They named him Luca because Luca means "bringer of light." In his short life, Luca lived up to his name.
He gave his first high-wattage smile when he was five-weeks old. His parents have it on video.
"Hello handsome. How's my boy?" You can hear his mother off camera cooing to him. You can see Luca on a hospital bed, his head poking out from a Winnie the Pooh blanket, a feeding tube in his nose.
And then, there it is: a big, wide, sustained, courageous, contagious smile dangling from unblinking eyes, a smile that became his hallmark, a smile that spoke of mischief, of love, and that seemed to insist All is well! even when the evidence so painfully pointed otherwise.
Luca died on March 9, 2007, just two months after his birth. His body is buried in a graveyard most of whose stones have been smoothed by the healing balm of time. The edges remain sharp on Luca's gravestone, an apt symbol for the raw emotions left behind.
Marie and Cory Langone are upheld by their memories of Luca, a boy born of love.
The Langones, who live in Stockbridge, Mass., minutes from the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy, couldn't protect Luca from a heart defect that eventually led to his death. No one could. But they're making sure they protect their memory of him, the traces of his short life on earth, and the evidence of his impact. They're doing so through a memorial in the Marians new Shrine of the Holy Innocents. And they're doing so through sharing their story.
"I think it's healthy to talk about it," Marie says. "To me, he's my baby forever. He'll always be my baby."
They knew it wasn't going to be easy. When Marie was six months pregnant, they had learned from an ultrasound their baby had heterotaxy, a disease defined by an abnormal placement of organs. Most critical in Luca's case was that his heart had only two of the normal four chambers. He had only a 15 percent chance of surviving till his first birthday.
Frantically, the Langones went to the best hospitals in the region trying to gain an understanding of the disease and what Luca would need when he was born. They also turned to their Catholic faith. They prayed. They attended healing Masses.
"We were hopeful," says Marie. "We would do everything we could to just give him the best chance at life."
They fell madly in love with him the moment they laid eyes on him. "He was beautiful, a gorgeous little boy," says Marie. But he was also very sick. He had to be hooked up to a heart-lung bypass machine. He had open-heart surgery at five days old. More surgeries were planned for the future.
Along with the other worn and rattled parents of other severely sick children, the Langones set up encampment in the children's ward. Through the pressure of illness and the heat of emotion, their whole world seemed to condense and crystallize to the size of Luca's hospital room — world enough unto itself, a sacred space. They read to Luca, sang to him, whispered to him, and prayed for him.
"You'd think it would be horrible to see him there hooked up to all these tubes and machines," says Marie. "But you felt better about everything just being with him. He was such a strong little spirit."
Indeed, what became clear was that Luca was a fighter. The doctors, nurses, everyone could attest to that. There was something about his eyes, a peacefulness. He had eyes that never failed to calm the tattered nerves of those who reached to hold him and those who sought to save him.
After about seven weeks, Luca was allowed to go home. But a week later, Marie and Luca were returning home from the pediatricians when everything went wrong very quickly. She recalls hearing his noises in the backseat. He didn't sound right. "Don't panic," she told herself, "babies cry." She pulled over. Luca had stopped breathing. She called 911 on her cell phone. She started performing CPR on him. She recalls how he just looked at her, then he was gone.
She remembers being home that day, devastated, thinking "I don't know how I'm going to bury this baby. I don't know how I'm going to take this boy and put him in the ground." Her priest was there. He assured her, "Luca will give you the strength." He was right. Luca gave them the strength. He still does.
Luca's death was a reality check for them in many ways — that life is fragile, that these days are a gift, that in a world dizzy with ambition and pride, love is the only thing worth anything. And once you experience this love, you realize you cannot live without it.
"We resolved we weren't going to let this tragedy destroy people's lives, including ours," says Marie. "Luca came into our lives to make them better." They've donated money to other sick children. They've organized fundraisers for charitable causes.
"We're grateful," says Marie. "The way we look at it, all the prayers and healing Masses worked. God allowed us the time we had with Luca. He had so many things wrong, we really shouldn't have even had one day with him. But we had more than two months. It was the biggest blessing of my life."
They haven't dismantled Luca's nursery. Someday they hope to provide a new occupant for the space, another baby.
"We'll see," says Marie.
As for the memorial on Eden Hill, Marie says, "Oh, gosh, that means a lot to me."
Luca, the "bringer of light," was "like the light of our lives," she says. "I never want him to be forgotten."
If you or a loved one is grieving the loss of a child, consider creating your own memorial in the Shrine of the Holy Innocents.