Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day: Remembering Matthew

I remember it like it was yesterday even though it was 18 years ago, and I know deep down I will never forget that day the rest of my life.

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.

Photo Courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/Anastazzo

Photo Courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/Anastazzo

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.

where is all the time that heals? Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day - O'Connor BlogThere 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.

Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day - O'Connor Mortuary Blog

Photo Courtesy of lorem.jux.com

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.

How can an infant child teach me so much about life?

 

 

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  • Lori

    Chuck,
    Reading this post gave me chills just like the first time you shared this story with me.
    You are a perfect example of how we never get over a devastating loss such as this, but we do get through it. We all have to do it in our own way. Fortunately God blessed you with three additional children, however, I know that does not diminish your love and pain over the loss of Matthew. Most families do not stay intact after such a loss. I am so happy that you and Loretta forged through in order to experience the full and loving life you have today.
    Much Love,
    Lori

  • Joe Lavoie

    Chuck , I have always looked up too you and seek your counsel and guidance often, I respect your strength during the good times and bad times and this shows how truly vulnerable we all are and how we get through the hard times in life. I thank you for sharing your story and this shows what I have known for along time, how you are an inspiration to me to forge through tough times and to never forget the journey we have traveled to get where we are. I feel we all learn a lot everyday and I am blessed to be part of a supportive team as we all take steps in our own journeys of life.

    Thank You
    Joe Lavoie

  • Chuck,
    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.

    Molly

  • Anne

    Chuck,
    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.
    Love
    Annie

  • Jeff Turner

    Chuck,
    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.

  • Lauren

    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.

  • Becky Finch Lomaka

    Chuck,
    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.

  • Erin Fodor

    Thank you for sharing the unimaginable journey you and your family have been on. I am deeply saddened to hear of your loss. My prayers are with you and your family. I know with experiencing a loss, that each day the pain gets a little less. But that someone is never forgotten. I too look forward to the day when we will be reunited. But at least we have the comfort of our faith that our love ones are in a safe place, and we will again see those lovely smiles that we have been missing so dear. Thanks again Chuck for being so open and candid with us. You are an inspiration!

    • Chuck

      Erin,
      Thank you, I appreciate your warm words. As you know I’m not the only one on earth to ever grieve the loss of a child or loved one. I know your father’s death at a young age has impacted you in huge ways and still does. I know he lives on in you because you will never forget him, same with Matthew. I certainly can take solace now that he is in a glorious place awaiting his family’s return home. I cannot wait to see that big baby boy smile of his again.

      Love,
      Chuck

  • Jenn

    Chuck,

    Thank you for sharing this story, as hard as it may have been to write, it is important that we celebrate Matthew and say his name on days like this. In my schooling and experience here I have learned the importance of not dancing around the fact that someone is gone, as you said, people just don’t talk about it because they think it is more comfortable to act like it never happened, but the truth is quite the opposite. I think this story alone is a celebration of Matthew’s life and thank you for sharing it with us.

    • Chuck

      Jenn,
      We all know it is difficult to be around grieving people. But the worst thing we can do is ignore the facts. We have to embrace them as painful as that may be. Talking about the death of someone or saying the name of a departed loved one to the grieving person will not all of a sudden remind that person that someone they loved died, they are never going to forget. But it will allow that person to be comfortable with you and talk about it if they want or just be with your energy in that moment. It actually brings a smile to my face now every time I hear his name.
      Love,
      Chuck

  • Greg Forster

    Chuck,

    It takes so much courage for a person, a father, A DAD, to voluntarily revisit the source and time of his great pain. I am profoundly affected by your effort in doing so. I can only imagine how exhausted and emotionally drained you must have felt after this article was finally finished and sent on its way. I feel gratitude for you that you and your wife have had the courage, the guts if you will, to move forward through this, to not allow this event to imprison you in bitterness and negativity forever. For the two of you to finally accept what has occurred, to rise above circumstance and not allow it to define you, but allow you as a couple, and the family that you continued to create, to move forward to grow is exceptional and defines for all of us the true meaning of the word HOPE.

