nothing compares to this

From Jodi

Last week something pretty incredible happened, or at least I think so. I was outside doing chores, and after finishing, I entered the kitchen from the back door. I stopped and observed from the doorway. Our three month old daughter sat happily in her bouncy seat on the floor near the pantry watching Timaree bake. The room was filled with a comforting aroma, banana bread I think, baking in the oven. Music played from the iPad on the counter, “Friday, I’m in Love” by the Cure, one of her favorite bands since adolescence.

And she was singing.

My heart swelled. My breath caught.

Timaree hasn’t sang since our son died over two and a half years ago. Not in the car, not in the shower, not in church. Not at concerts. Not a note.

Grief manifests itself in so many ways, and one of them, for Timaree anyway, was the loss of her singing voice. It makes sense as music is pure emotion; it is joy and sorrow; pain and release. To sing is to feel, and in her case, to feel pain (more than she already feels).

I stood suspended in a moment I didn’t see coming, but I immediately recognized it as a significant shift. You see, Timaree and I had our concerns about certain things during her pregnancy: would we overreact to every cold and be suspicious of every bruise? Would our baby learn how to smile and laugh if we rarely smile or laugh? Would we be able to love her as much as we love our son?

Of course, some of these questions seem ridiculous now because of course we are crazily, ridiculously in love with our daughter. She makes us smile and laugh all the time—not the strained obligatory smiles we memorized for social acceptance—and our smiles are now being rewarded with big, lopsided toothless grins of her very own. Each of these smiles expands us, heals us, and brings us back to life.

And, as it seems, the music of our baby’s newly discovered laughter has returned the gift of music and singing to her mommy. Thank you baby girl. Now I get to see both of you smiling and singing, cooing and laughing, and, I can say with some certainty that absolutely nothing compares to this.

the elephant in the room

From Jodi:

No matter what space I occupy, there’s an elephant, with all its cliché trappings, and I have to work pretty hard to balance acknowledging it and working around it. The elephant, of course, is that I had a child who died of cancer, and I fiercely grieve him, even two and a half years later, and yes, even in the wake of a beautiful new baby daughter. Shouldn’t her arrival make that pesky elephant disappear? Or shouldn’t it at least make fewer appearances? Once might think; then again, one would be wrong.

A week after we brought the baby home, Timaree’s whole clan came to welcome the baby to the family. There was a seven-year-old, a five-year-old, and a two-year-old all crowded around Little Sister, completely enraptured by her. Grown-ups busied themselves preparing food and waiting (not so patiently) for their turn to hold the baby, meanwhile catching up on months of backlogged news. So and so is moving! Grandpa got a new job! Another pregnancy! It was familial chaos, beautiful, brilliant, and achingly incomplete. There should have been four children clamoring around the new baby. Timaree and I looked at each other, and we both saw it on the other’s face. Now, how can that big elephant fit in a space so occupied with family and love?

It always finds a way.

Just before our daughter was born, we ran into an old friend from our moms group whom we haven’t seen since Caemon’s memorial service, and she was telling us all about her daughter and how she’s starting first grade, and there that elephant was, reminding me that my son would have been in first grade had he lived.

Sometimes others see the elephant, and sometimes not. I believe it is the burden of the bereaved parent to feel the child’s absence at the molecular level in a way others cannot. I do not resent anyone for not seeing how loaded holidays and celebrations and milestones are for me. When a few special people acknowledged Timaree and I on Mother’s Day, even though Caemon was gone and Little Sis wasn’t here yet, they were acknowledging that elephant so beautifully, and for that, I love them more fiercely than they may know.

Today is August 21st, and the elephant is rampaging. Three years ago, Caemon was diagnosed with leukemia. D Day (or, diagnosis day) is a rough day for cancer parents. We hate it, dread its arrival, and it clouds everything, even dampening the bliss of new baby. Of course I am over the moon at her arrival. She’s absolutely amazing, but Timaree and I don’t get a day off from the elephant because when this anniversary passes, we will anticipate our son’s birthday in September.

Now I know there are some judgmental folks out there that think Timaree and I should be done with all this grieving business; some who have suggested we no longer write about our grief, that we should instead focus on “joyful things.” Now that there are actually joyful things to think about, I imagine we will, but to deny the elephant that walks alongside us on this journey is to ignore our son, our loss, and allow him to vanish into the fog. No way. That’s not happening. As long as I live, Caemon’s legacy and memory will remain.

