The grave for my son, Martin, has no name plate, no birth date nor a loving message scrawled into the granite. Honestly, only a few know where to go to find him and those few only know Martin is there because it's the same place they go to visit their babies.
Martin is our second child. He was born on April 2, 2018 at 19 weeks gestation. His life was brief, only surviving for one short hour before his heartbeat faded away. When Martin as born, we were living in Edmonton, Alberta and he is still there. I never thought that I would have to move away from him and it pains me that we’ve left him behind. The cemetery he is buried in was only a 10 minute drive from our house. It wasn’t necessarily the place I would go to connect with him, but I also never realized how comforting it was to know that he was close. Now, we are 3 provinces and 3,500 kms away from him. It’s been over a year since I was able to sit beside him and tell him stories of how much I miss him, or to drop off cards and crafts that our two surviving children have made for him.
Martin was buried with the help of a local hospital burial program offered to bereaved parents at no charge. He is buried in his own tiny box in a grave with multiple other babies who were born around the same time. The program gave my husband, Luc, and I comfort knowing that Martin would never be alone. He is forever surrounded by his angel friends, including J, the son of a dear friend of mine, who passed one month later. Knowing that our boys are forever side by side provides both of our families so much comfort on dark days. The grave has a large marker placed on top that reads, “If pennies were teardrops, and heartaches were gold…”. Families are then welcome to purchase a small plaque to have placed on the monument that reads their child’s name, birth date and a short message. While we looked into it, the cost was far more than we wished to spend seeing as his cemetery plot wasn’t a place we frequented and nobody else in our family had ever gone to visit him. We had other plans for ways to honour and remember him so we decided to not mark his grave, a decision I am happy with now especially since we don’t live there anymore. Plus, I wanted something more meaningful than a plaque, something that would always be with me, something that would allow me to tell his story and speak his name more often.
I had so many big ideas and nothing was going to stop me from proudly displaying my love for Martin and for advocating for my son, ensuring he is never forgotten and always with us.
So, before leaving the hospital after Martin died, we asked our nurse to save us a piece of Martin’s umbilical cord. I knew I wanted to make a memorial piece for him. I don’t ever get to keep his first lock of hair, a lost tooth, watch him take his first steps or grow up into a man. This was all I got to keep from my sweet son and I knew exactly how I would make this small shared piece of him and I into one of the most irreplaceable and invaluable items I would ever own.
But I wasn’t done there. Though I wear my necklace often, and it truly does bring an extra connection to him, I still felt like I wasn’t finished. I still had a desire for more. I needed something more permanent. It took some time to plan and perfect, but this past summer I finally got my memorial tattoo for Martin. I thought of no better way to keep him with me forever than to place my love for him right on my forearm. Donned with the most delicate daises and sweet pea’s to represent his birth month flowers and his tiny little exact handprint tucked in amongst them, I am proud to wear my love for him on my body like a badge of honour. I see it every day and smile as I trace his wee handprint with my fingers, imagining how incredible it would be to hold his tiny hand again. As my appointment date neared, I really had no idea what kinds of emotions would bubble up. In the past 2 years I’ve become quite well acquainted with big emotions showing up in seemingly random locations – grocery stores, concerts, on picturesque drives - so seeing as I was having a memorial tattoo done I was mentally prepared for anything. In the past 2 years, I have also grown exponentially in my grief. I have told Martin’s story hundreds of times and each time I tell it I feel stronger and am more able to share his life without emotionally breaking down. On the day of my appointment, I told his story once again; this time while needles buzzed away in the background like white noise. And I have perhaps never smiled with so such pride and purposefulness as I did that day. Deep in my soul I knew that this tattoo was exactly what I needed to express my love for Martin in a way that was far more personal than a plaque in a faraway city. No matter where we go he will always be with me. He is part of our family’s story and his story is one I am proud to share.
Without a doubt we miss Martin every single day but he is always part of us, no matter the distance. His legacy didn’t end when his heart stopped beating. It was just beginning. Our kids are growing up with an angel brother, one who my now 4 year old daughter is proud to talk about and send kisses to way up in the stars. She always notices when I wear my pearls and often copies me in tracing Martin’s handprint on my arm when we snuggle at night. Our family of 5 is complete - complete with love, with sadness, and messy chapters - but even with all of the mess in between our story is beautifully ours.