Happy Third Birthday, Elijah

June 19, 2019

By Sanda Rathamone

Every year, I feel pressured to do something or go somewhere special for his birthday. But no matter what we do or where we go, I am still sad that he is gone.

"I don't really want to do anything for Elijah's birthday this year. Maybe we'll do something during the day, like a hike or rent a boat. I don't want to do anything that lasts more than a day." This was a text that I had written to my husband a month before Elijah's birthday.

I was upset that we were coming up on three years since Elijah was born and died, and that we still do not have a baby. I have this hope that I would fall pregnant on one of Elijah's special anniversaries: the day I found out that I was pregnant with him, his ultrasound appointments, his birthday, and his due date. This hope is what motivates me to look forward to his anniversaries. 

And then, I am always disappointed to find that my hope is an act of sheer folly. I place limitations on myself, I set myself up for more grief, more pain. 

My husband wasn't having it, he wanted to do something for the weekend. This year, Elijah's birthday was on a Sunday; it was perfect because we both had weekends off from work and school. I don't know why I hadn't noticed until we got closer to Elijah's birthday, but it was also on Father's Day, which added to my already sour mood about Elijah's third birthday. It wasn't that I hated or didn't want to celebrate Father's Day, I just didn't want/need more blows to my heart, a.k.a. THE TRIGGERS. 

I didn't want to face what should be a special day for us to be spoiled with seeing family gatherings, dads doing things with their sons and daughters, while we were grieving over the day we lost our son. But, slowly, as we approached his birthday, I began to settle down with the idea that it was okay, that I was going to be okay. 

We didn't have any plans...

All we knew was that we wanted to spend a night at a hotel, but with it being the season for summer vacations, most places were booked and prices were hiked up so high that it wasn't worth it. My husband would check on the prices and it would increase within the next day. He took the plunge and booked at an inn in a city we had never been to before. And we still had no idea how we were going to spend the weekend there. 

My only motivation to celebrate Elijah's birthday came from my anger after reading the recent Dear Abby letter. For the first time ever, I was going to get Elijah a birthday cake, light it with a candle, and sing "Happy Birthday" to Elijah with the most loving and loudest voice I could. I also ordered a couple of customized t-shirts to wear in honor of Elijah; I wanted to the world to know that it was his birthday and that we are his parents.

We stayed at Lake Natoma Inn; a two hours drive from home. Noting that the parking lot had full of rows upon rows of cars, the inn was a busy place. I had hopes that it wasn't because Father's Day had attracted so many people to stay there for the weekend... 

Upon checking in, I had approached my first trigger. We were heading to the elevator, while at the same time, a couple with three or four young children (with a baby in a stroller) came walking through the side door - obviously from the swimming pool - and was waiting for the elevator as well. I just wanted roll my eyes, kick and scream, and die, while my husband seemed to be completely unfazed. Luckily, (what I would assume as the father) was asking his wife how many band-aids they needed from the front desk. We had the elevator to ourselves.... until we went back down to go out for dinner.

A couple with their three little girls, all probably around under age 5, were heading to the same floor as we were. As much as I wanted to smile at them the way my husband did, I found it difficult. This couple has three girls and we have... Elijah, who died. Every time we went into the elevator, I had so much anxiety that I would be reminded, yet again, of what we had lost, of what I have wanted so badly. It also reminded me of how on the last day at the hospital, we were in the elevator with a pregnant staff member - it hurt like a stab to an already bleeding wound. 

Besides these very triggering moments, I did have a few "happy" and exciting ones. 

We came across a 5 dollar bill on the ground in the parking lot. I kept it even though my husband thought I shouldn't have. I accepted it as a "donation" for Elijah's birthday weekend. We also had a nice quiet dinner at a local Thai restaurant that we "almost had to ourselves" the whole time (we enjoy less crowded places). Then, we had a game of beer pong (IN OUR ROOM), drinking the most stinkiest, most awful beer I had ever had in my life. We got "denogginized" for a moment, but we had fun, we were doing something together, and that was what really mattered.

In the past, I was upset that we couldn't throw Elijah a birthday party with loads of friends and family - many of them don't remember his birthday. Like the last two birthdays, we've spent it without family, and has been something we've "celebrated" together. Doing this for a third time made me realize that I didn't really want anyone else (family) to join us. If Elijah had meant anything to them, we shouldn't have had to invite or remind them of his birthday.

But, what I do look forward to is celebrating Elijah with his siblings. Nothing would make me happier than to be surrounded by those who love him as much as we do. 

Another "happy" moment was on Elijah's birthday. After lunch, we were at Safeway, grabbing a cake and a birthday card for Elijah. Before we headed to the bakery section, we had a bathroom break. The strangest thing happened. I was in my stall when all of a sudden, I overhear a woman in the next stall talking on the phone. She was saying something about a nail appointment and then, I heard the words, "picking up Elijah." I was mind-boggled.

Did I really just hear that? Did she really just say that?! I wanted to grab her by the shoulders, hug her, and say, "Hey, lady! Who is Elijah? Is he your son? Your husband? Your friend or brother? Uncle? WHO? TELL ME WHO! My son's birthday is today and his name is Elijah, TOO!" Unfortunately, I didn't want to get all crazy weird about it and texted my husband about what I had encountered instead.

Elijah was sending me a sign and that was enough to make my day. 

I was sad that we drove so far from home, but didn't get the chance to explore the nearby places like Lake Natoma (the lake that the inn is named after) or Folsom Lake. The local areas had attracted crowds of people, not to mention how Father's Day of all days was a day that literally everyone was doing something outdoors.

We made our leave earlier than expected and drove another two hours towards home to another very busy lake, which was one of the special places that we had released Elijah's ashes; we ended up where we were meant to be. This lake was the last place we went fishing just a couple of weeks before Elijah died. It was where I had discovered "his butterfly" and the last place we were doing something we loved, as a family.

Together, we sang to Elijah, blew out his candle, and ate his cake with a happy smile.

Happy Third Birthday, Elijah. We love you. 

Elijah Rathamone-Saeteurn
Born Thursday, June 16, 2016 
6:51 a.m. 9.9 oz and 10 in 
Due October 30, 2016 

With love,
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