Submitted by Ethan
Several years ago, I saw a commercial that has stuck with me ever since (a fact that I’m sure State Farm’s marketing department would be very happy to hear). In the commercial, we see a series of vignettes of a man’s early adulthood, as he meets his future wife and eventually starts a family. We begin by seeing the man at a party, enthusiastically telling his friends “I’m never getting married!” only to immediately cut to him buying an engagement ring. We then jump ahead in time to see the happy couple vehemently stating “we’re never having kids!” only to immediately cut to the delivery of their first baby. Again we jump ahead in time, now watching the new parents confidently saying “we’re never going to leave the city and move to the suburbs!” As you’ve probably guessed, we immediately cut to the family living in a quaint suburban neighborhood, mini-van and all. The story continues on, yada yada yada, you get the picture. For what it’s worth, I’ve always found the commercial to be rather fun, even charming in its intended message. But in the wake of my daughter’s death, that thin veneer of idealism has become cracked and faded. I picture my own life, following Cana’s death, in the form of that commercial and I can’t get that picture out of my head.
When someone you know experiences a tragedy, it’s our natural human tendency to subconsciously think to ourselves “that’s so terrible…but surely, that will never happen to me…right?” It’s an innate biological defense-mechanism, as we subconsciously try to fortify some sense of mental self-preservation. Without it, we’d go crazy with anxiety and despair at every turn. In most cases, we’re completely right! Nothing happens, and we go on living in blissful ignorance, forgetting just how fragile life can be. But at some point along the line, when something truly unthinkable does happen, we are left to pick up the pieces of a tragedy that we feel we never saw coming. I imagine that most loss parents lived in this same state of blissful ignorance before the death of their own child; I know that I certainly did.
When I look back at photos and videos of our pregnancy with Cana, now three months after her death, I can’t help but fume and fester over the dramatic irony of it all. I look at my smiling face in every photo and, honestly, scoff at my own blissful ignorance. At times, I just want to jump through the photo, grab myself by the shoulders and tell that old version of me everything that he doesn’t yet know. But even so, I know that we ultimately couldn’t have changed the outcome of what happened to Cana (at least that’s what I now have to tell myself). I know that we will never get to exist in that state of blissful ignorance again, during any future pregnancy. I also know that I need to fully surrender myself to all of the pain of Cana’s death if I ever hope to heal. She is gone from this world and is never coming back, but I know that the best way I can honor her is by carrying the pain of that truth rather than burying it. I’m hopeful that one day, I will be able to look at those pregnancy photos and videos with no shred of anger in my heart. The sadness and pain will never go away, but I know that the profound delight that Cana still brings me will outshine that darkness.
I truly never thought that I’d experience the death of a child. I never thought that during every future holiday season, there would always be an empty chair at the kid’s table in my head; a chair for my first baby. I never thought that for every remaining day of my life, I’d be carrying the weight of my firstborn child’s death. I’d hoped that all of those “never” statements I made throughout my life would be like the ones from that commercial: harmless, fun, maybe even laughable. Instead they hurt, and always will. I never thought this would be the start of our family, but I choose to carry the weight of that pain rather than bury it, for Cana’s sake. She is and always will be the start of our family, no matter what that family grows to be in the future. She is a permanent part of its foundation, and even in her worldly absence she emanates so much joy; I know that fountain of joy will never run dry.