Today is Zachary’s birthday. He would be nine years old. He’d be a third grader and instead of sitting in class right now with his buddies, he’d be one more kid to remote teach this crazy season, had he lived. Instead, today has become a family holiday where we take off work and don’t go to school so that we can celebrate his little life and the big impact he has made.

The grief I feel no longer feels like the knife in my heart that it was in the early days and years but now more of a rope that on occasion can unexpectedly be pulled too tight and makes tears well up in my eyes.

I choose to think of Zachary with joy and share his memory with my three lively littles who feed off of that joy and anticipation for their brother’s birthday up in heaven. While they did not meet him, my oldest (who is almost eight) has learned to love her big brother and even shares in the sorrow when she realizes she cannot meet him.

Of course, as most kids are when it comes to birthdays, they are excited to celebrate their big brother’s birthday. For the younger two, it simply means a day of treats and balloons. As we have for the last eight years, we will bake cupcakes but with COVID, I know our tradition will be disrupted as we cannot take them to the L&D nurses that made his birth special. Instead we will see if they will allow store-bought treats so there is something to enjoy along with our cards. We will also take balloons to his memorial bench all masked up.

Not a day goes by that I don’t think of his perfect little face with his pouty lips and button nose. I am grateful that I can look at Zachary every single day as our first family photo and other precious images hang in various places in our house. I am so glad to have found NILMDTS in my darkest hours to photograph my first baby to make him tangible in my home for our family and friends. To allow talking about Zachary to be normal. To allow honoring him by volunteering as part of my healing journey. Every single day I do something for Zachary through the opportunity to volunteer as well as work for NILMDTS. Because of Zachary, leading me to NILMDTS, I am able to help other families in our loss community and that feels so good – so healing and right.

~ Ali, Mother to Zachary Conner, NILMDTS Volunteer Program Manager, NILMDTS Volunteer Photographer and Digital Retouch Artist

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