August 21st, 2011
My son is four. He is at an inquisitive age.
“Mom, which of these drawings do you like the best?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I guess the middle one.”
This is the way our conversations go these days.
He is a curious person and is trying to make sense of the world. Even when the world doesn’t always make sense.
“We eat some fish because they are mean. Other fish are nice so we keep them as pets.”
“Um, well… Not exactly.”
The other night, I was putting him to bed. We were doing that parent-child thing of trying to express the enormity of our love for each other.
“I love you to the moon and back again,” I said.
“I love you to infinity and beyond,” he said.
“I love you longer than forever,” I said.
He became thoughtful.
“Mommy, you can’t love me after you die.”
I smiled, pleased to have an opportunity to teach him something about the nature of love.
“That’s the amazing thing about love. My love for you is so strong it will live longer than me. You will feel it inside of you for the rest of your life, even if I’m not here.”
He grew earnest.
“But your heart will stop beating when you die. You can’t have love without a heart.”
“Love doesn’t just live in my heart. My love for you will continue on in your heart.”
Then he burst into tears and threw his arms around my neck.
“Mommy, I don’t want to be the little boy whose mommy died.”
I embraced him, stunned into silence. I looked for words of comfort.
Cancer has stolen the easy assurances I gave my girls when they were his age and coming to terms with death.
My children have no illusions about the mortal dangers of cancer after losing their uncle to it two years before my own diagnosis. Parental death is also within reach of their imagination. They know their own father was only three when he lost his father to a different disease.
Death, once they can envision it, is not just something other people have to deal with. Consolation becomes harder to summon.
But I did.
“You know how I exercise to make my body strong?”
“You run a lot,” he said enthusiastically.
“Yes. I do that because it makes my body strong so I can be here for you. I do everything I can to keep that cancer away. Do you remember how sick the chemo made me?”
“Yes,” he said.
“Do you know when I felt tired of taking that yukky medicine, do you know what I would think about? I would think about how I need to be here to help you grow up. I would think about how much I want to see you become a young man. And how much I want to see your sisters become young women. And then I would take the medicine again.”
I paused and then asked a question he has heard a hundred times.
“What’s my most important job?”
“Taking care of me and my sisters.”
“YES! I will do anything to do that job and to keep doing that job. You are my most important job ever. I love you THAT much.”
He took in my words and we had a long snuggle as he drifted off to sleep.
Later that night, a heard a small fist knocking on my bedroom door.
It was my son, once again in tears.
“Mommy, I’m scared of the dark.”
I let him in my bed and calmed him down. We held each other and fell asleep.
Because sometimes, that’s the only solace you can give.
This entry was posted on Sunday, August 21st, 2011 at 5:24 pm and is filed under Survivorship. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.