For Calvin’s 3rd heavenly birthday, I asked Louie if he would do a guest post on my blog to share some of our story from his perspective. I’m glad I asked, and I’m glad he agreed, because even now, I continue to learn what it’s like for him to walk this path.
Crystal rarely takes showers on her own anymore. Either I’m taking one at the same time, or I’m there waiting. She said that being there alone was “too hard.”
I look at her through the glass, past the the water beading and rolling off. I listen to it rattle against the glass, and it always makes me remember.
It was raining the day we found out Calvin had died. We cried so hard. It was a cry that life never prepares you for because it’s a tragedy that life never tries to explain. It’s a heaving cry, which at the end you know nothing will fix. Lurching heavily and wishing you could unload this reality because you just can’t and refuse to believe it.
We had walked to the car in stunned silence moments after hearing the news. And sitting there, coupled with the silence of the car and the rattle of the rain, repeatedly processing that our son was dead was unimaginably painful. I cried from an inexhaustible well of grief, and it broke me. Years later, that cry still seeps into my daily routine, usually when I’m out driving or at home by myself.
Being alone has become something of great difficulty for the both of us. Since that time, we’ve spent almost every single night sleeping in the same bed. In the wake of what happened to us, it kept us from feeling like we were reeling. Calvin died of limb body wall complex, brought about through amniotic band syndrome. A condition we were told was entirely random. But a random occurrence is absolutely meaningless when it randomly happens to you. We needed consistency to keep from feeling like our world was crumbling, and sleeping together every night afforded us that.
Out of promise and duty, I try to make sure Crystal never takes showers alone. It was soul wrenching to hear her say, “I can’t be alone with my body.” But I understood it. It was so hard to convince her that it wasn’t her fault. Until this day, I haven’t convinced her otherwise and likely never will. I can’t even imagine how hard it must feel to distrust your body. As a father, knowing that I couldn’t protect Calvin from the amniotic bands was maddening enough. Yet for Crystal, as a mother, to be so close to Calvin yet be reduced to waiting for a miracle must have eaten away at her.
At my worst, me being a man became a mask. I got so sick of people telling me to be strong for her. People expecting me not to cry in front of her. To just support her. Through Crystal I learned real strength, crying openly with one another. Because it was only through letting my guard down that I allowed myself time to grieve, as we found a way to rebuild ourselves together.
I had moments at home between classes where I’d feel crippled by anxiety. I’d get so consumed by Calvin’s absence that I’d just cycle in and out of sadness. It was a nightmare, that until writing this, was only known by Crystal and our support group. It became such a comfort for me to call her during one of my “crying fits.” I would bawl and she would listen. It was rare that I would ever feel like I could process my grief freely, but she always found me ways to. Every time we lost a baby, as irreparable as I felt because of it, I survived because of what Crystal did for me; finding us a support group, reading me baby loss blogs, and telling me stories of other fathers processing grief. She didn’t make me feel better with promises or distractions. All she did was acknowledge my hurt, and most times that was enough. She never let me feel alone.
Until this day, she rarely takes showers on her own anymore. But that is okay, I’m honored that she would rely on me for that. It’s the least I could do for what she does for me. She may never again fully trust her body to carry her children, but it’s okay because I fully do. She has blessed me with four babies who are my heart. And I will support the part of her that is afraid with my belief that anyone she loves is in wonderful hands.
Happy Birthday in heaven Calvin. You have made me willful, more compassionate, and more assured than I would have expected to be at this point of my life. It is because of what you started, what your siblings continued, and how your mother reciprocates that I’ve learned how powerfully transcendent love is. I love you son.
If you’d like to join us in honoring and remembering Calvin Phoenix on his 3rd birthday, we would love for you to light a candle, say his name out loud, or send him a message at Kisses for Calvin.