Today, we mark Day Two of our 30 Days of Caemon with a letter from a dear friend from our moms’ group, one of the angels who swooped in and took care of our lives when Caemon was diagnosed, one of the loyal and treasured friends who has helped distribute the weight of his passing. The legacy Caemon has left for her is multi-faceted, as it is for so many of us, and she describes it in the stunning letter below.
Oh, sweet boy. How I wish I were writing this, my first letter to you, upon the occasion of a birthday or other such letter-worthy childhood achievement. Your sweet mamas have asked for stories of your impact on this world, so I hope you will forgive a lady from mommy group, who never got to know you as well in your brief, beautiful life as she has in the many months of grieving since your death, for writing to you as to a close friend. We were just getting acquainted before your leukemia was discovered, but I now count both of your mommies among my dearest of friends. And those friendships are only the first of the many ways your small-but-enormous life has twined around mine, like sly, persistent ivy, forever altering it in more ways then I will ever be able to quantify.
I have had a hard time beginning this task. I felt the weight of it, of course, and knew that if ever there were a time for picking the right words, this was it. But beyond that, embarrassingly, I was afraid to admit that I have not been changed enough by the boldness of your living, by the gut wound of your death, by the phoenix of a legacy that has sprung up across the globe ever since.
Because I still have these moments, terrible ones, when despite your loss I take my children entirely for granted. I still have times, many of them, in which I squander my time and talents on frivolous things. I am still surly and ungrateful and, above all, lazy.
But I am beginning to realize that this unsettling uneasiness of not-enough-change is not necessarily the bad thing I feared it was.
You see, thoughts of you overwhelm me when I come out of those terrible moments. In my ignorance before your diagnosis I would swat at my insufficiencies like a dozing cat twitching an ear at a fly. But now, oh, the moment immediately following one of my failures is filled with your absence from this world. And my resolve is ever-growing.
Fiona and Keith would not have half the mother they currently have without you. The evidence is myriad and ironclad.
As you may remember, you and I share a passion for music. So many of the stories your parents have told me involve your love of making and listening to music. You fell in love with the violin due to a magical volunteer who brought hers to your hospital room, and the plan was for me to be your teacher after you came home. Like my daughter, you had a musician’s compass pulling you along, and as I watch her learn her way around the violin like a nimble little monkey, I know I am watching a journey you would have taken right in step with her. No matter in what arena you would have settled on to make a living, there is no doubt that music would have remained the language of your soul.
I practice more, since your death, and with greater intent. I compose more, too. I used to compose as an indulgence, almost as a source of entertainment. Something grownup musicians struggle with is the relevance of their work. I had felt, before knowing you, that since I was unlikely to ever “make it big,” my composing was going to be only for me, a sort of lyrical diary. I am learning with your death that I can write to great purpose.
I wrote something for your parents last summer, a cello piece which has more love and true life packed into it than anything I have ever written. I wrote them a song for soprano and viola this spring, using a poem I think anyone who reads this letter will find soothing. I will include it below.
More than anything, I am learning, if not to live in the moment, then at least to stop raging against the uncertainty of the moment.
I don’t want to finish this letter. There are so many ripples of your existence that I have not yet mentioned, an unceasing ocean of impact that will always be with me. And I find that it helps to write directly to you. For the moment, for this letter, you stand before me. Small and strong and full of a blazing fire of intelligence and wit. I want to pick you up, to cradle you against my chest as I dash out into the night to bring you back to your mothers’ loving arms. To see their grieving eyes ignite to meet yours again, as they never stop hoping to do.
Please visit their dreams at just the right moments, all through their lives. Wrap your arms around their necks almost unbearably tightly and say something, so that your voice rings clearly in their ears when they awaken, so that the smell of your sweet head lingers throughout the day. It is so hard to feel loss anew after such a dream, but the rekindled imprint on the senses is worth it, especially as time goes by.
Oh, beautiful boy. I think of you each time I hear a song you loved. I think of you when I look at a teapot or a vacuum cleaner or the clothes and toys my kids have that were once yours. I think of you when my children are impish or strong-willed or full of a grace beyond their years. I think of you in my quiet moments alone and while surrounded by ferocious chaos. What is your legacy for me? It is impossible to measure, so seamlessly has it become part of who I am. Part of who I always will be.
With so much love,
P. S. Here’s that poem:
Beannacht by John O’Donohue
On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.
And when your eyes
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.
When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.
May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.