I recently went to our favorite bakery to order a couple cakes. Seems like a pretty uninteresting errand… except that neither of these cakes I would have expected to order a year ago. One cake was for an upcoming baby shower. After we had Alex, I was sure that we were done with adding babies to our family. What a wonderful surprise cake to celebrate! The other cake was the first birthday cake for Alex. Even deciding to order a cake was something I wrestled with.
How to you celebrate a birthday for a child that’s not here? A birthday celebrated in Heaven is not the same birthday as the birthdays celebrated here on earth… with balloons and streamers and games and toys. Can we even find it in our hearts to celebrate this birthday since we can’t hug him and hold him and watch him eat his very first dessert?
Flash forward- we decide to order a cake, and to have some close friends over to celebrate Alex’s birthday. I’m at the bakery and all I see are ridiculously happy, silly cake designs to mark a one-year birthday milestone. That’s so depressing. It’s one thing to reconcile yourself to the fact that your child won’t be there for pictures, or to blow out the candles. It’s another thing to have clowns, giraffes or Mickey Mouse mocking you from the cake for this somber, humble occasion.
At first I was frustrated, and then I started to tear up. What was I thinking? Was it naïve to think that I could honestly get a cake to celebrate this event that we were not really looking forward to? The saleslady misunderstood my emotion and tears. She said, “They grow up so fast, don’t they?” I swallowed the lump in my throat and whispered to her that my son was celebrating his first birthday in Heaven. She looked at me closely for a moment. Then, not missing a beat, she turned the pages to the baptismal cakes.
Lovely. Beautiful doves, soft, serene colors, sweet messages that said, “God Bless Baby” on them. Much better. No more garish balloons, streamers and loud primary colors. I breathed easier and slowly considered the options. A sweet dove at the top, light blues all over the cake frosting, wording that says, “God Bless Baby Alex on his first birthday.” Perfect.
In just two days, we will face Alex’s first birthday. I’m not even sure what to expect from this day. Will it pass like any other day, or will it haunt me, knowing that he isn’t there to celebrate this milestone like all children *should* experience? You would think that through this first year, I would have learned to stop thinking ahead so much… to stop anticipating what could or might be, and to just accept what happens as it comes. With faith that God will help us whenever and however we need Him.
There are times when the loss of Alex is more profound. The times when I can clearly picture how old he would be, or what he might be doing. I don’t remember exactly what babies at 4 months, or 7 months, 3 days are like… those dates pass with a little less notice. The one year mark is hard though. I know and remember exactly what that time was like for Benjamin. One year is great! It’s walking across the room, a little cautiously of course, but it’s toothy grins, smiles and chubby fingers that quickly gobble up cake. It’s hearing “mama” called from the crib and silly laughter when you tickle his tummy on the changing table. It’s this collection of memories we don’t get with Alex and an emptiness in our hearts where we had made space to store all those special times.
I’ll never again hear Benjamin say, “God bless you, baby Alex” in the car when we’re driving and Alex let out a loud sneeze.
I’ll never see Benjamin hold Alex’s hand as he helps him walk across the lawn to find Easter eggs.
I’ll never see Alex pound his little fists on the glass to go outside because he saw his big brother run out on the patio to play with his sidewalk chalk.
I’ll never see Benjamin trick Alex out of treats, toys or games, taking advantage of the fact that Alex is little and doesn’t completely understand yet.
I’ll never hear how Alex would have pronounced Benjamin’s name in his own baby-speak. Benjamin called himself “Ben-mitz” for several months. I have no idea what combination of sounds would have come from Alex’s mouth.
This first birthday hurts. In a way that stings as expected, but aches a little more than I’m used to. I can feel happy he’s in Heaven, but I don’t stop missing his presence here on Earth. Enjoy all the love and happiness that Heaven can offer you sweet Piggy; you have a whole family that misses you down here.