I felt it was essential that Gregory and his life not be more important to be than Jana’s and Jeffrey’s because he died, but that it not be less important to me because he died.
Following Gregory’s death, I made a baby book containing the program from the funeral, his birth and death certificates, photos and other memorabilia from his short life. I framed a picture of just his adorable face in a gold frame and put it on my dresser with a small glass angel next to it. I certainly didn’t want to see that huge bandage every day or to remember that part of his life. I just wanted to see his cute face and have his picture with the other family photos. I put the same small photo of his face and the funeral card in my wallet so that I could carry them with me everywhere I went.
My father-in-law had asked Fr. Allen for a copy of the words that he spoke at Gregory’s funeral. He had a printer typeset them in a beautiful script, had them printed on parchment paper and framed. It was a wonderful and special gift. The homily was proudly hung up. It has traveled and been rehung everywhere I have lived for the past thirty years.
We planted two trees at the Church of the Annunciation in memory of Gregory – one to celebrate his life here on earth, and one to celebrate this life in heaven. We also donated a gold baptism shell with his name engraved on it.
I had Gregory’s name and the year 1982 engraved on a Christmas ornament – an angel on a rocking horse! Every Christmas this is the first ornament that gets hung on the tree. We hold hands and wish Gregory a Merry Christmas in heaven and tell him that we hope he is happy and knows that we still love and miss him.
We would visit the children’s section of George Washington Memorial Park on his birthday, on Easter and Christmas and again hold hands and tell him how we all love him and hope that he is watching over us. It is always sad to go to this section filled with the bodies of children under the age of two and see the dates of birth and the dates of death and to read the inscriptions. Some were never named. Others died on the most inappropriate dates – Christmas – their own birthdays. Some parents brought elaborate displays – balloons, stuffed animals, four foot Christmas trees. My heart ached for each and every parent. Still thirty years later I can’t get through the entire “Gregory, I just want to tell you how much I love you and miss you and wish you were here and hope you are happy and hope you watch over us.” without tears. Can’t even type it without getting my keyboard wet.
These are the small ways that Jana and Jeffrey got to know the brother they never met. They saw his picture, wished him a Merry Christmas, saw his name on the gravestone and the inscription “The Best Little Boy” and saw their mom’s tears on occasion. Each February 18th, I would and still do tell them that it is Gregory’s Birthday. At 8:30 PM on April 6th, I remind them that this is the time that Gregory left this world.
Two years ago at Christmas when they came to visit – then 25 and 22, we were looking through photo albums of them as children. I found and took out Gregory’s baby book and asked if they wanted to see it. Yes, they always knew they had a brother who died and knew that his death was a part of who I am, but they got to understand the situation in a whole new way on that day. They saw the picture of his decorated and empty room and realized how hard that would have been to see each day for two years. They heard more about going somewhere and being asked if I had had a boy or a girl and having to say that I had given birth to a boy and how he had died.
The first birthday was very difficult – especially because I was still trying to have another child and felt like I was in limbo. The first anniversary of his death was also very difficult. Because the timing of this birth and death is so uncanningly close to the Ash Wednesday – Easter experience, that season every year is a very poignant journey for me.
The hardest birthday for me was the year Gregory would have been fourteen. I don’t know what it was about this birthday that made me cry almost all that day, but the fact that he would have been a teenager with muddy sneakers tracking through the house and just being at that awkward age for most boys was beyond heartwrenching.
And this upcoming one – the thirtieth birthday. I was talking with my sister. “Diane, can you believe it is going to be thirty years.” “That’s impossible,” she answered. She went on to say, “well your Jana is going to be 28 and my sons, David and Jason are 33 and 31, but Gregory turning 30 is just not possible.” I am not sure what I can’t wrap my head around this as it becomes thirty years – is the amount of time that has passed – the fact that this little baby of mine is now 30 – the fact that it seems like it was a blink of an eye since he came and changed everything about the world as I knew it and then left.
Over the years, I have given gifts to the March of Dimes and other charities in his memory. I have been able to comfort others who have lost children with an empathy and understanding one can only have by being a member of this club that no one asks to join – wants to join – the mothers who have experienced what no mother believes is fair or just or even conceivable – burying their own child. In a perfect world, children should bury their parents – parents should not bury their children. But in case you weren’t aware, we are not living in a perfect world. We are in this imperfect place called earth where drunk drivers get behind the wheel of a car, where a sports play turns tragic, where children make stupid decisions that cost them their lives, where sickness and tears are real.
Fourteen years ago, I tried to open a child care center. I thought it was a good idea. I had a beautiful placque made which would be proudly hung and would dedicate the building to Gregory. I lost every dollar that I had – plus some I didn’t. The bible says
I got to see the disobedience to that scripture verse play out. It has taken more than a decade to recover. The recovery is still incomplete.
The two hundred pound granite slab moved with my husband (I remarried seven years ago) and I when we came to Florida. It sits in the yard against the back fence. I learned two other scripture lessons “wait on God” and “seek Godly counsel.”
God and I have had very long discussions about these two important and difficult topics for impatient Type A people. I will not move until I know it is what You want and You confirm to me whatever that is. But once You do, You bet my sneakers will be on and laced, and I will run to the finish line to complete whatever it is You have for me.
Thirty years is a very long time to wait. But God’s timing is – well God’s timing. I know that NOW the words spoken at Gregory’s funeral are to be released to the world. Not last year – not ten years ago. But NOW. I waited. It was confirmed. My sneakers are on. The laces are tied. The whistle has blown.
I pray you will find special ways to honor and remember your child.