    Thank you very much,

    Greg

    • Chuck

      Greg,
      You know when i first sat down to write about this I had no idea where to go with it. So I allowed some quiet time of reflection and connection and then it began to flow. During the actual writing of it I was not real emotional believe it or not, again it just sort of flowed. Stepping back and reading it more than once after it was concluded and before sending it off as an official blog is when it started to hit me. I cried, it was not a blubbering, sobbing experience like the days, weeks and months after he died but a combination of a little pain (still after all these years) but mostly tears of joy of how far I/we have come and how relevant Matthew’s life still is to me/us. As I reply to everyone it continues to be a positive, emotional and healing moment for me. Thank you for allowing me to feel that way.

      Love,
      Chuck

  • Jenn

    Samantha,
    I wasn’t sure what the words were I was trying to say, but you said them perfect with that quote!

  • Sue Watson

    I cried as I read this article, I felt your pain. I have 9 children, one of whom is waiting for me in Heaven as well. A baby girl, Jada,the 8th of my 9. Her picture is in the living room with all her brothers and sisters. She was born and died July 12, 1998.

    • Chuck

      Sue,
      Wow, 9 children, God bless you, you must be a mother saint. But I can tell in your response, as I mentioned in my blog, it does not matter how many children you have, Jada will always be missed and can never be replaced. Jada is such a beautiful name, I’m sure you find it hard to believe that she would be 15 years old this year. Where does the time go? How you handled your grieve while trying to be a mother to 7 other children is beyond me Sue. You obviously have the strength of a warrior, I know you certainly did not feel that way early on after her death. Thank you for sharing and may God bless your on your continued journey. I have a strange feeling Matthew and Jada are smiling down on us right now!

      Love,
      Chuck

  • Anne

    Chuck,
    I have no doubt that when you and or Loretta is having a particularly hard day because of your pain, which sweeps down out of nowhere to try to suffocate you, that Matthew might notice and say to the Father, “would you send the angels out? There’s trouble below and my family needs loving arms and a blessed distraction. Then it comes again, the peace, the knowing that everything is going to be all right.
    Love
    Annie

  • Chuck

    Chris,
    Thank you for your admiration, but I am just one person of many that has had to travel this path. It took a long while to be able to share the story, but I know there is great power in sharing. Matthew definitely left his mark on the Ricciardi family and others for the matter. One of my most touching moments was when Loretta was pregnant with Cameron. She was at the grocery store with Christian and a women came up to her and starting asking questions about her pregnancy such as “How many children do you have?” Now as a parent that has had a child die you choose to either lie or get into the whole life and death story with a complete stranger. For your own sanity in most of this instances you choose to lie, as horrible as that sounds. So Loretta looked at her and said I’m pregnant with our third child. Christian was 5 or so at the time and he began frantically pulling on Lorettas skirt to get her attention. He looked up at her and said, your wrong Mommy, this is your fourth child, what about Matthew? The lady looked at them with a little bewilderment and went on her way. Loretta acknowledged to Christian that he was right, this is our fourth child in our family. Out of the mouths of babes…
    Thanks Chris for all you do , I appreciate our friendship very much.

    Love,
    Chuck

  • Chuck

    Shayna,
    It was and is my pleasure. It is cathartic to be able to do so, to be able to tell a piece of the story. As others have mentioned, hopefully it will open the heart of another to do the same for their child or loved one. As weird as it sounds one of the most horrifying results of Matthew’s death was what I call my lost innocence of life. Do not get me wrong, I was no choir boy growing up, but I still had a innocence about life and how it was supposed to go. I thought I had some sort of control over most aspects of my life and life in general. When he died that was shattered like a glass vase falling from a mantel. But, out of harsh realities and battles usually comes a strength and acknowledgement that help us later on in our journey. One of those was that control is an illusion. Just be the best most positive person you can be, first to yourself and then to others. The rest,will take care of itself, we will just have to wait and see what happens.

