The two extremes that happened that day are still at odds with me. I had some fun plans on this particular day. I was playing hooky from work and meeting up with an old high school buddy named John to go skiing in Big Bear for the day. I woke up very early, trying not to wake up any one, I got ready and kissed both my wife Loretta and infant son Matthew on the cheek, whispering my goodbyes. We were so blessed with this beautiful baby boy. John and I had been good friends but had not been with each other in a while; we were both looking forward to our fun together. As I recall I had one of the best days I can remember, we laughed so hard all day and skied hard as well. On the ride home we were so tired we barley spoke, but we both had big smiles on our faces.
As we pulled up to my house there was a police cruiser in my driveway. I asked the reason and was not given much feedback, which was weird to me. I walked into my house and my brother-in-law and business partner Neil was there by himself. His strained face uttered some words about Mathew being found not breathing and he was at the hospital right now. (This was pre-cell phones so nobody could contact me and Neil got the tough duty to wait until I got home to tell me. Loretta was at the hospital with Matthew) I was in a fog, I rushed to the hospital which is minutes from my home and crashed through the emergency doors like a linebacker, shouting and looking for Loretta. A nurse came out of no where and asked if I was Mr. Ricciardi, I said yes, the look on her face spoke volumes, I look back now and it was right then and there that I knew Matthew had died. In the moment, still not wanting to believe it I was brought into a small waiting room where I found Loretta and her parents and some other family members all in tears. The pain and shock and grief washed over me like a tidal wave, I rushed to Loretta and hugged her and began sobbing. Still nobody had uttered the words to me yet, they did not have to, I knew with out having to hear it that my beautiful baby boy Matthew was dead.
Later, we found out that Mathew had died of SIDS, he was only four months old. Our world crashed in around us and our lives would never be the same again.
18 years later I have come to the tough conclusion about a journey like this. You never get over it, ever. You get through it, you manage it, you do live on and hopefully have further blessing in your life but you never get over it. The early days and weeks of walking by his room in silence were so painful, like a hot knife penetrating your heart, I still do not know how I managed it, I wanted to die. The stuffed animals, the pictures, all of it a memory so precious now, that was so painful back then. Grief is an individual journey, even though Loretta and I grieved together and did our best to support each other, I had my journey and she had hers.
There is no set timetable, no putting a ribbon around this stage to move onto the next. You are in a world where nothing makes sense and every emotion known to you and not known to you is converging almost all at the same time on top of you. We cried, we cursed, we cursed God and we asked why. We were angry, exhausted, scared and in disbelieve. With the help of faith, family, friends, time and some hard grief work on our end we managed to be lifted from this nightmare and began to live our lives again. Out of it all, our biggest fear is that he would be forgotten, that nobody would utter his name to us again. I could be blessed with a 100 children, but not one of them would replace Matthew.
So it is days like today, October 15th – Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, that help people like me. A day for friends and family to utter their name, to remember the brief life lived among us. Trust me, the parents that have lost an infant, a child or had a miscarriage do not need a special day to remember, they never forget. But it helps everyone else remember the tough journey someone has been on. A chance for a friend or family member to utter the child’s name, so the child will never be forgotten.
So we celebrate, yes celebrate his life now, and his younger siblings know him and speak of him as their older brother, even though they never met him. Loretta and I have been blessed with four wonderful children, Matthew, Faith, Christian and Cameron. One of them waiting for us, to one day be reunited. I feel so blessed today, my heart is full and I cannot help but have a smile on my face when I think of Matthew. Everyday is a gift and a chance to better a relationship or repair a broken one. I have gratitude for all I have, where before there was only a sense of entitlement.
Thank you for sharing the impossible journey you and Loretta are on. My Dad has described the pain of losing a child as the worst pain he has ever felt in his life. I love that you celebrate Matthew’s life and your children know and speak about their big brother. I so admire you for seeing each day as a gift; it would be understandable to get swallowed up in the lost-ness and grief but you have chosen to celebrate life, count your blessings, and be grateful for each day. I count you as one of the blessings in my life.
When I read the moment when you saw Loretta in the waiting room that was the most heartbreaking moment. Thank you for sharing Matthew’s story.
I hope that this post allows others to open up and share with their families about how much they think about and miss their child.
Like Jeff said in his comment, you always have a smile on. You seem to take in the reality of situations and move forward with an optimistic approach.
Many of us lived through those days with you but I have never heard the details you shared in this writing. There are many who will never forget where we were and what we were doing when the news came. The first time I met Matthew was when he arrived in our care here at the mortuary. He was physically perfect in every way, but he was gone. We ached for you then and I have observed you as you navigated the final moments at his graveside committal service, coming back to work and meeting with families again, eventually even those who have suffered the death of a child. There are many things that come our way in life but what you and Loretta have been walking through is one of those paths none of us ever want to walk.
Over the years you have borne the sorrow of Matthew’s death quietly, never drawing attention to yourself in it but always with the broken heart held behind a joyful countenance. Even now as you walk a new path of challenge, you always have a smile on your face and a positive energy. I love you Chuck and look forward to meeting Matthew on that day when we will all be children together.
I know losing Matthew is something not only you and Loretta, but all of your extended family still deals with, pretty constantly. So many times someone will be having a conversation with me and happen to bring up Matthew’s death and the lasting impact it has had on them. It happened mere months prior to my coming to work here. I had not experienced that type of death. I had compassion but I had no clue, really, what to do or say and I was new and didn’t really know any of you yet. My pain for you was mostly unspoken but I was always aware of your feelings and tried to shield you from similar calls and circumstances.
The Angel of Hope monument exists at El Toro, I believe, largely because of you. Good eventually can stream out of impossible, horrible losses. I am hoping to one day be able to say the same for myself.
I recently read the book “Heaven is for Real”, written by the father of a 4 year old who experienced heaven and returned to breathing and life again. I wanted to begin reading books like this to help me understand all I can about where Lou is. I think it would be a very comforting book for someone who has lost a child.
I am so thankful I work here with you. I am glad we know and love and can comfort each other when we need to. Thank you for honoring Matthew today. I honor him with you. He will never be forgotten.
This post is so touching and so needed. I so appreciate your openness to sharing this story with us and allowing us in on part of your journey.
I am most moved by this particular phrase, “Trust me, the parents that have lost an
infant, a child or had a miscarriage do not need a special day to
remember, they never forget. But it helps everyone else remember the tough journey someone has been on.”
– I never realized before that these Remembrance Days really aren’t for the family members because you’re right, they NEVER forget or loose track, they are for those of us who are on the peripheral, supporting and loving, they are for us to remember your loss on that day and love and support you in that.
Thank you so much for your perspective, for sharing your heartbreak, and for showing us just how much an infant can change who we are.