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What My Child's Birthday Feels Like After Losing Him to Cancer

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I was 26 years old when we had our first son. Facebook is terribly wonderful for me, it allows me to look back with such detail. At 5:25 a.m., we were at the hospital, for what wound up being a false alarm. At 12:42 p.m., we were timing contractions. By 1:52 p.m., we were back at the hospital. And at 11:10 p.m., less than an hour before September 1st, Ezra was born.

"6 lb. 14.4 oz, Ezra David Matthews is born August 31, 2008 at 11:10 pm. He's beautiful!" Facebook post

The next day, I posted this:

"Kyle Matthews is so tired, but has never seen a more beautiful child." Facebook post

I’ve cried every time I read those words while writing this post this morning.

Ezra’s birthday is always a strange day for me. Our friends Andy and Melissa Mikulak, who are now part of Beat Nb with us, lost their son Max to neuroblastoma less than 2.5 hours before Ezra was born. We love you guys.

The day before Ezra’s second birthday is when we found out he had relapsed. And of course, September marks the beginning of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. So, all the feels right now, every year.

I remember singing at church one day not too long after Ezra was born, and sharing a realization I’ve heard from many new fathers since then.

The way a father loves a son.

The depth that feeling carries.


Watching it change my relationship with God. You can explain in words the ache to see your child thrive, the joy in watching them do even the most absolutely normal things, more fully than ever understanding what love is, finding this “I’ll protect you at all costs” feeling, which seems as much a part of you as the blood in your veins. But it doesn’t do it justice. You cannot grasp the feeling of being a parent without having a kid. It’s wonderfully exhausting.

You watch your child, and see how innocent, how curious, how amazed they are by the simplest things. A piece of you, which may have been jaded as you’ve come to know the world’s ways, brightens and flourishes again.

My dad said it this way:

You know, I never had a chance to teach him to shoot a free throw. Never had a chance to teach him to throw a curveball. Never taught him to read the grain on a 14-foot putt, but I can’t do that anyway, so…

But he taught me. He taught me to love again, he taught me to live again, he taught me to focus on the amazing little things in life — like a stick whipping into a pile of leaves, or an ant in the crack of a sidewalk. Or watermelon. Vanilla ice cream. He taught me to laugh again, get back in touch with the humanity that I began to miss in my life.

And then to have it ripped away.

It is constant, still, my pain of loss. Sometimes a deep ache, sometimes sharply fresh.

I realize I echo similar thoughts every year on Ezra’s birthday, and I was thinking over this post as I was writing it, wondering if I should be trying to frame it all some other way, or deliver some poignant new point, a sound bite or a quotable moment. An “aha.”

But no, these are my feelings. This is the reflection that hits me every year on August 31st, Ezra’s birthday. Robyn and I don’t have a tradition. We’ve tried lots of things – champagne at his grave, happy days, reflective days, sad days. Nothing feels right. And that’s probably fine – it’s not right. We’ve never shied away from recognizing and embracing the pain we carry. We understand it’s a part of us, not the whole. But it is a deep and integral part of us. Sometimes, a thing just hurts. “That’s the thing about pain – it demands to be felt.”

So happy birthday, Ezra. Your mommy said it right – you’re our little life-changer.

Follow this journey on The Matthews’ Story

Originally published: September 22, 2016
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