He Lived for Less than an Hour; He Weighed Less than a Pound

Today is my son Matthew’s birthday.  It is also the anniversary of his death.  24 years ago he was born.  He lived less than an hour.  He weighed less than a pound.  These are the harsh details that seem to stick in my mind – he was just less than 1 in every way.  The medical details are unimportant, but he had no lungs.  Other than that, he was perfect in miniature – just 1 important organ short of 1 healthy baby; just slightly less than the 1 son I wanted to love and take home to a beautiful life. 


Today, I went to the cemetery where his ashes were scattered among the rose bushes.  I went early and watched the sun rise.  It is a sight he never saw.   The gates were not open yet, so I sat in my car near the locked gates and engaged in my annual ritual of reliving the day of his birth – the day of his death.  The sound of the rain tapping on the roof of the car lulled me into an almost trance-like state.  I could almost see the hospital lights and hear the monitors beeping and chirping. 


I objected when the anesthesiologist called me Liz:  “I am not Liz,” I said from where I was floating near the ceiling, just before the darkness invaded my being.  Then I remember waking up and being cold – I had never before been so cold.  The warmed blankets the nurses brought me could not penetrate through that cold.  I simply could not feel the warmth they brought me. 


Then, they told me my son had died.  And, suddenly the impossibility of feeling even colder became my reality.  The fires of hell could not have warmed me at that moment, although I thought for sure that is where I had awakened.  I had known the likelihood of his death, the very slim chances of his survival.  I had been living on hope and, now, that had been taken from me. I had nothing left to live on.  I have no fear of hell now because I have been there and survived.


I saw him – very briefly, a tiny lifeless body resting gently in the palm of my hand.  He fit in just one hand – just slightly less than a pound – and reminded me of a newborn kitten.  Well-meaning people hovered about, tending to me, trying to be supportive, not realizing that I wanted privacy.  I wanted to spend a private moment with my son.  I wanted to spend a private eternity with my son.  I wanted to rip myself back open and put him safely back inside where he could grow and become whole.


I go to the cemetery every year on his birthday.  I sit near the rose garden and grieve.  I grieve because my pain is all I have left of him since the hope was taken away.  I have no fond memories of him, but I have become fond of the ritual and the pain.  I cling to the pain as if letting it go would be to let him go all over again.  I rip myself open and allow the pain to grow until it is my whole being.  Then, when the fires of hell have burned themselves down to glowing embers, I go back home and continue my life until next year. 


Today, I took my only picture of Matthew – a Polaroid taken at the hospital – and scanned it.  After 24 years, it had faded.  But this picture I cling to, just as I cling to my pain, and I needed to preserve it.  Pictures fade faster than pain.  I do not know how I will preserve the pain if it ever starts to fade. 




  1. Beth said,

    December 16, 2008 at 10:03 am

    Oh, sweetie, my heart is all yours today. I know the last couple weeks have been tough. I am glad to see you publishing again. Blessed be.

  2. Jack said,

    December 17, 2008 at 4:43 am

    Thank you for opening your heart, just a little.

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