the elephant in the room

From Jodi:

No matter what space I occupy, there’s an elephant, with all its cliché trappings, and I have to work pretty hard to balance acknowledging it and working around it. The elephant, of course, is that I had a child who died of cancer, and I fiercely grieve him, even two and a half years later, and yes, even in the wake of a beautiful new baby daughter. Shouldn’t her arrival make that pesky elephant disappear? Or shouldn’t it at least make fewer appearances? Once might think; then again, one would be wrong.

A week after we brought the baby home, Timaree’s whole clan came to welcome the baby to the family. There was a seven-year-old, a five-year-old, and a two-year-old all crowded around Little Sister, completely enraptured by her. Grown-ups busied themselves preparing food and waiting (not so patiently) for their turn to hold the baby, meanwhile catching up on months of backlogged news. So and so is moving! Grandpa got a new job! Another pregnancy! It was familial chaos, beautiful, brilliant, and achingly incomplete. There should have been four children clamoring around the new baby. Timaree and I looked at each other, and we both saw it on the other’s face. Now, how can that big elephant fit in a space so occupied with family and love?

It always finds a way.

Just before our daughter was born, we ran into an old friend from our moms group whom we haven’t seen since Caemon’s memorial service, and she was telling us all about her daughter and how she’s starting first grade, and there that elephant was, reminding me that my son would have been in first grade had he lived.

Sometimes others see the elephant, and sometimes not. I believe it is the burden of the bereaved parent to feel the child’s absence at the molecular level in a way others cannot. I do not resent anyone for not seeing how loaded holidays and celebrations and milestones are for me. When a few special people acknowledged Timaree and I on Mother’s Day, even though Caemon was gone and Little Sis wasn’t here yet, they were acknowledging that elephant so beautifully, and for that, I love them more fiercely than they may know.

Today is August 21st, and the elephant is rampaging. Three years ago, Caemon was diagnosed with leukemia. D Day (or, diagnosis day) is a rough day for cancer parents. We hate it, dread its arrival, and it clouds everything, even dampening the bliss of new baby. Of course I am over the moon at her arrival. She’s absolutely amazing, but Timaree and I don’t get a day off from the elephant because when this anniversary passes, we will anticipate our son’s birthday in September.

Now I know there are some judgmental folks out there that think Timaree and I should be done with all this grieving business; some who have suggested we no longer write about our grief, that we should instead focus on “joyful things.” Now that there are actually joyful things to think about, I imagine we will, but to deny the elephant that walks alongside us on this journey is to ignore our son, our loss, and allow him to vanish into the fog. No way. That’s not happening. As long as I live, Caemon’s legacy and memory will remain.

We will write about Caemon and our lives without him, how we cope with our pain, the lessons that come to us over time, and we will continue to do this work as long as we need to because there is no time limit on grief. It has no expiration date, and the path toward healing is long and complicated. We will continue to talk about him in everyday conversation because our experiences as his mothers informs our world view on so many levels. We will continue to acknowledge that elephant in the room because we are learning that it helps others cope with their grief. Sometimes just a silent recognition is enough, and sometimes we just need to say out loud “I had a son who passed away from leukemia and I miss him oh-so-much.”

Like so many things in life, if you fear the elephant, its presence is dark, scary, and unwelcome. But if you turn around and look at it, stroke its ears, tell it “I see you,” life becomes a lot more authentic and manageable. Today is Caemon’s D day. How will I face it? Today I write. On his birthday, we will launch the C is for Crocodile Little Free Children’s Library. This is how not to get trampled by the elephant in the room.

20 thoughts on “the elephant in the room

  1. As always, you write so beautifully. I have two boys, and each day the second child shakes loose some memory about the first. Anyone who says the arrival of Little Star blanks out the spectacular life of Caemon does not know what they are talking about.

    I admire the way you have continually acknowledged the elephant and cared for it. I am also thinking of you all on this tough day.

  2. I could not stop myself bursting into tears when reading this. I can’t imagine how emotional it must be to have a new beautiful baby and at the same time be experiencing a whole new wave of grief. Of course you must keep writing about your loss. It is healthy and it is important x

  3. Bless your family. Keep on writing. It’s not only good for you, but important for all of us to remember that grief has no deadline, we are not promised tomorrow, and to be as full of grace as your family. ❤

  4. We will never forget our sons. Today it is 16 years since the last day I hugged my son, kissed him and told him I would see him the following day. Tomorrow will be 16 years since he died. I think I will continue to grieve for him, to write about him until the day I die.

