June 19, 2024

Birthday Cake: Celebrating My Twins’ Eternal Light 

Guest Blog by Janine Nyquist

Before becoming a bereaved mother, I excelled at creating cakes and operated a freelance business out of our walkup apartment. As with every previous cake order, I sat down to envision my boys' first birthday cake. With pencil to paper, tears fell onto the blank sheet. After a short pause, my hand glided effortlessly across the paper, sketching line after line with precision and grace as I experienced a new connection to motherhood. There was a sense of normalcy in brainstorming a cake for my children, though this one held the most significance. It was unlike any I had previously made. I illustrated the outline of a small six-inch cake, choosing its size to eliminate leftovers, a reflection of the guests I couldn't invite. I added three powder blue sugar-crafted balloons to stand on top, inscribed with Gavin and Chase and a number one, and hand-cut wispy gumpaste feathers, white to mimic those of an angel's wings.  

Gavin and Chase’s first birthday cake: the most important one I’ve ever baked

After completing my sketch, I initiated the baking process. "Step by step. You can do it," I silently encouraged myself. I heaved my KitchenAid mixer onto the counter and attached the paddle. I scooped the flour into a measuring cup, skimming the surface with a butter knife to remove the excess, then repeated the procedure with the Dutch process cocoa powder. I next added salt and baking powder to the mixing bowl, then used a fork to marry the dry ingredients. After pouring in the milk and oil, I fixated on the rotating paddle and the gentle hum of the mixer, allowing its whirring to lull my rapid heartbeat to a one-two, one-two beat. Lastly, I cracked each egg one by one, added the secret ingredient, and finished the batter with boiling water. What started as raw ingredients evolved into a luxuriously rich yet airy chocolate chiffon batter. I wept as I gently finished folding the ingredients with my rubber spatula. This cake needed to be flawless; any imperfection would evoke a sense of failing my boys. Again.

Was this feeling irrational? I'm unsure, but it lingered twelve months later. I was still carrying the burden of guilt and inadequacy. I didn't just craft that first birthday cake using ingredients; I infused it with gratitude, adoration, and care. I lovingly stacked each layer and frosted the sides. I reciprocated the love my boys had showered me with every day since they left. This cake was a testament to my devotion, gave me the gift of comfort, and served as a heartfelt offering to Gavin and Chase. 

A few days later, on the morning of the 26th, I awoke to the summer sun streaming through my window, accompanied by the cheerful chirping of birds and a gentle breeze. Surprisingly, I found the strength to rise from my bed. Whispering words of encouragement to myself, “One step at a time, take it minute by minute,” I made my way to the dresser. There, I tenderly kissed the silver moon-shaped urn holding my boys’ ashes. I clasped around my neck the necklace gifted by my sister, adorned with charms engraved “G” and “C,” and pressed them against my heart, taking a moment to steady my breath.

Honoring my boys on August 19, Day of Hope, with custom-designed flags hung at a bereaved mothers retreat in New York. 

Bryce had already begun his day downstairs, so I joined him, pouring a cup of coffee and settling onto the back deck. The tranquility of the Connecticut summer morning enveloped me as I took up an adult coloring book and a set of freshly sharpened colored pencils. With each stroke, I filled in the intricate patterns of a mandala, the word “love” written below it. In the quiet of the morning, my stillness served as a sanctuary.

As I worked, my gaze wandered up to the large tree shading the deck, where two red cardinals sat perched on the branches above me. I couldn’t help but feel the presence of my babies, the birds a comforting reminder of my boys’ enduring spirits. Lost in the rhythm of coloring, I allowed myself to reconnect with the emotions that had carried me through the most trying year of my life. In that moment of quiet reflection, I honored the strength I had discovered within myself, the decision I made to stay. 

Angel statues gifted by a very special nurse and a reminder that Heaven is not that far away

That evening, the sunset painted the sky in fiery orange and crimson hues, the colors gradually softening into a palette of dusky pinks and purples, as though the children of Heaven had delicately brushed angelic paints across the horizon. As twilight set in, the sky transitioned into a rich indigo, casting a tranquil veil over the house on Chickadee Lane and the cherry blossom trees we had planted in the front yard the previous summer. I pulled the finished cake from the refrigerator and placed it in the center of our dining table. I silently arranged a few portraits of Gavin and Chase, two candles, and two small balloons that read “Happy Birthday” around its perimeter. I dimmed the lights, and we sat motionless, staring at the cake. Bryce was subdued; he struggled to react, choking back tears as we huddled close to one another. He didn’t protest my choice to celebrate our boys. Somehow, I think he was relieved I took the lead in planning how we would spend this day. I could barely hold myself up, but somehow, that day, I carried him. Just days before their birthday, I grabbed blue candles from the nearby party store. Leaving without coordinating plates, napkins, themed paper cups, or party favor bags felt odd. Yet, for me, those candles held the utmost significance.  I pressed each one into the soft cake amongst the simple sugar decorations. Gavin and Chase’s love and light danced in the flames as we touched the match to the wicks. Unlike the candles that Bryce and I simultaneously blew out, their existence could never be extinguished. Their spirits forever shine. 

A balloon release for Gavin and Chase at their memorial service 

On June 26th each year, I undertake the sacred tradition of baking Gavin and Chase's birthday cake. With each measured ingredient and gentle stir, I infuse the batter with love, sadness, and surprisingly, even moments of bliss. As I glance over at their vacant chairs pulled up to the table, I'm enveloped by the gentle reassurance that my children remain steadfastly by my side. 

Their essence lingers in the quiet moments, manifesting in the soft flicker of candlelight that illuminates the darkness, casting a soft and radiant glow that transcends the confines of time and space. Though the flame may seem solitary, its radiance speaks volumes, serving as a beacon of love and remembrance.

Crafting grand gestures and elaborate tributes for departed loved ones can feel overwhelming, but I have found that it is often the simplest acts that hold the most profound meaning. As I, step by step, prepare Gavin and Chase’s birthday cake, I'm reminded of the boundless love that exists between us. It's a love that defies the limitations of mortality, resonating with the unbreakable bond shared between mother and child. And when the time comes to light the candles, I find peace in nurturing the flame that honors my children. For in its gentle flicker, I discover my guiding light on the journey of healing, motivating me to persevere, to embrace life, and to bask in the enduring warmth of their eternal love.


Janine is a devoted mother of five and an infertility warrior, cherishing three rainbow babies and two precious souls held close to her heart. After the heartbreaking loss of her twins, Gavin and Chase in June 2014, she found solace and strength in her culinary passions. As a chef, writer, food stylist, and recipe developer, Janine uses her love for cooking to honor and remember her loved ones, creating a bridge between heaven and earth. She believes that food is a powerful conduit for healing, allowing her to carry the memory of those who have passed on, always reserving a place for them at her table. In addition to her culinary pursuits, Janine is a support group facilitator for Hope After Loss, a nonprofit organization providing support groups and services for bereaved parents, family, friends, and professionals navigating the difficult journey of pregnancy and infant loss.

Follow Janine online and on Instagram!

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