i had a boy

Today, as I engaged in the otherwise mundane chore of putting away clean dishes, I discovered in a drawer containing lids and other plastic items one of those landmines I have talked about: sitting in the back of the drawer was a sippy-topped water bottle. It was something Jodi had gotten for Caemon in his last days because his throat was hurting, and the only thing that soothed it was his orange tea. We got him the bottle so that he could keep the tea in his bed. He woke up a lot in the night in discomfort, so he would take little sips all night, declaring after so many of them, “Mmm. That’s good. That feels good on my throat.” He was so grateful for this, a comfort from his previous life, the life before leukemia.

I have obviously come across this bottle before, but today, I was organizing the drawer, and I spotted it, and as I was organizing, I absentmindedly picked up pieces of a popsicle mold, and as I held these in my hands, it hit me so hard: I had a boy. I had a boy, and he died.

Lately, I seem to be repeating these sentences at least a few times a week: I had a boy. I had a boy and he died. I say it with incredulity. I say it with obvious pain, but the reason I say it is because I have to remind myself.

The cruel thing about losing my child just three and a half years into parenting him is that it can at times feel like he was a figment of my imagination, like his existence was the best and worst dream I ever had. There are wisps of that life around me, reminding me. For instance, there are these cloth diaper wipes that we made before he was born, little blue and white pieces of flannel, and they still show up in our laundry from time to time, even though neither of us remembers using them in our lives now. A little spoon of his, with an orange handle, remains in our flatware drawer, and I occasionally use it for eating yogurt or stirring coffee. Of course there are whole piles of his things, photos of him everywhere, but there are plenty of days when it is hard to fully grasp that I actually had a child, that we lived the lives of mothers of a small boy every day, that he was the center of our world, that we folded his laundry and changed his diapers and read him books and tripped over his toys and walked to the park. We had a boy.

There are times when I go about my day hardly thinking of that former life. I might be busy with work, cleaning the house, crocheting, watching television, and just going about life. I might even be feeling okay, even slightly normal, but then something reminds me. I empty the dishwasher and that orange-handled spoon is there, or I pull out the iron and see the bandaid he stuck to it over a year ago, and I remember: I had a boy.

I started teaching again recently, for the first time since I was pregnant with Caemon. I write assignments, annotate readings, interact with students and colleagues. My mind is filled with ideas about how I want to approach my class, getting places on time, fitting my old schedule into my new one. There are days when I barely have time to think of my son, even with his picture everywhere.  I didn’t mention until the end of the second week that I had been a mom. It was easy in some ways to slip on this old glove, to be a childless teacher of writing again because the last time I taught, I wasn’t a mom yet. I don’t know what it’s like to leave for work without my child because I always worked from home, so there are days when it just seems like I must have imagined it all.

On one day when I was busy not remembering that life of mine, Jodi showed me a picture of a mother gorilla hugging her three-year-old. I saw on that gorilla’s face a feeling I had had a thousand times as Caemon’s mom. I saw her child snuggled safely in her arms just as I had held Caemon, and I knew just how that felt. I can close my eyes now and feel that sensation of being someone’s home base, of loving what was in my arms more than life itself. This photo of these animals reminded me of sitting on a rock in Yosemite in the same pose, his head tucked under my chin, my heart so full it might burst.

I suppose this is a part of grief that isn’t mentioned so much–the pain of forgetting. How could I not remember life with my son? How could I not remember what it’s like to be a mom? How could I not know that all of it really did happen, that Caemon was real, in fact the most real and exquisite thing I have ever known? But then, how can we even imagine our child having cancer, our child being that beautiful bald boy in the photos for cancer charities, our child for whom there is a funeral and a memorial bench and a death certificate? It’s all unfathomable.

I’m just so afraid to forget him. There are so many days I walk through my life now and can’t believe that instead of spending a day dealing with naps and baths and bedtimes and food thrown on the floor, I’m thinking about what on earth I’m going to do to fill the next few hours, what I can crochet or draw or paint or sew or otherwise distract from the emptiness that was created when my son died.  I had a boy, and that boy made this life so sweet and crazy and unpredictable and messy and loud and sleep-deprived and funny and adventurous and beautiful and precious and full and everything a life should be with a child, everything I ever wanted.


I had a boy.


