Four years ago today, I finally got to meet you. For months, you had been rolling around in my belly, sticking your foot as far out as you could (I imagine you were a bit cramped in there, big boy that you were), but finally, on September 5th, just four days after my own birthday, I received the best gift of my life: my beautiful Caemon.
Every month after you were born, I wrote you a letter about all the things you had been doing that month. Some months were pretty eventful, like the one where you learned to sit up or say “mama,” and some months were mostly love letters, telling you just how much love you had brought to me and your mama. I loved writing those letters, reflecting on who you were becoming, reveling in all the joy you had brought to our lives.
This year, your fourth year, was your last year on this earth, sweet boy, your last year in our arms. I remember last September 5th well. You had gone to the hospital for a platelet transfusion the night before, and in the morning, we got up and went to your favorite place: the Exploratorium. You were tired that day, but you were overjoyed to spend time with your cousin, your aunt, and your moms. I remember soaking in every moment of your birthday, loving that we could be out in the world together. Earlier in the week for your birthday party with the whole family, the local firefighters brought a couple of their engines to our street so that you and your cousins could play on them. Do you remember, Caemon, how the fireman on the medic truck let you lower and raise the ladder? Do you remember how hard you laughed every time it went, THUNK! Afterward, you would tell the story and hit me so hard as you said, THUNK! I didn’t mind; you just wanted to recreate that sensation. You loved that smaller engine with all the medical supplies. You had just started learning about them. We were all fairly certain that one day you would practice medicine one way or another. But what am I saying? You already did.
This year brought us a Caemon who was so very sick, a boy who had to stay in bed, a boy who had to have pokes, who had to go into surgery (the warm room is what you called the OR), who had to be hooked up for ten-day-long chemo infusions, and who had a bone marrow transplant. You had to endure so much, and when I find myself trying to imagine going through the same, it terrifies me. But you did it with such grace, my son. You laughed, and you loved, and you made friends with your fears. You cradled your syringe pumps, made friends with your “sad, sad boingy tubes,” and even scolded your IV pole (“Stop, staring at me, Beeper!”). You showed your doctors and nurses and social workers and dietitians and child life specialists and book buddies and anyone else who came in the room just how brave a person can be when faced with countless medical procedures. You showed them how to play in the face of fear, how to laugh, how to read a good book, how to take on a new name when you don’t feel like yourself, and how to always, always accept a hug from a handsome blue-eyed boy.
And you taught me and your mama, Caemon. You taught us things about ourselves, about just how brave we could be, how we could do anything if it meant saving you, and you taught us that enough love can get a family through just about anything. You danced with us, read with us, made crafts with us, raced with us down the hospital hallways, and you held us in your arms as though you were a big man there to comfort his moms. You hugged me and patted me on the back when I was sad, telling me it was okay, that you had me. You told your mama that the two of you would get through the night together. You loved us as big as you could and we loved you right back.
We started to talk about the big party we would throw you for your fourth birthday, where we would invite all your friends from the hospital and all your friends and family from home, and we would celebrate. We would blow up water balloons, and you would throw them at the cats (that’s another thing you did last year), and you would have as much ice cream as you wanted, and we would listen to your favorite music and dance and dance and dance. We would celebrate being leukemia-free.
I remember a few weeks after your bone marrow infusion, when you started feeling a little better, enough to do some eating, and I said, “It seems like you’re feeling better, Caemon. Do you feel like you’re getting better?” You nodded and smiled. But a week or so later, after your relapse, after you started feeling really miserable, I would assure you that it would be okay, that you would get better. Every time, you would shake your head no. You knew then you weren’t going to be here much longer. You kept us in your bed with you as much as you could, and we stayed because we didn’t want to miss one more moment with our precious boy.
We didn’t get to throw you that fourth birthday party, not the one we talked about. Today, we’re throwing a different kind of party instead, one that you would absolutely love. You see, today, I went teaching with mama. I’m sitting at her school, in her very cool office with the little fridge you liked so much. In a few moments, I’m going to go hang out with people who have a whole bunch of medical supplies: they have blood pokers and different colors of Coban. They have tubing and alcohol swabs and syringes and vials for labs. Lots of people are going to come and get poked and give their blood for kids like you. They’re going to help save kids’ lives so that they can celebrate their fourth and fifth and eighth and fiftieth birthdays. I know you would approve. I wish you could be here to show them how to hook up the tubes, how to hold still when the poker goes in, how to make friends with all the machines.
But mostly, I’m feeling a little selfish. I really just wish you were here so that I could hold you in my arms, kiss your whole face, see that brilliant smile, hear that infectious giggle, and feel the most wonderful feeling in the world again, the feeling I learned about four years ago today: the feeling of being your mommy. I love you more than the ocean and the moon and the stars. I will miss you for the rest of my life.
Happy birthday, my love, my light, my beautiful Caemon.