    Love,
    Chuck

  • Chuck

    Kari Lyn,
    I very much appreciate your love and friendship as well. Thank you for being a part of my journey. Trust me, it would have been unsurmountable without the love, tears and presence of so many wonderful people in my life. The ying and yang of life, the duality of almost everything that exists is there for a reason. I would not wish it on anyone but the deep despair and pain I have felt after his death has allowed me to feel the deepest greatest joys in life, like I would never have been able to do before.

    Love,
    Chuck

  • Chuck

    Diana,
    Thank you, it is still a little amazing to me how such a brief but intense encounter can last forever. He is certainly still in our hearts and I know that will never change. I do not think I dwell on it his death so to speak, I try to keep my life in balance, we have three beautiful children with us now and they are certainly our focus. But as the late great Bob Marley said “You have to know your past, to know your future” So his little footprints are certainly still on our hearts.

    Love,
    Chuck

  • Chuck

    Tom,
    Thank you, it is powerful to share with each other, to allow ourselves to be vulnerable, and humbled in front of others. The way our society works most times people feel that is a sign of weakness, but to the wise and connected it is surely a sign of strength. When we go through a process like this, of opening up and being vulnerable the walls break down and a trust and stronger bond is forged with each other. Nothing is more powerful on this earth than that.

    Love,
    Chuck

  • Chuck

    Samantha,
    Thank you for your profound comments, I know a dad that must be very proud of his daughter. I whole heartedly agree with your assessment of our journey on this planet. We have temporarily left our home to one day return. I liken it to the statement; We are not human beings on a spiritual journey, we are spiritual beings on a human journey. Hard to keep that in perspective as we go about our chaotic and hectic lives, especially behind the orange curtain. We all have our own lives to live so let us allow each other to be as we wish. It is profound, if I do say so myself how powerful someone’s story can be for others. I know I have gained great insight from other’s story.

    Love,
    Chuck

  • Chuck,
    I had no idea that was his birthday was just this week. Such providential timing. Thank you for doing this.

  • Mitch Gibson

    Chuck, I am so sorry. We know that we never get over the death of a loved one. We get through it, especially a child. That becomes our new reality. It takes a lot of courage to admit to the feelings that come from an experience like that. I’m sure Matthew would have grown up to be a strong, caring person like his dad. And I know where your empathy comes from and your desire to help others with their grief. May God bless you & yours.

  • Joanna Ramirez

    Chuck,

    I don’t know how you do it. It breaks my heart to even think of something happening to anyone let alone a man who works in a profession that is a reminder of death everyday. Reading your story brought tears to my eyes– yes, me. Thank you for sharing Matthew’s story. As a mother, I kiss my daughter everyday and tell her that i love her because life has unexpected detours. It’s like you said, everyday is a gift.

    • Chuck

      Joanna,
      Yes, it was interesting getting back to work to say the least. I remember the first time I attended a funeral at the same church Matthew’s was at, I could barely function. As a mom that is all you can do Joanna, nothing more and hopefully nothing less. We can just love them and hold them and appreciate the power of NOW. Enjoy those precious little moments as they happen, because one day you will look back and realize they were actually the big moments. It has been amazing to watch your transformation as a mother and person the last couple years, I appreciate you and our friendship very much. Keep unwrapping the gifts everyday…
      Love,
      Chuck

  • Elsa

    Chuck,
    I can’t even begin to imagine the pain that your family must have gone through. You are so right in that you never “get over it, you get through it”. I am so sorry that your family has gone through this and I thank you for sharing such a tough experience.

