February 16th. It is the hardest day of the year. Every year. It is my son’s birthday. On this day, we celebrate my son’s short life. We pick out balloons and send them to heaven. We get a dessert, light a candle and wish Braden the happiest of birthdays. At some point during the day, I hide in my room and read the journal I wrote that contains a little over 3 months of precious memories. I bawl uncontrollably while looking at his baby scrapbook. And then I pull myself together and continue with my day, a day that to the rest of the world is just any other day.
This year, more than any other year, the gravity that to most people February 16th is just another day on the calendar hit me hard. Maybe it’s because of the length of time that has passed, it’s been 9 years now, but I feel like the world has forgotten my son.
I know there are plenty of people who knew and loved Braden. And I recognize and cherish all of the support and love they have given throughout the years. But this year, with the exception of my parents and my best friend, all of those people forgot my son on the one day I need recognition the most. I write this not to make any person in my life feel regretful or apologetic but rather because it is cathartic for me. Because otherwise the grief eats away at me and I will begin to resent it. Instead, I use this as an opportunity to ensure that the world will not forget the impact my son had and continues to have on my life and the lives of others.
My son saved my marriage. Having a child with a physical disability requiring medical monitoring and physical therapy truly made my husband and I confront our own issues in order to best meet the needs of our son. There were times after Braden was born that the D-word was thrown around because life was just that burdensome so we contemplated giving up. When I say we, it was mostly him. The reality that our son may never play basketball with his father in our driveway (among many, many, many other things) was excruciatingly hard for my husband to come to grips with. But I refused to give up on us.
My son was going to face so many challenges in life. Having divorced parents was not going to be one of them. I found us a counselor and we went to work on ourselves and our marriage. And it didn’t take long for us to rediscover all of the reasons we fell in love in the first place. This man completes me and I, him. This man was able to love me regardless of the fact that our son’s disability was genetically passed down from me which made me love him even more.
I truly believe Braden was an angel sent from God to guide my husband and I. The night before Braden passed, as I lay with my head on my husband’s chest, I ask how he is feeling about us, our family, and our marriage. His response is that he is genuinely happy, and has a renewed sense of devotion to us and our family. I concur, falling asleep at peace with a dopey grin on my face. This is true love. The next day Braden was called back to heaven, his task complete.
So many of the choices we have made since that day have been a direct result of Braden’s time in this world. We set up a scholarship at Winona State University where my husband and I first met in Braden’s honor. Each year an undergrad is able to further his or her studies because of the generosity of our friends and family who have contributed over the years. The scholarship is endowed meaning Braden’s legacy will forever impact students at WSU.
My husband decided to leave active duty military for an opportunity to complete a civilian residency. Had he not made that choice, we would not have moved to Maryland and would not have come into contact with the Genetics and IVF Institute, the clinic that would give us our twin daughters.
If one of our daughters had not been born with a congenital heart defect, we wouldn’t have decided to return to my hometown in Minnesota. If we hadn’t moved to Minnesota we wouldn’t have met our foster son.
I can go on and on about all of the choices we have made and the amazing people we have met over the past 9 years which are a direct result of Braden’s impact on our lives, but in the simplest terms, everything happens for a reason. And while the grief of losing a child is brutal at times, these are the lives we are supposed to lead. So lest the world forgets, the impact of one child’s short time on this earth, I will remember and I will ensure you do too.