As your 22nd birthday draws near, I’m finding it harder and harder to “deal.” I want to scream at the clock to stop ticking. I yearn to crawl into bed and lie there until May 3rd. I want to shut down, drown out the world, drift far, far away. I am angry at everything and nothing because sometimes it’s just easier than falling apart. You know what sucks? This. This trying to celebrate the birthday of a child who died. I still want to scream, “It’s not fair!” It still feels surreal that you are not here, and I wonder if it always will. I want to make a cake and buy presents for you. I want to see you open your gifts and hear your deep, quiet voice while I watch in delight as you respond with that trademark smirk-smile.
But I can’t.
Because you are gone. You died.
And I am left to make the best of it. I’m left to try to find things to be thankful for when all I really want is to have you back with us. I’m left to remember and cherish the memories of you, the memories that were once all joy but are now all bittersweet. It SUCKS. It really, really sucks.
Oh, my son. How I miss you so.
This is hard.
But here we are, marking your 22nd birthday without you, the sixth one since you left this earth without warning one bright, sunny summer morning. Your birthday this year falls on a Tuesday, just like the year when you were born. I’ll never forget, of course, how surprised we were when the doctor announced, “It’s a boy!” We were so sure we were having a girl. So sure, in fact, that even though we had had a boy’s name picked out, I called you Rachel almost the whole pregnancy. Haha! I’m not sure I ever told you that story, Matt.
Though I was disappointed at having a c-section after 23 hours of labor, I was never disappointed in having a boy. God gave me exactly what I needed. You were a gift, a gift beyond what words can describe. I still can’t believe the hospital let us take you home! Like most first-time parents, we didn’t know what we were doing, but we knew we were blessed beyond belief. We had a beautiful baby boy who stole our hearts the very second we knew we were expecting.
The pain of separation overwhelms me at times like this. Yet God tenderly whispers reminders of the truth: You are alive. You died, yet you live. God’s story is life, death, life. This life is not all there is. This is not forever. Death does not reign. Grief is temporary. Our “momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison…” (2 Cor. 4:17) We will be reunited, and never again will we be separated. God Himself “will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” (Rev. 21:4)
Matt, you are and were God’s gift to me, to us. I cherish every memory, every photo, every moment we were allowed to have with you. We’re keeping it simple this year for your birthday and spending the day hanging out at the pool, which you loved. Your dad and others will drink a McDonald’s Mocha Frappe, also a favorite of yours. More than anything, I will lean into the One who holds you. I will look to the Giver of life and the author and perfecter of my faith, Jesus Christ, who died for me and for you…so that we could have life eternal.
I love you, Mateo.