A letter for Ivan
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on September 16, 2011 1:46 PM
4th Fighter Wing 2nd Lt. Keavy Rake places a letter to her first-born child, Ivan, next to the eternal flame in New York City's Battery Park on Sept. 11. Ivan died during childbirth Sept. 6, 2001, and his funeral was interrupted due to the terrorist attacks that unfolded a few days after his death.
NEW YORK -- Keavy Rake waited until the crowd had zeroed in on one of her comrades before making her move.
She didn't want to answer questions about why she was approaching the eternal flame in Battery Park.
She didn't feel like explaining for whom she placed a letter beside it.
And she didn't want her personal journey to overshadow the tribute she had traveled to New York to witness.
So while hundreds turned their focus to an Air Force K-9 handler who was wounded several months ago in Afghanistan, Keavy fell to her knees and, with both hands, softly relinquished a message to a son lost far too soon -- a little boy she counts among the victims of 9/11.
And before she returned to the side of one of the men she escorted to the city where, 10 years before, an attack unfolded that changed her life, she lowered her head and said a prayer -- promising her first-born child that he would, somehow, be in her arms again one day.
Long before she joined the military, Keavy learned, at 19, that she was pregnant.
"We were ready," she said. "We thought, 'OK. Let's have a baby.'"
And with each milestone, she felt a deeper bond with the child growing inside her.
"It was beautiful. I never had a single complication," Keavy said. "You connect from the day you find out to the first heartbeat to the ultrasound to when you're on your way. You become the parent."
But when she went in for her 38-week checkup, what had been, to that point, a typical pregnancy took a dramatic turn.
"The doctor, he got kind of quiet," she said. "He was like, 'I'm just gonna send you over to the hospital. I think you're having some contractions and I'm a little concerned.'"
Keavy followed his instructions -- thinking all the while that if something was really wrong, he would have said so.
She had no idea that when she arrived at the hospital, devastating news would be waiting.
The umbilical cord had moved into her cervix ahead of her baby.
"He had been without adequate oxygen for quite a while," she said. "He went into cardiac arrest."
Keavy's unborn child was fading.
The doctors advised her to allow them to speed up the delivery -- to give her a chance to spend, with him, the few moments they believed the baby would live once he met the world.
And when her husband, Adam, who had been at work when she got the news, finally arrived, the couple accepted that their lives had been forever changed.
"I can still remember his face when he walked in the door. We just looked at each other and lost it," Keavy said. "After that, we were dealing with labor and funeral arrangements at the same time."
Ivan Page Rake was born -- and died -- Sept. 6, 2001.
"As soon as he came out and I realized he was a boy, I reached out and grabbed him," Keavy said. "I wanted every moment with him. ... That first moment with your kid, you're just amazed."
Moments later, she passed him to Adam.
"I remember watching him walk with Ivan by the window, being like, 'Don't worry. Daddy's here. Everything's going to be all right.'"
But Ivan was already gone.
"On his way out were his last few breaths," Keavy said. "I don't think we ever really got to hold him while he was living."
The next day, the mother was discharged from the hospital.
And while a Florida funeral home prepared Ivan for his journey to his final resting place in West Virginia, Keavy and Adam traveled there to make sure their baby received a fitting goodbye.
Not long after Ivan's casket was loaded onto a plane, Keavy's phone rang.
"It was my dad," she said. "He said, 'Hey, turn on the TV.'"
The twin towers were burning.
And then, another call came.
"It was the funeral home. They said the plane got called back -- that the flight had been canceled," Keavy said. "I kept having this vision of my poor little baby in limbo."
So instead of holding Ivan's funeral, as scheduled, on Sept. 12, family members and friends came together to console the young couple who had just, it seemed, lost everything.
And weeks later, when the boy's casket finally made it to West Virginia, only a few were still there to lay him to rest.
"His actual funeral, the way we were supposed to say goodbye, we were robbed of that," Keavy said. "It should have been a beautiful, beautiful thing. His whole family should have been able to say goodbye to him.
"I will never again be able to bury my first-born child. I mean, nobody wants to have to do that anyway, but when you're faced with the challenge of having to bury your child, you want it to be done the right way. As horrible as it was to plan it, I had a way I wanted to say goodbye to him and I didn't get to. I'll never be OK with that."
Approaching the eternal flame in Battery Park took Keavy back to Ivan's first birthday.
"I got a card and filled it out and took it to his grave," she said. "It said, 'I think about you every day. I can't wait to see you again. I look forward to meeting you where I meet you.'"
And it took her to the day she swore to defend her country.
"In the letter, I told him, 'With Mom and Dad being in the Air Force, we are going to do everything we can to contribute to the fight against the people that robbed us of saying goodbye to you the way we wanted,'" she said. "I can't speak for my husband, but for me, it was definitely a part of why I joined."
But it wasn't until she closed her eyes and said a prayer that the meaning of delivering her annual birthday message to Ivan so close to ground zero hit home.
"I had always thought about it but at that moment, I said, 'You know, he is an inadvertent victim of this attack -- even though he was already gone,'" Keavy said. "So being in New York a few days after when he would have turned 10, it's something I'll never forget. It was special.
"I want to keep his memory alive. I won't ever push him aside like he never happened."