Here is Theo's stone. We placed it on his grave on his second birthday, May 26, Memorial Day weekend.
The photo with the tree is the view of the cemetery facing south. The big tree is a hundreds of years old hemlock that has been there before anyone was ever buried there.
I designed his stone and had it made by Paul West of West Memorials in Memphis TN. He really does beautiful work. When I drew the design just after Theo's funeral and started looking online for someone who could make it for me, I found his website and was just amazed. The stones and memorials he makes are all individual works of art honoring the people for whom they are made. I am really happy with the way his stone turned out. But in the process, all kinds of things happened--glitches here and there. Paul's business has gone through a lot of changes, building a new space, problems with contractors, set backs, several things out of anyone's control went awry. The raw chunk of stone itself came from Russia and there were problems with that supplier and when it came, it was about twice as big as it should have been, then when the stone was finally finished--2 weeks after the scheduled delivery, it wasn't exactly right--the shape was wrong--too square looking, not what I wanted, so I really started to panic that it wouldn't be done in time, even though he promised me it would and he came in over the weekend and did it himself. He sent it out with 2 day shipping from Memphis and we still had a week to get it in place by Theo's birthday.
Because Theo is buried in our private family cemetery, there are no official caretakers, just us, so there is not an office or anything like that, and the stone had to be delivered to a business. So the original plan was to have the stone delivered to the bank where my mother works and my cousin's husband was going to pick it up and take it to the cemetery. But because now twice as big as it was originally supposed to be--which is fine, I really don't mind that it is bigger--but because of the shape and size, it weighs literally a ton--2000 pounds. The man who was delivering it could not move it off the truck without help and my original plan wouldn't work either because there was no one there at the bank who could move it either. It couldn't be moved without serious equipment. When my mother called me with that news, I just totally broke down. At first I thought we could get help from Carty's funeral home, the wonderful people we used for Theo's funeral, but it was bought out since then and they moved to Kentucky. By the Tuesday before Theo's birthday, it was too late to call and have them help and because of state to state regulations, the Tennessee company was only authorized to deliver in Virginia anyway. She couldn't get hold of any other funeral home directors. The driver had taken it back to Tennesee to the trucking place (only just across the state line, an hour away, not all the way to Memphis, but still). I was just so upset. I could not stop crying for about 45 minutes, even when I tried and tried. I didn't know what she was going to do, she didn't know what she was going to do. I have handled everything for him, planned everything, managed everything, and I could not fix this for him because I was not there. I didn't know what to do and I was convinced it would not be there for his birthday, or that somehow we wouldn't be able to get it to the cemetery. I had to leave work early and still couldn't stop crying. I have not cried that much in one day in I don't even know how long. My eyes were swollen up and I was just exhausted by the time I got home. Everything is taken care of now and the stone is on his grave. My mom called in a favor (she said, "I'm like the mafia", which was kind of funny). The man who moves repossessed cars for the bank and has equipment to move other kinds of heavy things did it for her and would not accept any payment. He told her, "that could be my grandbaby's stone". I am so grateful for his help.
We saw it for the first time the day before Theo's birthday. We drove straight to the cemetery when we got into town. I didn't know what his birthday would be like this year. I didn't think would be as difficult as last year when all I could think of from the 24th through the 26th was, "this time last year....this time last year...this time last year", re-living every second from my water breaking until 12:02 midnight on May 26th. I am continually surprised by my feelings, by what is going to be a trigger--or when there aren't particularly any triggers. I am trying to have no expectations and just go with whatever--but sometimes I find it very hard. When I think--"He would be two years old", I can barely believe it. It seems so long ago and at the same time, just like yesterday, that he was born. Had he lived, he would be walking and talking, playing and getting into all kinds of things. But he isn't. And that is just the way it is. And the pain doesn't go away. It is not as raw, but I didn't expect a day like I had the day the stone was delivered. Sometimes I still just can't believe that this is my life, that my child is dead. Sometimes I can barely believe that he was born, that he had a brain tumor, that he went through so much in his short little life. Sometimes it feels so far away that it's almost as if it happened to some other version of me in some parallel universe. I can can hear a voice in the back of my head whispering sometimes, "Did that really happen?" But yes, it did. No matter how surreal it seems. And then there are days that it is so clear to me that it, yes, it happened. Theo and his birth and his life and his death are more real than anything else that has ever happened to me or ever will again.
When we got to the cemetery that Friday afternoon, seeing the stone there wasn't a shock to me or a reality crash or anything like that for some reason. It looked as if it had always been there, just waiting for me to come and see it. I felt peaceful seeing it there. Sad, but peaceful. Maybe because I've spent a lot of time talking back and forth with Paul who made it for me and picturing it and then seeing pictures of it earlier before it was sent. It looked just perfect (well, you know--as perfect as your child's gravestone could look).
Saturday morning, Theo's birthday, Jamie and I went up to the cemetery together and placed the stone bench, the stepping stone, the pinwheet and the "birthday cake" from his Granna. The top of the cake is a removable music box that looks like a miniature cake itself and holds a real candle. We spent time alone there together, had a toast to Theo with a special bottle of wine we brought and sang "Happy Birthday" to him. We each wrote in a beautiful birthday card Jamie made for him. About an hour later, my mom and dad and Jennifer and my grandmother came. They all had a toast to Theo with us and we all spent a little more time there together. After that, we went to my other grandmother's, Granny's, for a cook-out where most of my family was there. It was interesting because we didn't talk much about Theo, but everyone knew it was his birthday and gave me hugs, told me they had seen the stone or asked to see the pictures we took, but that was about it. It was nice. It was like everyone was acknowledging him, supporting us, but it wasn't sad, everyone gave me space--but not too much. It was a really nice day. When we cut his birthday cake, several people came in and sang Happy Birthday to Theo. My cousin's little boy Trevor who is 15 months old, blew out the candle--and that was ok. It seemed reallyappropriate for a little boy, his cousin, to blow out the candle for Theo instead of one of us. Several members of my family signed the birthday card Jamie made, some didn't and that's ok too. All in all, it went much better than I thought or expected it to. I felt mostly ok all day--I think having Jamie with me, having people around me who I know love me, who I know love Theo, made it easier.
Happy Birthday to my Baby Boy~~