We will write about Caemon and our lives without him, how we cope with our pain, the lessons that come to us over time, and we will continue to do this work as long as we need to because there is no time limit on grief. It has no expiration date, and the path toward healing is long and complicated. We will continue to talk about him in everyday conversation because our experiences as his mothers informs our world view on so many levels. We will continue to acknowledge that elephant in the room because we are learning that it helps others cope with their grief. Sometimes just a silent recognition is enough, and sometimes we just need to say out loud “I had a son who passed away from leukemia and I miss him oh-so-much.”

Like so many things in life, if you fear the elephant, its presence is dark, scary, and unwelcome. But if you turn around and look at it, stroke its ears, tell it “I see you,” life becomes a lot more authentic and manageable. Today is Caemon’s D day. How will I face it? Today I write. On his birthday, we will launch the C is for Crocodile Little Free Children’s Library. This is how not to get trampled by the elephant in the room.


This morning, as restless birds announced the first traces of dawn,

My newborn daughter also stirred, yearning for the comfort of warm arms.

I laid her on my chest, embraced her as I drifted in and out of sleep.

And behind my eyelids, her brother appeared,

His arms outstretched to hug me, his hair golden and glowing,

His smile illuminating him: pure love, pure light.

He sat in my lap,

Wrapped his whole little body around me,

Told me he loved me.

And the boy-shaped hole in my heart felt, for just a moment, almost full again.

I awoke to find myself hugging his sister, tears streaking my face,

Overcome with love for my children,

My dream boy, my dreamy girl.

Our family photo shoot, just one week prior to his diagnosis.



Photos courtesy of In Her Image Photography.


A week ago, IMG_0373we welcomed our sweet baby daughter into the world–a little sister for Caemon, a new lease on motherhood for Jodi and I. We are overjoyed to introduce her to our community here.

We are all doing very well. Our daughter decided to show us right away that she is her very own person. Unlike her brother, who took a nice, long 36-hours of labor to arrive, she barreled into the world in a mere three and a half hours. And while Caemon was a whopping 9 lbs 11 ounces, she was a healthy 7 lbs 15 ounces. And most importantly, she is incredibly healthy. Having such a different start with her was good for us, for while she looks very much like Caemon, especially as a newborn, she is her very own person and shows us this in so many ways. 

Our days are mostly filled with jIMG_0403oy and newborn fatigue right now. It’s such a relief having a child in my arms again, having someone to care for. I won’t lie: it’s exhausting caring for a newborn, and with that exhaustion and all of the changes comes occasionally more pronounced grief. It’s hard not to wonder what Caemon would think of this little girl. It’s hard not to miss him in all new ways. That will take some time to work out, I suppose, and I imagine I will have plenty to say about these new transitions here.

But all those worries I had about loving her enough or as much as Caemon? They have been washed away in these first seven days. I am so in love with this little person–just as in love as I was with Caemon. I feel her healing my heart, showing me again just how beautiful it is to be someone’s mother.


One last note: On this blog, Caemon’s sister will be known as Little Sister. We would like to give her a small amount of privacy (as much as one can in this age). She didn’t ask to be in the spotlight, so we want to respect that. If you know us in person, we respectfully request that you keep her name private as well.

welcome back

A few months ago, I started attending a prenatal yoga class one evening a week. It’s a different kind of class in that we share tea and conversation following our yoga practice, and much of the conversation, as one might imagine, revolves around pregnancy, child-rearing, and general mom concerns. It’s a lovely time for these women to connect with others who are facing similar experiences, whether first-time motherhood or negotiating the waters of second/third-time parenting.

In the first class I attended, I did share that I had a child who died. It seemed appropriate because we were asked to share whether we had other children, but I didn’t say more about it. At the next class, over twice as many women attended, and I chose not to share my story. I didn’t pretend to be a first-time mom, but I didn’t bring up my son dying of leukemia either. So when it came time for our tea and conversation following the class, and a woman was struggling with getting her nearly-three-year-old son to sleep, I wasn’t sure what to do. I had advice, experiences to share, and I wasn’t sure whether to share them as though I had a living child or to stay quiet lest I bring up my son who died and inadvertently shift the focus to myself. I sat and nodded in recognition of her plight, and eventually, our teacher noticed and said, “Timaree, it looks like you know something about this.” It was an invitation. I shared from the experience I had of a child who preferred not to sleep, all while staying focused on the mom, avoiding my own story, pretending if for a few minutes to be one of these second-time moms, even though it felt a bit foreign.

