Today, Monday, 16 October 2023, marks 21 years to the day since I became a father, something I’m enormously proud of and very, very happy about. However, it is also a bittersweet day, because the (other) person who made that possible (in addition to my beautiful wife) is not here to celebrate this milestone with us. As some of you may know, our beautiful son, Jake, who was born on Friday, 25 October 2002 only lived for 9 days.
Among the many thoughts that crossed my mind during those agonising early days without him, was the prospect of not being able to celebrate the many firsts in his life, which would also be firsts in ours. These include his first Christmas, his first birthday, taking his first steps, his first day at school, his first school concert, his First Holy Communion, learning to ride a bike, his tenth birthday, his Confirmation, becoming a teenager, learning to drive, school graduation, turning 18, 20 and many, many more.
We did take a moment to reflect on some of those milestones along the way, however, via Life Lessons from an Angel when he’d have turned 18 in 2020 and via Still Wiping Away Our Tears when he’d have turned 20 in 2022.
However, the one milestone that has always stuck out for me, as one I actually feared, was the occasion of his 21st birthday. I’m not entirely sure why, to be honest, but I’ve definitely always had it in my head as being that little bit different to the others, in a way that loomed large on the horizon.
Perhaps it’s because, in Irish culture, reaching this age often signals a formal passage from childhood to adulthood, where parents feel a sense of accomplishment (or success) for having gotten a child to that point in their life which, in our case, may not be the case.
We are, of course, blessed to have other children in our lives and have the good fortune and privilege of celebrating many of the above milestones with them. However, at the time of Jake’s passing those feelings were impossible to escape, and I guess they never fully went away.
Celebrate the Journey
You can’t go far in life without hearing at least one version of the saying about life being about “the journey, not the destination”. I’ve definitely seen my fair share of examples of this playing out in my personal and professional life, across a wide spectrum of areas.
However, the example that stands out the most is actually happening today. While it’s true that the firsts in Jake’s life were incredibly hard to endure without him, it’s equally true that each one has served as a welcome reminder of him. They gave us a reason to remember him, either alone or together with our extended family or lifelong friends. Without Jake in our life, those occasions would never have happened and the memories we created would not exist today.
Therefore, in his own special way, he shaped our journey anyway and it’s with the benefit of a lot of hindsight that we can be immensely grateful that today is not a destination – it’s just another part of the life journey that he continues to guide us along.
Happy Birthday, son, and thank you!