    • Chuck

      Elsa,
      Thank you, it is a privilege to share a bit of yourself with others. Even if Matthew’s story can raise our awareness of people’s pain that walk through our door just one level, that is something. As funeral directors we can become a first hand witnesses to a person’s pain and the horrible sadness that can envelope them. I know in your heart you have the compassion and empathy to serve, direct and comfort families during that difficult time. Thank you Elsa, I appreciate you and our friendship very much.
      Love,
      Chuck

  • Patricia Kolstad

    Chuck . . . To say I never want to remember that day is true, but I will never forget Matthew. Hearing the pain in Loretta’s voice when she called will forever be ingrained on my heart. The moments when all of us were embracing, waiting, watching one by one, as your family came together. It was one of the most tragic events I have ever witnessed. I was so fortunate to see Matthew after he was born, hold him and share in your incredible joy. I still have photo’s of Matthew, especially the Christmas photo with Buck! How precious life was then. I will also never forget Matthew’s funeral service. You were so strong, so beautifully poised, as you spoke of your time with him. I was so taken by your ability to share Matthew with all of us. I remember as you closed you said something like “Matthew was a “big baby, so God, . . . you’re going to need to make bigger wings.” Today, I can hardly believe that 18 years have passed. Does time heal all wounds? Maybe the visual ones, the cuts, the bumps & bruises. It’s the internal HEART wounds that really never heal. The hole that spells “Matthew”, can still be opened in a moment and the hurt comes rushing back. You have been such a light in my life, Chuck. But more important, in the lives of thousands of others who have had a child die. Your willingness to share your story hundreds of times I know, has made an impact. Helping to bring the “Angel of Hope” to El Toro Memorial Park, not only has become monumental, but the gifts you have given keep bringing comfort and hope to others. The years have brought you and Loretta 4 beautiful children. How blessed I have been to know all four. But even more, to know you and Loretta. To watch from a distance how you moved through your grief these past 18 years with grace and love. Not always peaceful . . . but nonetheless, with strength. Thank you for sharing a time in your life that was your greatest joy and your deepest pain. I love you dearly, and will forever be touched by Matthew’s life . . . the “biggest” of God’s little angels!
    Lovingly,
    Pat

    • Chuck

      Pat,
      I want you to know how much I appreciate you and our friendship. You helped me a lot through those dark days, thank you. You are right, even after all these years the wound can resurface in an instant. He continues to teach and I know I need to continue to learn. I have been blessed through the years to be able to be with and call so many great people my friends. With out that connection the journey is oh so much harder. Thank you for all your hard work over the years with the “Angel of Hope”. You have been instrumental in helping the healing of so many as well. You have a place in my heart, love ya!
      Love,
      Chuck

  • Chuck

    Carrie,
    It certainly has been helpful sharing the story even after all these years. You do feel so very alone when you are on a path like this even amongst family and friends. I hope this story does help someone to open up and let go as needed. As a grieving parent you never let go of the precious memories but slowly, hopefully we can let go of the anger and venom that comes with such a loss. I know I did find some comfort (It took time) to know I was not alone and that others had also been on this path and not only survived but thrived in the long run. I have kept you in my thoughts and prayers as you have had your own hard path as well. Your ups and downs and the roller coaster of emotions you must have felt over the years I know has been extremely painful and unfair. Thanks for being a great friend, I appreciate you very much.
    Love,
    Chuck

  • Sharon Watkins

    Dear Chuck

    Thank you so much for opening up your life to us who did not go through this horrible and life-changing experience with you. Even though I have not lost a child, I can only imagine the horror of it all. Reading your thoughts and feelings has helped me understand and relate to you on a different level of understanding and I appreciate your willingness to share your experiences and insights.

    One thing in particular rang so true to me is “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.” It has been 40+ years since my husband passed away and I am not “over it”. I know I never will be…….you just learn to do life without them!

    Every day IS a gift, as you said. Thank you for being a wonderful blessing in my life.

    Sincerely, Sharon

  • Fitz

    Chuck,
    What courage you have to share this blog. Thank you, my brother. It still pains me to think of that day. I remember it like it was yesterday, getting the word at the office that there was a trouble with Matthew. For some reason, I went directly to the hospital instead of the house. Your words are so true…you never get over it, but you get through it. I am in awe of you and Loretta’s strength. I am thankful for our families connection with Kelly and Matthew being born within a week of each other. He will never be forgotten.
    Much Love,
    Fitz