Dear little Jake,
You had your great-grandfather’s nose, or so we imagined, based on photographs of him. You were alive for only three days, and writing that phrase makes me have to stop typing and cry. You were only alive for three days, and so we can only do an age-progression in our minds.
When I was pregnant with you I had many dreams of you at various ages, and around six months after you died I dreamt of you as a young man, walking toward me across the alpine tundra, I guess during a hike we were taking together.
That is all I have, really. It’s not much.
We have the your little baby coos, echoing down these 21 years, the memory of your furrowed brow, the clench of your hand on our fingers. I have your lips nuzzling my nipples. And then your hands and feet turning so blue and cold, your terrible cries of alarm, near the end. And those last, quiet gasps.
And whatever it was that came into the room between your penultimate breath and the final one. I thought it was the nurse, but when I turned, no visible person was there.
Twenty-one years, Jake. I’ve marked these years in various ways. Sometimes I’ve baked a cake. Other times I’ve returned to the place we lived when you were conceived and walked along some of the trails where I used to hike, ski, and snowshoe, pregnant with you, just the two of us, when I was still unadulteratedly happy, hopeful. This year I’ve just returned from a trip with your “younger” brother. He’s choosing a college, Jake! My nest will really be empty now. I can’t even begin to express how complicated my feelings are today, the day after returning from this tour with your beautiful brother, of whom I feel so proud, writing these words on your twenty-first birthday.
Each year the gulf between us has yawned more widely. The wonderful baby smell on your clothes began to fade. One year the lock of your hair was no longer among your “effects.” A terrible blow even today, when I long to touch you. The dreams have diminished in frequency. Even a nightmare is a treasure now.
Your brother has taught me much about the mysteries of parenting. Nothing is as I fantasized when I was carrying you. Grief experts say that when a child dies a dream is lost. But that happens in any case when a parent raises a child; it’s just that in the ordinary experience the process is more gradual. The child of one year vanishes into the child he or she becomes the next year. Your father and I divorced; we didn’t become the parents we thought we’d be. So it’s not just our dream we lost, but who you’d actually have become… somewhere along the way, we lost all sight, all way of knowing, of even being able to imagine who you might have become. And who we might have become.
Little son. We didn’t get to exchange all of the gifts we had for each other. You didn’t get to share everything you had with the world.
How I wish I were like other parents, taking things for granted. Simply sending a card, and a care package, to you……off in some college or study-abroad program… or wherever you might be…
I simply have no idea.
Your Mother, still here, loving you