I remember when I was first pregnant with Mary-Elizabeth I was convinced I would never ever be ready to give birth. I later looked back and realized all the sleepless nights, the getting up at at the oddest times to use the bathroom, all the discomfort that robbed me from sleep was preparation for after the birth. The birth for which I could not wait....
Life prepares you for what is coming your way. Little by little. We roll over, we sit, we crawl, we pull ourselves up, we walk, we run... Much of what happens in the way of preparation happens in a simple way. It sort of sneaks up and and at some point you are readied for the next task. Unfortunately, sometimes the preparation is not for good things.
I was visiting with a Cancer World Mom the other day and she related how she felt the early challenges with her child had prepared her for the Leukemia Battle. I am a great believer in this idea and concept. It's the old "what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger" concept. I have had way too much practice and experience, not in a good thing by the way....
Cancer Parents are reminded and buffeted every day with loss and the child death. Every time a child dies, or one is dying or may die, the pit in the stomach is made wider and deeper. As parents there is no adequate way for us to prepare for what is coming. We all loose a gold fish, a bird, a cat or a dog. We then loose our grandparents and extended family members and parents. It sort of gets us ready for the next steps in the journey. It paves the way, it gives some practice at handling the pain and emptiness that follows the death.
I so distinctly remember being unable to breath when my dad died. As much as he is missed, it was okay that he was gone. He had a great life. He did the things he cared about, he helped people, he ate BBQ in Magnolia, Arkansas, he read good books, he spent time with people he loved and in places he loved. His lose was gigantic at first and then time seemed to make it okay. At unexpected moments a memory will pop back or an item will present itself and it begins again. The horrible feeling of emptiness piles up again. It has been almost 20 years since my Grandmother died and I still think about sending her something or calling her.
All of these parent and elder loses is the universe preparing us for the endings that are coming. Giving us some prospective on the end of this life and how to best make the transitions. Helping clean out a family home teaches us about the need to pare down and to focus on what little we need for the future. The slow decline of a parent or a family member lets us practice and prepare for our trip down that particular rabbit hole and for their death.
We are still always shocked and horrified and breathless when they die. If it is sudden or if it is long and lingering. We are still in a "state". It should be a shock and heart break. Those we lose are so important to us. The greater the feeling of emptiness, the deeper the love we were able to share when they were with us in physical form. It is a part of life, the ebbing and flowing of tides.
So.... when a child dies before a parent we are stuck. We don't know how to move on... even months and years afterwards, the wound is fresh and open and throbbing. The reason being there is no way on this green earth for us to have any way to prepare. Death of a child is not supposed to happen. They are our little bit of immortality, the continuation of our story, they hold the future. The pattern of understanding is simply dismantled in a blink of an eye. It is over.
I still have my child, she is away at school but we have looked long and hard at the brink and often slipped dreadfully close. We have watched other's headed down that sad and solitaire path. No one can join, relieve, help, or comfort those on the road to child loss. They are on the mountain alone.
From a comfortable distance, it is easy to say "why don't they stop treatment?" "Why don't they go home?" "Don't they know it's over?" I have to be honest, I have thought this at some point. I guess it comes from seeing the suffering of everyone. But then how do we ever be alright about stopping the treatment of our children? A cure, a reprieve, a new study, a new medicine. A new...... It is so so hard.
Nothing ever gets us ready. We have too much experience and know what our kids are missing during treatment and what they will be missing in the future. We have to trim back our expectations and the dreams of their lives.
When that lovely little squiggly life is put into our arms we just don't have it in us to think "Our child might die a horrible long agonizing death from childhood cancer." It is not on the radar. At the beginning of life, we don't often think about death.
I wish it was not on any one's radar. It seem lately more and more parents are facing this horrible end to their child's life. Keep them in your hearts. While we can't prepare, we can be supportive and helpful and if nothing else, sit and have a cup of coffee with them and let them tell you a good memory.