I laid on the bed next to your mother and we cried together. We decided that we did want to hold you, and that we wanted the chaplain to come after you were born so you could be a part of the service. We would take pictures and you would be cremated. We wanted to have all the testing possible to determine what went wrong with you, including the autopsy. Just like me, your job as the first born child was to take care of your younger siblings. Your sacrifice will help us figure out how to help your brothers and sisters when their time comes. You are already protecting them and caring for them, even if you don’t know it. You are so amazing and strong and brave, kid – just like your mother.

We had two names already picked out for you, but they were family names so we had to change our minds after we lost you. It would just be too hard and too unfair for the rest of our family to give you those names if you weren’t going to be alive. We decided we wanted your name to be unique so we didn’t run the risk of hearing it too often by accident. Not that we wanted to forget you – we will never, ever forget you – but we knew it would be difficult to hear your name too often. We chose Maeve Marie if you were a girl from a list of famous mathematicians that your grandfather had given us for ideas. We both thought it was a pretty name and knew it would be unique – I was going to call you “May.” I chose Calvin Micheal for a boy’s name after my favorite comic strip character when I was a kid. The comic was about a little boy who was just like me, only he never had to grow up. I thought it was the perfect name.

Your grandparents arrived about an hour later and the hospital started to set up for your delivery. A crazy light that looked like a spaceship banjo came down from the ceiling and the bed your mother was laying on came apart like a transformer. You came out quickly – your mother only need to push twice. I will be forever grateful that you made the delivery easy on her. From now on, nothing else in our life will ever be easy, but I so appreciate that one little favor you gave us.

You were born just after 9am. I was holding your mother’s left shoulder and leg and I saw that you were a boy immediately. You were pink and bloody and had really long arms and legs. The doctor held you up to me and my hands were shaking as I grabbed the scissors to cut your cord. You were wrapped in a blanket and placed in your mother’s arms. You didn’t move or make a sound. I already knew you had passed away, but that was the first moment I completely realized that you weren’t going to live. I cried so hard and was paralyzed with fear. I tried to be strong for your mother, but I couldn’t keep it together. Fortunately, she was strong enough for the both of us.

I cried and just held your mother’s shoulder while she held you in her arms. She cried, too. For a while, I could only see the top of your head in her arms. You had wrinkles and hair and your skull looked like the Batman symbol. Your nose was the only clean thing on your body. After a couple minutes, I gathered the strength to stand up so I could see the rest of you. Your eyes were blackened shut and your face was bloody. Your ears were stuck to your head and one of them was not fully formed yet. You were born seven weeks early, and the doctor said you were another five weeks behind the growth schedule. They measured you at 1 pound, 12 ounces and 13” long. You were so small, Calvin, but you were so incredibly beautiful.

I grabbed your hand when I held you for the first time. Your mouth opened and you made a noise when the nurse first put you in my arms, but it was just from the way she held you. Your lips were bloody and your chin was tucked into your neck, so it looked like you were looking down. Your skin was sticky and I had to peel you away from the blanket to look at the rest of your body. You had ten long toes and ten long fingers and your entire hand fit around the first joint of my index finger. Because your skin was sticky, it felt like you were grabbing my hand. I knew you weren’t actually grabbing my hand, but I kept doing it anyway just to feel like you were. I would shake whenever I started to cry and it looked like you were breathing or moving, but your face stayed still. Your eyes were closed the whole time and your mouth never moved. The top of your left foot was stuck to your shin, so I peeled that off to make you more comfortable. I held your head and rubbed your chest and did everything I could think of to make you feel better. I wanted to help you so much, but I couldn’t. There was nothing I could do except hold you and stare at you and talk to you, so that is what I did.

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You were held mostly by your mother and me, but your grandparents held you, too. They also love you very much. I cried every time I passed you to someone else, and stopped crying whenever you were passed back to me. I felt so lonely and worthless every time I gave you to someone else, but you calmed me down when you were in my arms. You comforted me so much while I was having such a hard time. I would look down at you in my arms and forget about everything – it was just you and I, father and son, and you were so perfect. Holding you was the only thing that kept me from going crazy. Before you were born, when they first asked me if I wanted to hold you, I didn’t think I’d be able to handle it. But, once I saw you, holding you is the only thing I wanted to do. I wanted to care for you and protect you and make sure nothing bad ever happened to you. I told your mother that I can now understand why the parents in the movies always say they would sacrifice their own lives for their children. I am so sorry that I couldn’t keep you safe, Calvin. If I could trade my life for yours, I would do it immediately.

