Holding onto memories of my son’s short, touching life

When Quinn was old enough, he was as active as any boy his age. We did many of the usual father-son activities. I loved being in his company.

In Quinn’s earliest months, I read him a favorite, “Oh, Baby, The Places You’ll Go!,” adapted from Dr. Seuss. It begins:

Baby, oh, baby
The places you’ll go!
The worlds you will visit!
The friends you will know!

He wiggled when I turned up my voice to emphasize a passage. Though my wife, Julia, and Quinn were inseparable, I, too, was forging a strong bond with our first child.

The thing about our Quinn was that he was a a ham. And expressive. In his earliest days, without fail, he would flash a goofy look on his face the moment his image was being captured.

He was along on walks with Mama and Papa. We didn’t expect great feats of endurance because he first was gaining his lungs. But he stretched and moved his legs as surely as other sprouts did. A couple times, he kicked my palm with considerable force, a typical, active boy.

And there was that night I surprised Julia with tickets to the musical “Chicago.” It was March, and Quinn had been with us for some time. When a female vocalist let loose her booming voice, Quinn reacted with turns and vitality. That lad made quite a scene. Quinn moved his arms and legs and danced with pleasure. A regular Gene Kelly, my son. We silently giggled and looked in his direction, and others in our section glanced over and gave us knowing smiles.

I figured that with all that energy, he was destined for athletic greatness. Or whatever he wanted to be: a computer scientist, a policeman, a teacher, a journalist, like his papa. My given name is his middle name.

He was my bud, that son of mine. Together, we explored this world of ours.

I hang onto these memories because they are all I have. Never was I able to hug or kiss my son and have him return my affection. Quinn died in utero, confirmed by an ultrasound. He was born still on April 12, 2001, one month before his due date. No cause was determined.

Brian Gaynor holds his son Quinn at Meriter Hospital in Madison, Wis., on April 12, 2001.
Brian Gaynor holds his son Quinn at Meriter Hospital in Madison, Wis., on April 12, 2001.

But, yes, I experienced Quinn and tried to gain an understanding of who he was through his everyday movements in my wife’s belly, through his reactions to our readings, his dancing to the music we listened to together.

My wife reminds me I was a by-the-books father, attending to Quinn’s nutritional and medical needs. I cared deeply about his well-being and loved him as fervently and unconditionally as any father does a son.

He was bathed and clothed and footprints were made, the same ritual as for a newborn. The nurses at Meriter Hospital in Madison were sensitive to our needs. Soon, we learned that hospitals and support groups used the butterfly as a symbol for infant or child loss. It could be a comfort to parents.

I remember being hesitant, even afraid, to kiss Quinn. I was stiff with fear. I expected him to be cold. Weren’t they all cold? Somehow, he seemed alien. The dead. But he was our Quinn, once vibrant during a healthy and blissful pregnancy.

I kissed his forehead. He was warm. He was the cutest baby in the world. Quinn. Quinn! In disbelief, I longed to welcome him to the world, hug him, tell him about the sports we would play together, the horsey rides I would give him on my back. I wanted him to grip my finger with his tiny hand.

Then … reality. Suddenly, upon the doctor’s hushed words, I was pinioned under the weight of crushing and debilitating sorrow. The amniotic fluid had kept him warm, the doctor whispered.

Outside, rain poured from the grieving skies. I was wholly unprepared for the enormity of my son’s death and the intense sadness it brought.

I thought of Quinn’s crib, enclosed by rows of white, vertical bars, and how it stood at home as colorless and stark as the rows of tombstones at Arlington. And how it stood empty. I broke down.

Once the spring rains finally relented, Julia and I devoted an afternoon to searching for beauty. We found it in our back yard in the buds of early spring and in the birds returning from their winter escape. We took several photos that day because we desperately sought to capture evidence of beauty and life. We had learned how fragile and fleeting happiness could be.

Then, as we turned to walk back to our house, a butterfly brushed up against my cheek, danced around us and soared up into the sky.

(Published in The Sheboygan Press, Oct. 14, 2009)