At the end of class, the teacher spoke with me, thanked me for joining in the conversation and sharing my bits of wisdom. I told her that it had been a long time since I had sat in a group of moms talking as a mom, that it was nice to share. She placed her hand on my shoulder, looked warmly into my eyes, and said, “Welcome back.”

Every time I think of that moment, I tear up. Since Caemon died, Jodi and I have wanted to “get back” to parenting. We were just getting started when he got sick, just finding our groove. We loved being the moms of a curious little boy; it was such a singular joy, our primary focus. When he died, not only did we lose our beloved son, but we also lost this enormous piece of our identities. People reassured us we were still mothers, and in our hearts, we felt we were, but we didn’t live the lives of mothers. We haven’t for two years and five months. There have been no bedtimes to negotiate, no meals picked over by four- or five-year-old hands, no loads of small clothes to wash or toys to put away, no scraped elbows to kiss or hurt feelings to hug away. Mothering Caemon has turned to remembering, longing, grieving.

Here we are, though, less than a month away from meeting Caemon’s little sister, and all signs point to us getting back to parenting. But what does that mean for us? We won’t be starting again where left off—and I think for a long time that’s what “getting back” to it meant for us: reading the books we had just discovered with Caemon, repeating our favorite family inside jokes, making muffins on a lazy Sunday while our son tried to lick up all the batter; it meant getting back to mothering the boy we knew so well. It has taken months for me to grasp that getting back to it is really starting over—starting with a whole new little person, a whole new perspective of parenting, and in that, there is both joy and grief, anticipation of the new and longing for the familiar—always this duality of emotions.

As this pregnancy has progressed, I have met other expectant parents—some of them first time moms, some experienced parents with small children to consider—and I simultaneously identify with both sets and none of them at all. I have all the “luxuries” of being pregnant and preparing for a newborn without parenting another child. My wife and I can spend quality adult time together, I can nap whenever I like, I can be as lazy or as productive as I like because I don’t have a living child to consider. But because I am not a first-time parent, I have the wisdom of experience, the serenity of knowing I don’t have to worry about swings and bottle warmers and having the perfect nursery, of knowing that birth doesn’t have to be scary, and more importantly, that we can do this.

Then there is the other side of it all. We have hand-me-downs from big brother–toys, clothes, his precious books—without the big brother attached. There will be no wondering where Caemon should spend the night while we are at the hospital, no first meeting of brother and sister, no little boy jealous of the time his moms spend with the new baby, no watching two siblings loving each other as only siblings do. Coupled with that I have so many of the fears of a second-time mom: the guilt of giving my thoughts and love over to another child, of feeling like I’m somehow neglecting my first child for the other—of forgetting the little details about my son: how he smelled, how his cheek felt under my lips when I kissed him good night, how his laughter rang throughout our home. I worry I won’t love my daughter enough, that she won’t know the best of me, that she’ll always be trying to access that part of me who died with Caemon.

I suppose some of my worries aren’t unlike those of second-time parents at all; I just happen to parent a first child who no longer walks this earth. He was my first love as a mom, and he always will be. Certainly I will love his little sister. Certainly I will continue to love him.

I am not getting back to the parenting I once knew, but I am rejoining the world of mothers of living children. I am growing a little girl in my belly who is likely to split my heart wide open again, who will remind me of her brother in some ways and in most ways will be her very own being. I am soon to meet this soul who will indeed welcome me back to the most treasured role I have ever held. I have her brother to thank for showing me the world through a mother’s heart; I have her to thank for bringing me home again.

Thirty Days of Caemon–Day 30: The Marston-Simmons Family

There were many weeks during Caemon’s treatment when Jodi had to go home to teach for a couple of days. It was so hard on all of us, and especially for Caemon. As he started to understand that she would return, he would say on the nights she wasn’t there, “Mommy, an important part of the Marston-Simmons family is missing!” I would agree, and we would try to talk to Mama on the phone, easing his worries a little, letting him know she would be back. It heartened me to know that our family unit was so important to him, and it saddened Jodi and I both that he had to know what it felt like for one of us to be missing for any length of time.

When Caemon died, though, the most important part of the Marston-Simmons family was missing, and he has been missing for two long years. Before Caemon, there was no Marston-Simmons family. We were Jodi and Timaree, and while we had been together for eleven years when Caemon made his arrival, we were always a couple, never a family.

