Thirty Days of Caemon–Day 27: Family Heirlooms

It is no secret that family was very important to Caemon, and this is in large part because he had the opportunity to see our extended family quite a bit in his three years. He was the second grandchild born to the family and the first grandson, and our family knew just how much we wanted him. Everyone did. Caemon’s arrival was celebrated by our loved ones, and he continued to be a favorite cousin as the family expanded by yet another grandson the next year.

It should be no surprise, then, that our family carries on Caemon’s legacy in their own unique ways, each of them continuing to love him in his absence.

The summer of Caemon’s diagnosis, before we suspected he was sick, Jodi and I planned a big road trip to the Southwest, and we invited my mom to come along. Caemon was very close to his grandma, so we knew having her there would not only be great for us but a wonderful memory for the two of them. Caemon was a wonderful traveler. He could easily abide long hours in the car so long as he could listen to good music, eat tasty snacks, and engage in fun activities.

And sure enough, Caemon was a great sport. He loved the start of each day as we made our way to each new “nice room” (his term for hotel rooms. He enjoyed having adults in the backseat with him, and we have sweet memories of him holding his grandma’s hand as he napped, watching trains and towns and deserts go by from his carseat, all while wearing his ultra-cool shades. Arriving at each new destination was an adventure in itself. He would explore the rooms, check out their coffee makers and hair dryers, and he and Grandma would often make their way to the hotel’s “warm pool” (hot tub) to unwind from the drive. Caemon loved the time he had with his grandmother on this trip, and she enjoyed getting to know his daily routines, his funny preferences. One day when Jodi and I had run into a store for something, he and Grandma sat in the car together, and he asked her over and over to play Bob Marley. Not quite understanding his pronunciation, she had to ask him a few times what he wanted, but they figured it out, and our boy got to enjoy some great reggae with his Grandma.

The trip was full of sweet memories like these, new experiences that none of us would ever forget. Caemon got to see the Grand Canyon, the San Diego Zoo, Mono Lake, but more than that, he got to experience what it is like to have an adventure with family, and he loved it. We all did.

It must have been the summer after Caemon died when Grandma and Grandpa decided they would start taking the other grandkids on their own adventures. Caemon’s older cousin Bri was able to travel with Grandma and Grandpa to a few fun destinations, and as he got a little older, his younger cousin Zander had his travels with the grandparents too. It seemed that in taking that trip, my mom learned what a joy it can be to travel with children, how rewarding it is to build those memories, and she seems determined to do this as much as she can now.

Other family members have found their ways to carry on Caemon’s memory too. When we were in the hospital, my brother-in-law and sister started the “I’m a Crocodile” movement, sending croc tattoos to anyone who wanted them, urging them to send photos, and last year, they presented us with a book full of those photos of all kinds of supporters—from family and friends to his doctors and nurses to total strangers who were following his story. It’s a book of hard evidence of just how many people have been impacted by our son.

Last year, my brother, a firefighter, started hosting annual St. Baldrick’s head-shaving events with his fellow firefighters. In doing so, he has created a whole-family event. His little boy shaved his head last year for Caemon. My mom and sister both acted as event volunteers. My dad showed up to shave his head. So did Jodi. And they raised a lot of money for childhood cancer research in the process. Each year, Caemon’s uncle plans to do the same, building his events, gaining publicity, and sharing Caemon’s story with those who will listen.

The fundraising doesn’t stop with the adults in the family, though. Even Caemon’s older cousin has gotten in on it. In fundraising for our LLS Light the Night Team, our niece (and her mom) set up a lemonade stand, earning a substantial donation for our team—and in the process, they met neighbors who started their own lemonade stand to add to the efforts. My niece continues to fundraise for LLS at her school in penny drives. She’s really quite good at it.

But beyond the fundraising, the kids in our family carry on in their own ways. His cousin Bri remembers him well, grieves him still, and she tells stories of Caemon. Occasionally, she will come to us telling us she has a memory. She has memories with her grandparents and Caemon that we don’t have, moments she can tell us about that we haven’t heard before. She is a memory keeper. And so is little Zander, who was a year younger than Caemon. He loved his bigger cousin, and while his memories of him aren’t as sharp, Caemon is still a part of his consciousness. On more than one occasion, he has come to me during a family gathering to hug me and tell me he misses Caemon or that he is sorry that Caemon died. To know that these children won’t forget him, that they will carry him with them throughout their lives, even help the younger kids in the family know who he was is one of the most precious legacies anyone can carry.

And just this week, Caemon’s grandpa offered to build us a little free library we have been wanting to put on our street in his honor, another way for all of us to keep carrying on our boy’s love of reading. These gifts from our family—to us, to the rest of the family, to the world around us—just keep coming.

Caemon’s family members are all finding their ways of keeping him alive in ways that are right for them. We share stories. They come to events in his honor. They listen to us talk about him. They keep photos of him around and talk to the kids about him. He is still very much a part of our family and always will be.

On the first Christmas without Caemon, Jodi and I were hesitant to come to the big family event. We wouldn’t have our son; we would feel empty, alone, out of place, devastated. But we wanted to see them, to feel their love around us. My parents have a tradition of putting stockings up for everyone around the mantle, and we all fill the kids’ stockings with treasures. On that first Christmas, I was in such a fog that I didn’t notice his was hanging until Jodi mentioned it. She didn’t know if she wanted it up there looking empty, so she picked it up. But it wasn’t empty. Inside were notes, pictures, and ornaments for Caemon. They had all decided they wanted a way to remember Caemon, and they did. This year, his stocking was full of his favorite chocolates, more ornaments, more notes. I don’t know how long the tradition will last, but knowing that we can trust our family to keep his memory alive, that we can keep him in our family traditions, that we can help the other kids remember him or know him at all, well that’s something sacred.

Caemon loved his family, and they loved him, and in those moments when I fear he may one day be forgotten, I look at all they do to keep him here, and I breathe a little easier.

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