An acquaintance of mine, but a dear friend to some of my dear friends, lost her 19 y.o. son this morning. He was spring breaking in FL and had a diving accident. I can’t imagine. We worked together years ago at a pediatric oncology hospital. Grief and loss was sort of our specialty and now she is feeling the most unimaginable pain. I can’t bear it for her. I can’t bear it for any parent. I have done the vast majority of my clinical work in that setting, 14 years of my clinical work to be exact. I provided emotional support and grief counseling to parents who were navigating the world of chronic or terminal illness with a child. I have written articles and book chapters about it. I was really good at it until I started having children of my own. Ironically when I was not a parent but working away everyday in that stress, seeing people at their very best or very worst, I was able to offer comfort and support. I was able to help them make sense of what was happening and come through their journey relatively intact. I should say here that ‘relatively intact’ means that they (most of them anyway) came though able to function and go on with their lives. Forever changed but functional.
I thought that I was able to understand how much they loved their child
and what they were feeling.
What a big giant stupid head I was.
For as soon as I had my own child the full impact of what those parents had lost and were losing came crashing on my head. I remember vividly sitting and rocking my 3 week- old son during my maternity leave, having had this realization of how much a parent loves their child, and I sobbed for every child that had died at the hospital, for every mother and father and grandmother and grandfather and sibling and aunt and uncle and godparent and good friend.
I had friends and family members tell me it was the baby blues.
Oh no. I knew exactly what I was crying about.
I went back to work when my son was 4 months old. It killed me to leave him but I had loved my job and it was also good to get back and see my co-workers and how all the little people were doing. When meeting the first new patient they assigned to me, I remember walking to the closed conference room door where the family was about to get some really devastating news (that I had already been warned about) and I stood outside with my hand poised to knock and I stopped. I had to MAKE myself knock on that door.
I would have rather set my own hair on fire and put it
out with a tack hammer than knock on that door.
Because now I knew how much that mother and father loved that child. Now I knew how deep their fear was that they would lose him.
I did go in of course. And the little boy had a really, really bad brain tumor that, as predicted, did not respond to treatment. After a few months he did die. I was in the room at the time of death. And his parents grieved and suffered and felt like they wanted to be dead too. And I cried and cried.
It got to the point that even my kid’s pediatrician recommended I find another job. On an almost daily basis I was POSITIVE that my baby was dying of cancer. My finest moment was when Jumping Bean was about 3 months old, while I was changing her diaper I felt ‘a mass’ near her rectum.
I called the Ped’s office and told the nurse,
“I WILL NOT BE TRIAGED!”
|(diaper bag brick)|
They shrank in fear and let me come right in. The kind female pediatrician, also a mom and near my age, patted my hand and told me it was her sphincter muscle.
I went part-time.
Sure in the belief that if I was only immersed in that part-time that I would only be insane part-time.
The oncologists at the hospital tell parents over and over how rare childhood cancer is and how most children survive to adulthood. I cognitively know that. However, it is hard to believe when you know so many that don’t. [I was told by a very wonderful oncologist that most pediatricians see one case in their career and it is so very rare and don’t worry so much, enjoy your children].
I live in constant fear that something will happen to one of my children. I am neurotic about it. I am jealous of people that are unaware of that side of life. I am jealous of naivety. I had a dream last night that Jumping Bean was clinging to the wing of a plane high in the air and I was screaming at her to hold on but no sound was coming out. I went and got in bed with her when it woke me up.
My children possibly think I am insane.
And now there is another family in shock and pain. My thoughts and prayers go out to them and all of the others sitting in a hospital today.
I am so, so, so sorry to hear about your friend’s loss. I hope and pray that she is surrounded by people who love her, and can keep her at the surface when she is sinking, drowning in grief.
I share your fear, though for different reasons. My daughter is named after my cousin, who died suddenly (car crash) at age 17, when I was 18. I have never recovered from that loss, and it was “just” a cousin, not a child. (She was not “just” anything to me, she was important and loved, but she was not my child.) When I had cancer, I was actively grateful that it was me, not my daughter…but now I know at a deep, visceral level that things like cancer can occur, and I can’t stop them, and when I think about it it’s hard to breathe. I nearly died, and that’s nearly okay, but imagining my daughter in the same place is unbearable. (And I was lucky. It was “just” six years of treatment, and I’m alive.)
When I start going down that rabbit hole I just have to look at all of the people I know who continue to survive, and hope that the odds work out in my favor, because further thoughts of it make me believe that I will surely lose my mind just from the thinking.
You are not alone in your fear. Thank you for reminding me that I am not alone in mine. Shared fear seems halved, not doubled, don’t you think? I’m going to hug my daughter extra and read her an extra chapter in bed tonight.
Cuckoo Momma says
Kristina, thanks for the comment. You are now the third person that I know who is reading and a mom of a school aged child that has also had cancer. I think the fear, for me, is knowing that anything can happen to anyone at anytime. I hear people sometimes say things like, “things happen for a reason” and I just can hardly stomach that. What is the reason for a horrible illness or a child’s death? Or even a divorce for that matter. I don’t think people need to learn a lesson that extreme. I think all we can do is love people as hard as we can and do the best we can everyday.
I’m so happy you have had a good outcome with your illness. 🙂
CM, thank you – I too am very happy with my good outcome! 🙂
Re “things happen for a reason” – I struggle with that one all the time. When I was first diagnosed, I met a man at a Livestrong booth who told me, “Cancer is the best thing that ever happened to me” and I nearly removed his one remaining ball through his zipper and fed it to him forcefully. (Okay, not really, but it made me THAT mad.) But since that day, when I was bald, in treatment, and not sure if I’d see my daughter go to kindergarten….my perspective has changed. Because of cancer I know how strong I am, and I’m strong enough to leave my marriage. Because I was married, I have this incredible girl. Because I’m getting divorced, I am convinced that I will finally find the life I dream of. Did these things have to happen for me to get what I want? I am not sure, but I am getting some positive along with the nasty.
As for a child’s death – it’s unbearable. I can’t answer that one. But cancer and divorce might have actually, ultimately, improved my life, and I never, ever, ever imagined that I’d say such a thing!
Interesting food for thought – thanks for the discussion.