This was an emotionally charged weekend at our house. Saturday was Courtney and my eleventh anniversary. Sunday was Courtney’s first Father’s Day with Emma.
Courtney is an exceptional husband and father. Over the past eleven years, our love for one another has been tested in ways I hope other marriages never have to survive. I would like to be able to tell you we have the perfect marriage, but that would not be honest. Our marriage is work, but it is worth the work. Over the years, people have felt the need to tell us “Losing a child is hard on a marriage.” Statements like this make us even more stubborn about staying true to each other.
We promised Josh we could take care of each other after he was gone.
Most of my favorite Josh memories are those that include Courtney: silly giggles during afternoon playtime, Courtney driving like a race car driver (complete with sound effects) on Josh’s first trip to the ocean, and so many more.
When we found out we were having a boy, Courtney planned to teach Josh to play soccer, help him learn to fish, and to take him hunting. He assumed he would have a hunting buddy and together, father and son, life would be as it should be.
We were put on a help flight to Denver Children’s Hospital. Each day the tests returned news a little worse than the day before. When we found out there was brain damage, Courtney knew he would never be able to take Josh hunting without special accommodations. Then, as the prognosis advanced from sick to terminal, we were told he would never grow old enough to experience a second birthday. The final diagnosis informed us if we had another male child, there would be a 50% chance he would have the same terminal diagnosis.
Our world crumbled with each test result.
They told us we couldn’t do anything.
We fought to prove them wrong.
We drove Josh home.
We promised we would not regret a day together.
Through it all, Courtney was graceful.
In the early months after Josh’s diagnosis, Courtney made the profound observation “we all grieve differently.” There is no how-to-grieve book and it is a messy, lifelong process. This observation allowed us to accept the way we both process grief. Now, years later, we still have to remind ourselves to be gentle with each other. Birthdays, special events, and holidays are days when grace and love are needed in abundance.
Yesterday, on a cold, rainy Father’s Day, we set a tent up in our living room. We celebrated Courtney and his love for his family. We called our respective fathers to tell them how much their love has made us the parents we are.
Some people are under the impression having a second child will heal the loss of a child. Emma does not heal the pain, but she provides hope. Yesterday, Emma took her first steps and fell into her father’s arms. We clapped, hugged her, and held each other as we cried.
Sometimes baby steps are big steps.