I named my son Noah because I loved the images it evoked. Imagine all the animal species of the world peacefully rocking side by side, two by two, in an ark made by faithful hands from gopher wood. I loved the idea of a fresh start, of the planet covered in my favorite element, having lived my whole life cradled by salt water. I loved the image of that ancient Noah on the bow of his ark, extending his open hand to catch the dual symbols of peace—a dove and the simple olive branch she clutched in her beak. I named my son Noah because, given the choice, why not name your son after God’s chosen one?
On the day Noah was born, the sun came out after raining for 40 days and 40 nights. His birthplace was Oregon, after all. He had reddish blonde hair and a peaceful countenance. Noah was the first of my children to gaze back into my loving eyes with a curiosity that reflected the color with which I, too, see the world—blue. He was delivered into the happy seven-year-old hands of his sister, Hannah, and the capable arms of Christiana, who was four. His brother Micah, at three, was completely enraptured by him, inquisitive about each sound or movement Noah made. Noah Patrick, we named him, with his Dad’s middle name. Noah Patrick Moore, we added, with my maiden name. Noah Patrick Moore Kittel, we concluded with the final name of my husband that we all share. “Noah Moore,” some joked, but it would not turn out to be so funny.
Death stalked our happiness and Noah was not ours to love for very long. This is what I read at his funeral 15 months later. “Noah. He was ours for one long and lovely weekend of our lives. He began his journey into this world on a Friday night and arrived as an answer to our prayers on a Saturday morning in the wee hours as the world slept. We knew the wonder of him before the dawn while others only dreamt of such miracles. As Saturday progressed we knew him already and he was a part of us. We were fascinated by his hunger, we watched him lovingly as he slept, we giggled together, we fed him his first foods, we clapped as he crawled, we laughed when he danced, we tickled him, and we admired his ability to climb. By Saturday night he was permanently and forever coursing through our veins. He had eight teeth and an incredible smile. He clapped for himself proudly as he took his first steps. He screamed for what he wanted. He pointed at all he saw. He read books happily. He loved ice cream.
As Sunday dawned we dreamed of one another. We were a family of six. Noah was as much a part of our life as breathing. We played and already the memories were long and detailed. We started the day with his noises and we loved him all morning. We rejoiced at our blessings and admired his beauty. We gave thanks for the perfection of our little family and knew how to be content. We were happy and whole. By Sunday afternoon Noah had left us and the lovely weekend was over. There could never be another weekend so perfect again. Last to arrive but first to leave, we will forever follow his lead. We taught him all we knew and all we could. He now knows more than we can ever begin to comprehend. And we are only beginning to decipher the meaning of Noah and all he taught us. He gave gifts which can’t be bought and taught richly without words. We are forever grateful and will forever yearn for Sunday morning again.”
Twelve years later, we’d added two more children to our family and were living in Costa Rica with four of them, having left Hannah behind. Dropping her off at college was supposed to be a difficult milestone for us, her parents, and I won’t deny that the umbilical cord tugged at my belly. But when you’ve dropped your son off in a funeral home or left him behind in a cemetery, any place on Earth is an easier place for farewells. I had begun writing the story of Noah and the subsequent loss nine months later of his brother, Jonah. Jonah means “Noah’s dove” and off he flew to be with Noah sometime during his stillbirth, leaving us standing on the shore once more with empty arms extended and his name on our breath—Jonah Emmanuel Moore Kittel. For three years by then, I’d been trying to capture the story of our sons who were with us such a short, yet powerful, time. Many days I’d look up from my computer screen and expect to see them toddling towards me. It was magical time spent with my sons while their siblings were at school. We bereaved parents learn to take what we can get.
In the spring, our friends came to visit us with their three sons, the eldest of whom—Adam—is autistic. Adam’s parents were Noah’s Godparents and even though Adam had not seen Noah for many years, he spent the whole week calling Micah and our youngest son, Isaiah, by his name—Noah. Hearing that word was the sweetest music to my ears and my sons didn’t mind being called Noah one bit. For me, a self-proclaimed word lover, naming my babies was one of the most pleasurable parts of pregnancy and, as I said, I pondered the possibilities and chose them carefully. Indeed, one of the many ways I miss my sons was just this—the silence where their names used to be. When our week with Adam drew to an end, I told Noah’s Godfather how much I had enjoyed hearing Noah’s name spoken so many times by Adam. He exhaled a sigh of relief, saying, “I thought it would be painful for you to hear!” And that was yet one more reminder to me of how misunderstood our bereavement can be.
A few days later I was blessed to receive a digital story produced by a relative called, “The things that matter.” In the three minutes she was allotted to impart the most important things in her life, she chose to mention that Noah had taught her daughter how to climb stairs before he left his playmate behind. It was another incredible gift for me to hear Noah’s name spoken again in that story.
Even today, 16 and 17 years after they died, I miss my sons every minute of my life. I will go to my grave with their names on my lips. When nobody dares to speak our children’s names we wonder if they have been forgotten. I want to wake up every morning and shout my son’s names to the Universe. “Noah!” “Jonah!”
For bereaved parents these are, indeed, the things that matter.