A eulogy for my stillborn son
On June 15, 2019, my wife and I lost our son, Peter, who was stillborn at 36 weeks and 5 days. In the Catholic Church, parents of a stillborn child can choose to hold a funeral, and, as lifelong Catholics, we made that choice for our son. In recognition of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day 2020, I wanted to share the eulogy for Peter that I delivered last June. It helped me very much to write it. I hope that reading it might do some small good for someone, somewhere.
Michelle and I cried for days straight. We cried in anger about the unfairness of never getting to take our baby home. We cried in disbelief at the future he would never have. We cried in worry about how we would explain this to Ben, who was so excited about being a big brother. We cried in sorrow at the decisions that we never thought we would have to make for our infant: Do we want a birth certificate? Do we hold a funeral? Should we bury or cremate? What should the mass card say? We cried in fear and anxiety about how and whether the choices we’ve made have contributed to this tragedy. We cried in anguish as we held Peter in the hospital on Saturday night and the enormity of our loss hit us.
We’ve cried ourselves empty, and, when we thought were done crying, we started again. We came across the hat that the nurses at Winchester Hospital lovingly put on his head and cried. We tried to speak his measurements out loud — 19 inches long, 4 pounds, 12 ounces — and cried. We heard the loving words and guidance of countless family members, loved ones, friends, acquaintances, and, in some cases, complete strangers who reached out and we cried again.
Early on, though, we realized that we were crying for ourselves, for our oldest son, and for everyone who loves Peter much more than we were crying for Peter himself. I’ve never been more grateful to be Catholic, to have this faith, than this week, because the knowledge that Peter is enveloped in light and love, painless and peaceful in heaven, brings with it a profound sense of relief. I’m crying about my lost son, not for him. Because he is where he belongs, at home in our Father’s house, where he knows true peace and infinite love. Michelle and I have many goals as parents, but one of our greatest is to raise our children in our Catholic faith. To do everything we can to help them have a close relationship with God. We know now that that has been achieved for Peter. Without a doubt. Entirely. He is at peace with the Lord, and, despite the struggle that we’re having with his loss, that is a blessing to us.
Peter has taught me so much since he arrived in and left this world. Two of his lessons stand above the rest of them, though, and I think they’re related: Peter’s taught me to face fear and he’s taught me that the world is full of so much more love than I ever imagined.
Ever since becoming a father, the thing I’ve feared more than anything else in this world is losing a child. Anyone who’s ever seen me with Ben knows that’s true. I am a helicopter parent. I hover over him waiting to make sure he’s not going to fall off the firepole at the playground and yell about the danger of cars more than a football field’s distance away. I panic when he won’t hold my hand in crowds and agonize over his resolute resistance to eating anything but carbs. I’m constantly worried. And all of that worry stems from the fact that losing my child has been my worst fear.
And now, I’m living that fear. I’ve lost my son to death. And I’m gutted. It’s brutal. I’m miserable and deeply sad and a bit lost, frankly. But I’m not destroyed. Tomorrow will be easier than today, marginally. Maybe imperceptibly. But, however slight, it will be easier. I know that, because today was marginally easier than yesterday. And, even if there are days that are harder, days where we go backward — and I know there will be — I’m learning to live in a new reality. In this reality, my worst fear has come true, and, because of that, Peter taught me that you can overcome fear. That you don’t have to give into it. That it doesn’t have to define you. Peter taught me that you can overcome fear by facing it. And he taught me that it’s so much easier to face your fears when you’re surrounded by love.
Michelle and I have been so overwhelmed by the outpouring of kindness, love, and support that Peter has sparked in loved ones and in strangers alike. We’ve been so deeply fortunate for the support of our family and friends, our parish communities — both of them, St. John’s and St. Patrick’s — and our colleagues. Each and every one of you has been tremendous in your generosity, with your time, and your care, and your love. This tragedy has reminded us about the depth of that love and that support and we’re so grateful.
And Peter keeps sending new people into our lives or helping us connect with people we know through a different lens — people who have experienced a similar loss and are reaching out with a word of advice and encouragement. The love that Peter has shown us through these encounters is so wide-ranging, so expansive, and we’re tremendously grateful for it. He’s also shown us that you never know what someone is living with, what personal tragedy they’re holding inside of them. And if that knowledge doesn’t make us more compassionate people, more sensitive and caring ourselves, then we’re failing him. And we’ll never let that happen.
Despite his painfully short life, Peter is making us better every day. While he’s not physically here to see it, we’ll love him and cherish him for the rest of our lives.
Thank you for being here today. Thank you for loving Peter as we do. Thank you for loving us and Ben. And thank you for sharing your love with the world. You’re making it better every day, too.