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, nobody can fill in those time laps(you & your son). Can imagine how difficult it would have been for you…..my heart is filled with yout pain.
    from mother of one beautiful daughter.

  2. one of my friends lost her son this past December. Just last week she spoke of the “forgetting” and you’re right: NO ONE talks (or tells you how to feel) about that stage of grief. I think it HAS to be part of the innate drive all livings things possess to survive…even when our emotions tell us we’d rather not.

  3. Surprising what small things can evoke so many memories of our children when they are gone. Its hard for me too put my Jessica in past tense. I have a daughter, who is not with me. I miss her so much

  4. There can be no words to console you. Your words on this post speak your feelings and emotions deeply. It will be felt by all whom reads this and whom have a child. One thing for sure is your little boy is somewhere waiting for you in a better place than this horrible place where we all are living.

  5. Your post touched deep inside. It shows the courage you have in you even to write this amidst the grief..we can never ever imagine the anguish you must be going through. Though it’s easy to say that be strong when each day we struggle to be strong….but that your angel is in safe hand and he will be glad to see you strong. If words could bring solace, He was and still be your son in this lifetime. God Bless.

  6. I understood your fear about “forgetting”. I think it is because we feel we’re moving away from our beloved person who has died. There is a tremendous wish to stop time so we can stay as close to them as possible, as close to them as we ever can be. I really feel for you. If it is an consolation, I think in the end, we remember everything we need to.

  7. So touching!
    Terrible trauma can sometimes make your brain ‘delete’ things or people, events, from your life. It is temporary and only to help you cope. You will never forget……. Your mind can set things aside for a moment…… for a minute….. just to get you to the next moment or minute in one piece.

  8. So beautifully written. I cannot begin to imagine the pain you feel. Your little boy was very lucky to have a mummy who loves him as much as you do xxxx

  9. Thanks for sharing this amazing, beautiful story. As I was reading and my throat was closing in as I was fighting the urge to cry, I had that feeling of being thankful and blessed for my three children. I know the feeling of intense loss as I lost my father when I was 20. Although it has been 25 years, the beauty of memories is that they show up all on their own, sometimes when you least expect it. I am so sorry for the loss of your little boy. Trust me, you will never forget him.

  10. This is one of the most poignant and beautiful pieces I have read here.
    I do not know if I will ever truly experience the pain you have endured, but this touched my heart in sad but beautiful way. Caemon is no longer with you on this little blue ball, but he will be in your heart forever. Thank you for sharing this. You did not have to, but you did, and by this you show the depths of love.
    Thank you again.

  11. This is the most open, raw, heartbreaking post that I’ve ever read. My daughter is 4.5 years old; I can’t imagine the pain that you and Caemon’s other mommy went through, through his illness and then in losing him.
    I can’t write anything further, because I don’t know what to write.
    Thank-you for your writing.

  12. This post touched my heart. I don’t know what it feels like to once having a child and losing them later, but I can feel pieces of the pain you expressed in this post. I’m sorry for your loss. You’re a strong mother, and for that, please remain strong. ♥

  13. This is so beautiful. I have a boy, a new baby boy, and I just can’t imagine what I would do if anything happened to him. You will never forget him, and you will always be his mom. Thank you for sharing this.

  14. How is it something so astoundingly beautiful can be born of tragedy and pain? Perhaps the deepest lesson any of us can derive from tragedy is that ours may one day cause an uplifting in someone else. I can’t begin to imagine how awful this loss has been, continues to be, and yet as I read through some of the responses, it is obvious you have, through the sharing of your pain, caused an uplifting in countless hearts, including mine. Thank you and bless you.

  15. Oh, my. What heartfelt writing. There are just no words as I sit here with gooseflesh wanting so very much to restore to you the rest of your soul…..thank you for sharing him with us on here. Thank you for loving him and thank you for letting each of us carry just a small piece of your boy with us too.

  16. This broke my heart into bits and pieces. Such a powerful and heartbreaking post. Lots of love and prayers from me.

  17. I am sorry for your loss and pray you get the strength to cherish him with a smile and never forget how you had a lovely boy, even for a brief period, filled your life with joy. I can’t understand your pain as I am not a mother yet, but I can comprehend your pain of losing a loved one. Hugs

  18. Amazing that such a painful experience can lead you to write such a deep moving post. You were the best mom your boy could have had and even though your time together was so short, it was the best for both of you. Thank you for sharing such a private part of your grief.

  19. I am so very sorry for your infathomable loss. You will never forget your precious boy. The pain of reality will hopefully ease but you will not forget your time together. Best wishes to you in your grieving process.

  20. It’s all going to be well. I pray that you are comforted. But remember, you were a good mum who did her best to make her son happy.

  21. I feel your pain every day and would NOT wish it on even my worst enemy! My son was twenty three and we are going on year three, I will never be the same and still don’t know what to do without him. They stay with you always, Best Wishes to you and yours.

  22. What a beautiful yet devastating story. Thank you for sharing; you are a strong woman to be able to try and make your life continue after your loss and I hope you can find comfort in the support here when you have the hardest days.

  23. This was beautifully written and so honest.
    I don’t think you should worry about forgetting him, I believe that is impossible. You grew this remarkable life within you, he is etched on every fibre and fabric of your being. It is important to remember and love those who have moved on and you are doing that so beautifully. He sounds like a remarkable human being and the world was lucky to have him for the time we did.
    May you continue to heal with your heart full of love 🙂

  24. I don’t know what to say except to tell you that you are amazing. Thank-you for having the courage to share your heart with us. The two beautiful photos will resonate with me for a very long time.
    Peace, love & huge hugs. xo

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