Caemon made us a family.

As he gained more language, he loved calling us the Marston-Simmons family. He was proud to be a part of it. All sorts of things were named for our family. There was the Marston-Simmons Family book and the Marston-Simmons family song. Our family was his world just as he was ours.

Since the most important part of the Marston-Simmons family has been missing for so long, we haven’t felt much like a family, even though we most certainly are. We have gone back to being a childless couple, each with our own last name, no small hyphenate to bind us into a familiar family structure. It has been two years of anguish, two years of feeling hollow, two years of missing being a family.

But all of that will soon change: I am pregnant with Caemon’s baby sister. She is due to arrive in late July, and we are so excited to meet her.

There is so much wrapped up in having another baby. There is the return to the family structure for which we have so longed, yes, but there is also an awareness that this little girl will not be Caemon. We cannot expect her to be. Of course I hope to see some part of him in her—maybe something of his twinkling eyes, his smile, his laugh—but she may be nothing like him at all, and I’m also ready for that. You see, one of Caemon’s great lessons to me was one of accepting a child for whomever he or she happens to be.

By the time I was pregnant with Caemon, Jodi and I had been talking about having a daughter for years. We were both fairly certain we would have a girl first, which made learning that we were having a son surprising to say the least. The beauty of all of that was that our son was just who we needed. Having a boy after all those building expectations of a girl allowed me to let Caemon be Caemon. Jodi and I celebrated who he was, whether that was nurturing and creative, rough and physical, quiet and introspective, loud and opinionated—and he was all of those things and more, and all of those qualities made him perfectly Caemon.

I must admit that a year ago, I could not fathom having a daughter. I’m sure that I hoped to have another boy like Caemon. Who wouldn’t want another sweet, articulate, wise, and loving boy like him? But once again, life is handing us the child we need, and once again, I can apply that lesson that Baby Caemon taught me: that first and foremost, we must let this child be whomever she is meant to be, to honor that in her, to love that she is one of a kind–just like her brother.

There is so much of this I wish we were sharing with Caemon. I think he would have been proud to be a big brother. I think he would have been amazingly helpful. I think he would have read to his sister, comforted her, loved her, and I know she would have adored him. Instead, we have the task of helping this little girl love and know a brother she will never know while also working to help her have a normal life—as normal as it can be. But most of all, I suppose I have to let go of the fear that comes with having another child—the fear of losing her, the fear that I won’t love her as I loved my son, the fear that somehow she will always live in his shadow. To parent Caemon’s sister, I have to lead with love, just as he taught me for three and a half years. Caemon’s legacy will most assuredly live on in our daughter.

And he may live on in her in very real ways. Recently, I have read some mind-blowing articles about fetal cells. Scientists are discovering that during pregnancy, cells from the fetus cross the placenta and into the mother’s blood stream. Their research has shown that those cells may take up residence in the mother’s blood stream, her brain, even her heart. They may act as stem cells and help repair damaged organs, prevent disease, and do a whole host of things that we never imagined. But more than this, it is believed that some of those same fetal cells, the cells of a woman’s prior pregnancies, very likely pass into the woman’s future children.

Yes, our little girl may very well carry a physical part of Caemon with her throughout her life. In so many ways, this tumbling, kicking, lively little girl in my belly is her brother’s living legacy.

The Marston-Simmons family will always be missing a very important member. We will always wonder how Caemon would have completed our foursome, what sort of big brother he would have been, what sort of grownup son he would have been. We will always have a hole in our hearts and our lives and our family where that boy should be. But we know now that the Marston-Simmons family did not die with Caemon. It couldn’t. What he helped create was the eternal magic of family, a space for two moms to love both of their kids, one in this world and one beyond.

Image Courtesy of In Her Image Photography.

The Marston-Simmons Family, Part I

Baby Sister

Baby Sister

Thirty Days of Caemon–Day 29: A Digital Sanctuary

Blog1I have been a writer for as long as I can remember. In grade school, I published stories. I would sit outside at our home in the Sierra Nevada foothills and write while pondering the trees and the sunset. When I got to college, pursuing multiple degrees in English was not much of a stretch, and teaching writing was no stretch at all. I have always taken comfort in the written word. A life-long introvert, my best processing happens between my mind and a pen or a keyboard (I have long joked that I hold a good percentage of my brain in my fingertips).

