Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Matthew's Note to the Dallas Zoo

Matthew wrote this a few days ago and included it in his submission to the Dallas Zoo.  He did a great job, and it really sums up why it means so much to us to even have the opportunity to honor James in this way.

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.


  1. That is absolutely beautiful! I should not have read this at work!

    I know that this seems kind of backwards, but your strength has actually made me stronger. I know that in these times your family and friends are supposed to give you strength but in this case I feel like you have given me strength. Your unwavering faith in God has made me realize that I need to put all of my faith in Him as well.

    Thank you so much for sharing this with us. You and Jamesie have profoundly changed my life!

  2. What a wonderful, amazing and beautiful letter. My eyes swelled with tears reading this.

  3. beautiful!! and your blog looks marvelous. such a precious family you are!!

  4. Fantastic letter!

    I look forward to hearing that they've named the baby Giraffe Jamie!! ;D

  5. That was a beautiful letter. My husband and I sent in our votes today. I can't wait to hear that the giraffe is named after your precious boy!

  6. A very beautiful letter for a special little boy. I can't wait to read the post when the giraffe is finally named after your little guy.

  7. Amazing tribute to your sweet son. How could they not name her Jamie?

  8. Absolutely beautiful. I pray they honour your request.

  9. I've read your posts from start to current... and I'm not sure what to say. Your strength and courage astounds me. I am blown away by the way you are both able to share your experience. As a person that does not pray, I will tell you that I prayed so hard for your son when I was first directed this way... I prayed and I cried and I read each new post in the hope that something miraculous would occur. You are a beautiful couple and Jamsie was, and still is, a gorgeous addition to this tribulation we call life. Thank you for sharing...


  10. How can they NOT call that giraffe Jamie? Great work Matthew - a beautiful letter in honour of a beautiful son.

  11. Amazing. So absolutely, utterly beautiful.

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  13. This is an amazing letter. I have to say, i do know know your family, but you have forever touched me and i will never forget your little boy. I have shared his story to many of my friends and wrote a letter earlier this week to the Zoo also voting to name him Jamie. It would be such an amazing story to carry on and i pray this happens!

  14. Amazing and heart felt. I have been sending up my prayers since I heard about James shortly before he went to Heaven. How could the zoo not name this new giraffe after your gorgeous little boy, especially after reading Matthew's letter. Good luck and I hope we soon hear the news that the giraffe has a new name, Jamie :)

  15. I've been following your blog for a few weeks now, and just wanted to say something, but I don't know what. As I sit here rocking my 10 month old daughter to sleep, I can't imagine her not being here. My heart breaks for you, and I am inspired by your strength and courage. That sweet boy was so lucky to have y'all as his parents.

  16. As others have said a beautiful letter. I still pray every night for James, Matthew and yourself Kara. I also sent my vote in yesterday so I am praying that they name the baby Jamie :-)

  17. Matthew & Kara I have been praying for you since I first learned of James. I am praying each day to give you strength as time goes slowly by. What a testimony of James's life and the legacy that has begun. Now as I see giraffe's they will all be Jamesie to me. As I pondered on the spelling of the word Giraffe these words came to me
    G is for God
    I for Inerrant
    R for Rest
    A for Abba
    F for Father
    F for Friend
    E for Eternal.
    I pray you will find comfort in these words in the days to come. I have sent my vote in to the Dallas Zoo. Sincerely, Denise Harbison