Today is the twenty-second anniversary of my son, Stephen Lewis Hershberger’s stillbirth and I am working my way through the grief this day always brings. He was full-term. He was beautiful. His death was due to a true-knot in his umbilical cord.
I remember standing in front of his tiny grave, staring at the mound of fresh dirt and the nameplate pressed into the base. It brought me a small amount of comfort to be there, to be as near to him as I could get. So Jay stayed home with Valerie and Brett and I would go to the cemetery. Pretty much every day, even if it rained. Occasionally I would find myself drawn to the cemetery, unplanned, with Valerie and Brett in tow. I would sit near Stephen, watching his sister and brother play tag or gather dandelions in the green, open section of grass where there were no graves yet. This was our new normal.
That spring I planted flowers and watered them when they needed it. I also watered the flowers that were placed on the other tiny graves of the babies buried beside and near him, reading their foot or headstones, thinking of their families, and wondering about their stories. Some of the graves dated back 40+ years and it touched my heart that flower boxes were still placed on these graves.
It was sobering, knowing that even after all those years someone was making that journey to place flowers on a tiny grave. The years of my grief stretched before me and I knew I would be that someone too. That Stephen’s grave would have flowers for as long as I was able to place them there.
The grave next to Stephen’s was highly decorated. It became an easy landmark for me to hone in quickly on Stephen’s grave. My sister, Sarah, and I nicknamed it the Busy Grave. I could relate to that mom. She also missed her baby deeply. I took care to clean up any wilted flowers from that grave as well as Stephen’s. It was my way of serving that baby’s momma. We’ve never met but I feel close to her after all these years.
Yesterday I visited his grave. It was the first time this year. Snow and ice still cover his footstone. I couldn’t see his name. Spring is late this year. But it is coming. It will finally jump into the 50s later this week. 60s are expected next week. So maybe this weekend I’ll be able to go back. I’ll clean all of the leaves off and make sure it’s ready for the flowers I’ll plant soon. I’ll place the newest garden picks I’ve purchased: a colorful turtle, a vibrant butterfly, and a spinning windmill. They’ll join the other things I’ve added over the years.
Now Stephen’s grave is the Busy Grave. And this thought makes me smile.
Happy Birthday, Stephen. I love you, now and forever. May you rest in peace, my precious son, until we meet again.