When Jodi and I started the process of trying to have a baby, it was the early days of blogging, and I began finding the blogs of women working to create their own families, women who already had, and I knew very quickly that we would chronicle our own journey toward our family. And I did. With our first blog, I wrote about every disappointment and triumph. When I was pregnant, I maintained a pregnancy journal on that blog, complete with ultrasound images and pictures of my growing belly, and when Caemon arrived, I had plenty of new material. I wrote about his birth, the joys of new motherhood, even the struggles we faced as a two-mom family. Just as I have spent my whole life writing, Caemon’s whole life has been carefully recorded, albeit primarily anonymously, since before his conception.

When Caemon was diagnosed with leukemia, I was obviously in shock, but I still had to write. I wrote on my old blog that we had taken up residence in a children’s oncology ward. I wrote that Jodi and I had become the mothers of a boy with leukemia. My readers came out in droves wanting to help, but I couldn’t spend the time there that I once had. Jodi and I learned quickly that we needed a means of communicating with family and friends, so instead of using that old anonymous blog, we started up a CaringBridge site. It’s what people were doing, so we gave it a try. We could write brief updates there, share the occasional photo, receive donations, and manage the page pretty easily. And it was there that I began writing about Caemon’s illness. There was something keeping me from really writing though. I felt restricted to a just-the-facts sort of approach when I wrote, and while functional, it wasn’t me. By the end of Caemon’s first full month of being a boy with leukemia, I knew it was time for us to have a proper space for sharing Caemon’s progress with our community, and C is for Crocodile was born. Finally, I had found a suitable home for the writing I needed to do through my son’s illness.

If it was space I needed to open up, then open up I did. Writing on a blog again felt like picking up a favorite pen and trusted journal. I found myself writing many nights when I would stay at Family House or when I was awake late after Caemon fell asleep. In the hospital, writing became my escape, my sanctuary, my cozy blanket and warm cup of tea. On those nights when I wrote, often in a dim room with only the lights of IV pumps and the glow of my laptop illuminating my space, I could find a little peace. I might cry, even sob for awhile, but I would often wade my way through whatever trying moment we were experiencing, and I would find enough comfort to be able to get some sleep. The therapeutic quality of the blog was tangible.

When Caemon died, I didn’t know I would keep writing. I didn’t know that I would have anything more to say, particularly that I would want to share with the large readership that had grown around this blog, but it took no more than a few days before I started up again. At first, I may have felt a sense of obligation to continue telling his story, but with my first few posts, I discovered that writing still felt like the right thing to do, and as two years have now passed, it still does.

Jodi asked me a couple of weeks into our Thirty Days posts whether I wanted to talk about the future of the blog, what I wanted to do with it, and I instantly bristled. I have certainly asked myself before whether it was time to move on from this space, but no one had openly asked me that question. I searched myself for a moment, and then I replied with certainty that the blog would keep going, that this space was something I wasn’t ready to leave behind, that I didn’t know if I ever would be.

The truth is, I have done some of the best writing of my life on this blog, and in the process, I have received amazing support—even national recognition. I have been asked to write for the blogs of our favorite charities, guest blog with other cancer moms, even write about Caemon’s medical play. The honor of being asked to write is something I only imagined as a young English major. But honestly, even without any of that recognition or the kind comments here or the many boosts to my confidence, I would still write because through this blog, I have found a path through my grief that works best for me. I have been able to capture the most challenging time in my family’s life with accuracy and detail and authenticity.

When I started C is for Crocodile two and a half years ago, it was a place to chronicle my son’s journey through cancer. I initially intended to shut the blog down after Caemon was cured. I thought I might use it for a year and then leave it up to remember that lost year we spent with leukemia. I never imagined I would share his obituary here or the story of his death. I never imagined I would write about the agony of living without him, the beauty of a community coming together to hold up what remained of our family, the small joys we might find in celebrating his life. I never imagined this space would feel like such an extension of myself. For an introvert to take solace in a place where, at times, thousands of people are watching seems strange, but this is Caemon’s Mommy’s home, and so long as I am alive, I will be the mommy to a little crocodile who changed the lives of every person he touched, people quite literally all over the world.

So this blog, too, is part of Caemon’s legacy. It helped me find a public voice. It helped us build a community. More than that, it allows us to share the magic of our son with the world. C is for Crocodile is here to stay. It may change from time to time. It will likely lie dormant now and then, but so long as this space remains, my son’s story can live on too.