Sometimes a Disney story isn’t really about Disney. This is one of those stories.
My wife and I go to Disney parks more than most. Obviously we don’t go nearly as often as our love of the parks would suggest, especially compared to other fans with a similar level of devotion, but we go far more than the average married couple in their 30’s who don’t live near the parks. So inevitably when I announce that we’re taking another trip to Disneyland or Walt Disney World I’m always met with the question of “Why?” People are frequently confused as to why we’d choose to fly or drive across the country to visit a crowded, hot, expensive tourist destination we’ve visited many times before. I’ve grown increasingly tired of this question, mostly because people use it to launch into a diatribe against everything Disney, but also because I’ve never felt like I have an answer that satisfactorily explains the depth of feeling I have towards the Disney parks. The cliché of “they make me feel like a kid again” doesn’t hold true for me at all, because the parks and Disney in general mean far more to me as an adult than it ever did as a child (despite loving it all my life). I try to talk up the concept of Disney’s idealism and optimism, but people tend to just dismiss that sort of thing. I try to tell them all of the reasons I want to work for Disney. I point out that the Disney parks offer an experience that is completely unlike anything anywhere else on the planet, the quality of the theming, the high caliber of Disney’s cast members, the level of care that goes into every detail, but most people are only interested in how fast the roller coasters are or whether they serve beer. But after this most recent trip to Disneyland a few weeks ago, I finally find myself with a story that does justice to my lifelong devotion to Disney.
There’s nothing that can prepare you. Last month, my wife and I lost our son, Luke, who was stillborn on March 22. Luke had a lot of issues, but we were ready for him to arrive, and were devastated when we got to the hospital (for a planned induction) and he had no heartbeat, despite moving around like normal earlier in the day. We went ahead with the induction, and Luke was born a day and a half later. We held him, spent time with him, told him we loved him, and will be dealing with grief and loss for the rest of our lives, even as we are able to appreciate the joy he brought to us in the 9 months we had together and make sure that Luke will always be a lovingly remembered part of our family. There are many resources online to help with all aspects of losing a child, from what to expect during labor and delivery to advice on how to maneuver through the myriad of decisions you’ll have to make to the best ways to remember and honor your child and cope with your grief to endless support groups, all of which should be checked out. But what I couldn’t find, surfing on my phone in the dark in the hospital unable to sleep waiting for my wife’s labor to start, was something that could prepare me for some of the unspoken things, the way I’d feel, the things I’d think or do. So this is my attempt, in a sort of stream-of-consciousness, at what the last month has been like; not taking you through events as they unfolded, but covering some of the things I felt and experienced for which I wasn’t prepared.
(As a side note, there is adult language below. I am not going to apologize for it, nor do I feel the need to defend it. They’re just words, and they’re an accurate representation of my thoughts and feelings. Also, I make no claims that this is what it was like for anyone else, as we all have our own experiences and ways of coping with horrific situations, but perhaps some other parent sitting there in the dark on their phone might read this and be able to brace themselves a little bit about what’s to come, or at least find some truth in it to which they can relate. And of course, as the father in our family I fully acknowledge that my experience is nothing compared to that of my wife, who carried Luke for 9 months and then gave birth to him. I couldn’t be more proud of her or amazed by her strength and bravery, and I know that what she’s feeling must be infinitely more intense than anything I’ve gone through.)