Chris and I found out we were expecting our first child in October, 2015. Just a few days after our second anniversary, we were woken up in the middle of the night by the unfortunate but familiar sound of our dogs getting sick (will they ever learn that sticks aren’t actually food?). Chris was handling the mess as I crept away to the bathroom. I knew there was a possibility that I was pregnant, so since I was awake I took the opportunity to check. Finding out that I was pregnant was one of the most surreal moments of my life - both hugely exciting and wildly terrifying. I told Chris as we both settled back into bed, and that is how this journey began.
Joe’s due date was June 30, 2016. Knowing that those dates are approximate, I always responded to the frequent question,”When are you due?” with the vague range of late June, early July. My midwife had prepared us not to realistically expect to meet our baby until well past our due date, so I adjusted accordingly. Chris, however, heard this advice and was firmly convinced that Joe would, without a doubt, arrive on July 4th.
The truth is, Chris had created an entire vision in his mind surrounding the idea of life with a baby born on Independence Day. Something similar to the Lion King, where Rafiki is holding up Simba for the entire animal kingdom to behold, Chris saw his child being held up while glorious fireworks burst in the air all around us (or them? I don’t know how much of a part I play in this particular fantasy). Naturally this image with the fireworks would occur every year, on the baby’s birthday - the nation’s birthday. I completely lost count of the number of times Chris said out loud to someone, “Because who wouldn’t vote for a president born on Independence Day?” It only made sense.
Fast forward to May 28, 2016. We had just spent the last week in the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital NICU with our first amazing, miraculous child, Joseph. May is not June. May is not the 4th of July. No one saw coming what is now our life story. No one except, perhaps, Joseph. We said goodbye to our baby that day and left the hospital completely transformed. We were the same two people who entered those doors just a week earlier, but we now wore the badge of grief that so many other parents have had attached to them before us. Somehow, though, we were all right. We had just concluded our earthly time with our son, and we were beaming with pride and relief as we walked hand-in-hand from the place that had become our home while he was alive. It confused me to feel so much joy and sorrow at the same time. And I don’t mean separately occurring at the same moment in time, I mean they were indescribably intertwined and completely indivisible. This feeling has never left me, and I would guess that it never will.
That night was the first and only time, besides our wedding, that our families shared a meal together. It was so natural that we all needed to be together after what we had all experienced. Like a collective, psychic exhale after holding our breath for so long. It was healing, it was safe - like the bubble hadn’t quite burst all the way yet. Chris and I lingered well after my family had gone home. We almost left a couple of times, but then settled back in and savored the final moments of the company his family provided. Were we consciously avoiding going home? I can’t say that we were… But the unknown of our aloneness was definitely weighing heavily on both our spirits.
As we drove away that night, it was warm enough to have the windows down in the car. I don’t remember if we spoke to each other as we wound through the quiet streets of his parents’ neighborhood or if we were silently drifting around in our own minds. But I was fully conscious when we pulled to the final stop sign at the entrance to their neighborhood and distinctly heard the not-too-distant booming of fireworks. It was bewildering to hear them at that moment because we had become completely disoriented to time over the past several days. It was Memorial Day weekend, and there most certainly were fireworks in Cincinnati that night.
I get emotional when I recall this moment… not so much for myself, but for him. My best friend, my love, my husband. In that instant, he knew his son was with him, and I think he also knew he would never leave him. I heard him audibly exhale and saw him smile, and suddenly he was glowing with peace of mind. It was his first Joe moment - the first of many, many Joe moments. The moments that lift our spirits, restore peace in our hearts, calm our minds, and save our lives. Joe had designed perhaps the only foolproof way to communicate so that his daddy would know it was him. The perfection of that moment can only be defined as magic. So miraculous; so Joe.
Fireworks are, needless to say, quite special in our family. We make space in our lives at every opportunity to sit and watch as he shines through with each dazzling explosion of light and color. We create the space and we receive his light. The picture above was taken during the WEBN Labor Day fireworks in Cincinnati, this past September. Chris and I were watching this firework show from our dear friend’s rooftop in Mt. Adams. As you might image, we always specifically notice the light blue fireworks. We’ve seen them before and, of course, we remember seeing these exact fireworks together. They always come in threes, somehow, always reminding us of our little family of three. Perhaps it could be a coincidence, or perhaps it is proof of the magic of our love. We choose to believe in the magic and the love, because in both of those things we always find our Joe.
Photo: Kris Vlad, 2016