The chaplain came in and said a prayer for you, Psalm 139. He wanted us to name you in the presence of God. “Calvin Micheal Mentock,” I said. I told him to remind God that your name was spelled with an EA, just so it would be easier for you when you arrive in Heaven. People always screw that up for me and I didn’t want you to have the same trouble.

A lady came in and took pictures of you. That was one of the hardest parts. They dressed you up in a tiny blue outfit and a yellow hat and wrapped you in a little quilt. They laid out a fake wood floor and placed you in a basket with a teddy bear. The teddy bear had been donated by a family that went through the same thing. I wanted to scream every time the photographer moved you, setting you up like a doll and moving your arms and legs into awkward positions. But I knew she was doing her job and we would eventually appreciate her help. She took pictures of you in our arms and I couldn’t look at the camera. I just stared at you and rubbed your feet and cried into your blanket. Your grandparents took pictures with you, too – this was supposed to be a happy time, but nobody smiled during their pictures. They put ink on your hands and feet and made prints for a memory book they gave us. We were given a little heart pendant with the center cut out and you got to keep the middle of the heart. The box also has some brochures about grief counseling. They kept saying that all this stuff was so we had something to take with us when we left, but the only thing I wanted to take home was you. The box is downstairs now, but I’m not sure when we’ll be ready to open it. I will never need a box to remember you.

The first doctor came in and asked how we were doing. We said not well. “Worst day of your life, huh?” Yeah – top two, by far, back to back. Today is now the third worst day and I don’t see any hope of tomorrow not being the fourth worst day of my life. Every day without you will be unbelievably hard.

The doctors said that your body would need to be preserved within six to eight hours after you were born if we wanted to do some of the genetic testing that was necessary to find out what went wrong. When it was close to time, we let your grandparents hold you one last time to say goodbye, then your mother and I spent some time alone with you. We told the nurse we’d need fifteen minutes – when she came back after twenty minutes, we asked for ten more. I told you how I’d never forget you and that your brothers and sisters will know how brave you were. I told you to say hello to your uncle Bill and your grandpa Paul and that they would take care of you in Heaven. I told you how much we loved you and that we would never forget you. I told you a couple jokes to use so you could make friends in Heaven, but warned you that nobody on Earth really thinks I’m funny so you should be careful with them. I held you close and kissed your forehead over and over again as I asked for your forgiveness. I told you not to worry about anything and that you’d never have to deal with any of the cruel things that go on in this world. You looked so peaceful. This was not your fault and you didn’t deserve any of this. You did everything so well and your mother and I are so proud of you. We will always be proud of you.

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The nurse came in again and asked if we were ready. We said yes – we were ready. I wasn’t really ready and I didn’t want to let you go, but it was time. If you were going to be able to help your brothers and sisters, it had to be time. She took you away from us at 5:43pm and we cried harder than we had before. All I could think of after that was leaving – I didn’t want to be in that room anymore. That room held so much of our pain and anguish and tears. But, it also held you. That was the first time you had left room 4W14 and gone out into the world, and your parents couldn’t follow to protect you. Without you there, I couldn’t find a reason to stay. But I looked at your mother and knew I had to focus on protecting and helping her. It took a while to get your mother cleared for discharge because she had high blood pressure, even though they kept saying it was normal for someone in our situation. We left the hospital, and you, sometime around 7pm. I don’t remember anything about the drive home up until I saw our dog greet us at the door.

When we got home, we heated up some leftover food from the hospital. I had only eaten half a cheeseburger in the last two days and was really hungry, but I took one bite and lost my appetite. We cried all night and barely got any sleep because I am scared to close my eyes. I have been staring at things a lot since I found out you were gone because I see your face every time I blink. I see your face when my eyes are open, too, but at least I have something else to look at. I don’t know how to move on, but I will, because we owe it to you to try. We owe you so much, Calvin.

I am so grateful for the seven hours I got to see you. It hurt more than any pain I’ve had in my life to see you so still in my arms, but it would have hurt even more to never have that chance. You looked calm and ready for whatever lies ahead of you. You are in a better place, where the world isn’t so hard and unforgiving. Nothing can ever hurt you now, Calvin, and you don’t have to worry about a thing. Be at peace, my lovely baby boy. I will never forget you.

I will love you forever.

Your Dad

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