On my son's grave, there are two giraffes. One is a figurine I found at the Dollar Store, desperate to find something childlike to go with the temporary flower arrangement I'd bought. The other is the letter "J" wrapped in giraffe print fabric, a product of my wife's crafting when he was in the hospital, an ornament to decorate the room. We never planned on Giraffes. The theme for the nursery, never clearly defined, slowly evolved from the bedding into a jungle, but a jungle without giraffes. Monkeys, Elephants, and Lions all. A stenciled monkey rested above his head, swinging from vine to vine. Two monkey lamps, one on the nightstand and one on the changing table. A monkey, giraffe, and lion on the wall and hand painted by my wife onto the block letters that formed his name on the wall. But no giraffes, not a single one.
I suppose this just goes to show how little you know when you're planning to have a baby about the baby itself. How could I know James was meant to be a giraffe and not a monkey? I could not. Indeed, his preference revealed itself slowly, and then all at once. It began with a song. One day, without precedent, my wife sang him the song "Jamesie the Giraffe" it has only three words, the same as it's title, and repeats several times. It became something to sing to him, he loved singing, and he loved his name. Jamesie the Giraffe was perfect. I still sing it to him, each time in the cemetery before I leave his grave. It only seems fitting to leave him with a song. He always like that more than talking.
Jamesie the Giraffe evolved slowly into a preoccupation, a nickname we repeated without song and verse. Slowly, giraffes began to dominate his space. A Sophie the Giraffe, twenty five dollars at Nordstrom's and indistinguishable in any other way from a dog chew toy. James loved the long neck and the long legs, as it meant that no matter how he grabbed it, there was a long, pointy part to chew. And James loved to chew, first with his two bottom teeth, and later with his fangs too, cuspids racing ahead of incisors. Jamesie the Giraffe.
We took him to the zoo twice, each time with special attention to the giraffes. We bought a membership, as we just knew we'd come enough to make it a good value. Though James was too young to ride the carousel (despite how fascinating he found it) he loved the animals. Each was something new and different, something new to take in and experience. For James, life was too boring from the confines of a stroller. He wanted to get and out and do. Jamesie the Giraffe met his new giraffe friends with disbelief. They were near, entertaining. They came right up to you like a fun toy. Although he was very young, we encouraged him to feed them the heads of lettuce we bought from the zoo. James, unimpressed, first tried to eat the lettuce, and finding that unappetizing, decided instead to throw it at the ground. The giraffes came close, and he stared intently. We sang him his song, to remind him he was Jamesie the Giraffe.
He got sick all at once. A summer bug became a tumor, a tumor evolved swiftly into cancer lurking in his brain. We spent a month in the hospital, and giraffes kept us company. Sophie came the first night, when we thought we'd only spend a night or two there for fluids. More giraffes followed, as we tried to buy our little giraffe son some measure of peace, or if not peace, entertainment. His giraffe blanket, soft and silky. His giraffe ankle rattles, loud and even more fun to shake- though nothing was ever as much fun as something in his mouth. A five and a half foot tall giraffe, encamped in the corner and as big as a person, carted from room to room as we went from floor to floor, from ICU to neurosurgery, from oncology to surgery. On his door, another of my wife's craft pieces, a ring covered in giraffe print with his name, James, written on top of it. But the hospital couldn't help us, as the Doctors at last admitted, it never could. The cancer was routed by a surgery, only to return in two weeks stronger than before, spreading like a wildfire through his brain. It was time to take our Giraffe home.
The giraffes followed us there, stuffing the car and smiling from ear to ear as always. That Friday we had a birthday party. 37 weeks of James. A giraffe adorned his cake, a giraffe tablecloth draped the dining room table. Ribbons or giraffe print snaked through the serving platters, and the five and a half foot giraffe looked on from the corner. We celebrated, sang Jamesie's song, and wished him a happy birthday. He died the next day, at home in a nursery that never began with Giraffes, but ended with more than it knew. The last story we read together was "On the Night You Were Born" We never noticed until afterwards, but the final illustration on the final page is of two giraffes staring up at the moon and stars, at Heaven. Once you start to look for giraffes, you see them everywhere. We buried him on Wednesday, with his friend Sophie the Giraffe, his Giraffe blanket, his giraffe rattles, and our last book to keep him company. No lions, monkeys, or elephants made the cut. Now, giraffes always bring us memories of James. Kara wears a giraffe necklace everyday, his name stenciled into its body. On my key chain is an identical giraffe. We carry our giraffe son with us always.
To carry his name on to an actual giraffe, after we spent so much time naming him just such a creature, would be a great honor. After all that my son did and loved, it seems only fitting that we've now realized he never was a monkey, a lion, or an elephant. He was Jamesie the Giraffe, and he always will be. Thank you so much for your consideration of this special name.