149 thoughts on “i had a boy

  1. I am so sorry for your loss. It must have been so hard for you and your partner. Caemon sounds like a sweet boy and he looks adorable on the photos. There is no chance in hell that you will ever forget him. Some people, whether small or big, whether they stay in our lives for long time or short, they leave an imprint, a mark in our hearts. He will always be with you even when you are busy with everyday life, your little boy will always be with you.

  2. This is powerful, beautiful and heart-opening. I have always felt that when people are courageous enough to be open with their stories of grief, we all benefit. Thank you.

  3. Thank you for writing. You’ve given us a gift, the ability to empathise & to grieve with you. My little troubles are truly little in light of what you have and will face. I pray you feel God blessing you. Thank you.

  4. I have a boy who i was told that will not survive at birth. After many procedures and treatments, he is now 4 and a central part of our lives. Therefore, i cannot imagine what that void woukd be like and my heart pains to read this blog. But as much that pain may linger, i would think that even those 3 years would have been a trinkle of a great blessing. To have held that boy and feel hia breath, to watch him sleep, to see him smile. You had a boy, you had a blessing and you had a gift. But do remember, he had a loving mother. I am sure you are in his heart as much as he is in yours.

  5. This took my breath away. I tell my kids that we keep people who pass away alive through the stories we share and the things they taught us. This gorgeous moment here has just taught thousands of others. I am so glad you shared it, and I am so sorry for your loss.

  6. Thank you for posting this. It is beautifully written, and evokes great emotion. I am sorry for your loss. Your pictures are also beautiful. I can not imagine how you feel. Your writing helps those like me who can not understand gain a clearer picture of how life is carrying this loss. Thank you.

  7. When someone loses their parents, they become an orphan. When a person loses their spouse, they become a widow. But there is no word for a parent who has lost a child. What word could possibly suffice? You have my deepest sympathies for your loss.

  8. Reblogged this on sondrasumner and commented:
    I could not imagine what she went through because having you’re child die of cancer can be really hard and a lot of stress on you. It could make you go into a really bad depression mode. I wish cancer never existed then a lot of people would still be here if they didn’t die from having leukemia cancer or any type of cancer as a matter of fact. Babies shouldn’t get cancer because that cant really live a normal life like everyone else because they have to go to the hospital to get treatments an then they die at a early age so I feel bad for mother’s who know that their kids are going through cancer.

  9. How exquisitely beautiful, this remembrance of your son. And how heart-wrenchingly sad. I was touched. It is a brave thing to be so honest, especially with oneself. You are courage, you are love, you are forgiveness – everything a mother needs to be.
    You had a boy. You are still a mother.
    Blessings x

  10. I am so so sorry for your loss. Please keep writing.It’s so important. What a brave and amazing mother you are. He will always be with you.

  11. I am so sorry for your loss! I have lost two of our babies way too soon through miscarriage. I will not claim to understand your grief; but I will journey beside you as you grieve. Love, Gracie

  12. Makes me want to go hug my son. I’m so sorry for your loss…my wife and I lost our first son ten years ago, and at the time we didn’t know if we’d be able to have any more children. So, my heart goes out to you…people don’t realize that there’s a conflict between wanting to move on and wanting to never forget. Thank you for sharing this, painful as it may have been.

  13. What a beautifully written post. I am so sorry to hear of your loss, I have not experienced this so I don’t know how that must feel, but Your words brought tears to my eyes, and tugged at my heart. Sandy

  14. Reblogged this on Baddest Mother Ever and commented:
    Brace Yourself for Impact. This story, by a Voice of the Year winner, is astonishing in the clarity with which it renders loss. I’ve been trying to summon my motivation for raising money for the Leukemia Society for the 10th consecutive year. Thanks to Caemon’s mom, I’ve found it.

  15. Thank you for your blog. Our family is just at the beginning of our grief journey in remembering our own son, Rowan. We are just at the beginning of finding our way without him. My biggest fear, each and every moment of everyday, is that I will forget the joy that Rowan brought to our lives.
    Your blog shows me, that despite your fears, you have not forgotten Caemon, and will not forget. Thank you for sharing that moment with me.

  16. You might not realize how much posts like this mean to those of us who come from broken families. Your grief shows me how much some parents love their children. It is a comfort to know how beautifully some parents love their children and that the love is never-ending.

  17. I just found this post, but I definitely relate. There are many days it feels so surreal. I had a son. I actually had a child, with golden corn silk hair like yours. He lived, even though my daily life is not full now of the caring for him. It was less than a year ago. It feels like forever.

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