    Yes you have a precious baby daughter, you love her, but that doesn’t in any way negate or even lessen your grief for Caemon. I love the idea of acknowledging and stroking the elephant of grief.

    Thank you for continuing to share your story. xxxx

    • How wonderful that your last memory of him was a kiss, a hug, and a promise of more of the same tomorrow. The last thing Caemon said to me was “I…Love…You…” between breaths. I will never forget and I will always be grateful, even through my tears.

  5. So beautiful and poignant. I can’t imagine anyone thinking you’d ever “move on” from the loss of your child. He will always be a part of your story, as he should be. Thinking of you both, and of Caemon, on this difficult anniversary.

  6. Thank you for writing this, and for all the writing you offer up freely Jodi. As a young lesbian hoping to find her way, I found your blog when it was still just a little TTC journey but I’ve followed along silently.

    Now there’s a new type of healing that comes to me whenever I read your blog. I’m coming up on the one year anniversary of losing our little girl Veronica, and while the loss is very different from yours, I feel like it gives me permission to acknowledge and grieve, So much of my life tells me to remain silent on her, it’s wonderful to have a voice like yours in it, who tells me to speak her name.

    Thank for you speaking your grief and making it public.

    • Emily, do not remain silent on Veronica. Your love and grief deserve an equal voice. I hate that you are in this club with me, but I’m glad we’re here together, even in the blogosphere.

  7. Please, always write about Caemon; always allow yourself to feel the grief in whatever way you need to; always know that little sister has a big brother watching over her every day—-not physically like the other children at the celebration, but he is there, I’m sure. Little sister is a true gift. So was her big brother. He was a gift that you only held for a few years….but, he is there watching over you. Hoping you get through all the “roughest” days ahead. Birthdays, holidays, etc. Caemon’s light will forever shine. Thanks to both his mom’s for sharing his story with us. You have taught us EVERY day and EVERY life is so very, very precious.

  8. The original post doesn’t mention the fact that Caemon’s older cousin, the seven-year-old, held the baby and told her all about her big brother, how much he loved her and wished he could be here with her. This elder cousin freely acknowledged the biggest elephant of all when she said “your brother can’t be here to play with you because he died of leukemia. We hope you don’t get leukemia and die too.” Children have a way of cutting through this shit, don’t they?

    • They certainly do, Jodi. Children have the ability to bring to conciousness our deepest fears, our greatest desires and so much more. Even though this took my breath away, I still believe there is much to be said for speaking our childlike truth. It’s one of our greatest gifts, one we seem to unlearn as we grow older.

      Way to stoke the elephant, little one.

      Love and hugs to you, Timaree and sweet Baby Sister. xxxx (the fourth kiss is always for Caemon)

  9. I think I’m different here in that my son hasn’t passed on but, I still lost him. Thought my context is different, I fully understand this. Birthdays, father’s days, certain holidays or even when his favorite cartoon comes on are dreaded times for me. I’ve become well acquainted w/ the elephant. I can relate in a way. Keep writing about it to help others through it via your experience & always keep his memory alive. Celebrate it, it’s a gift.

  10. I saw your littlefree library box today while walking with my family. It’s beautiful and a wonderful way to bring awareness. My son chose a book and is home now searching for the perfect book to bring back. I’m going to share it with everyone I know.

    • Thank you so much for leaving a comment here and for sharing our little library with those you know. We look forward to seeing you around the neighborhood. 😊

  11. I’m teary writing this at work. This week, we got a message to send the kids to school in gold to recognize children battling cancer. Who has a gold shirt? Orange is really close, and I thought it was totally fitting for both boys to wear their C is for Crocodile shirts. I asked Luc if anyone noticed his shirt. He said that many asked about it, and he shared Caemon’s story. He said his C is for Crocodile shirt makes him faster, that he was so fast, one of his friends said it must be magic. We remember. We see the elephant, too.

  12. Jodi, you are an amazing writer. I’m reading this on the same day I read the post where Timaree’s singing voice returned. Several times in my life there have been BIG elephants in the room and it’s hard to acknowledge them. I think of when members of my birth family died. Often it’s hard for others to share their memories of them. When it does happen, when they ‘stroke the elephant’s ear’, memories are released and shared and tears of joy and sadness run down my cheeks. Thanks Jodi.

  13. This is so beautifully written. We lost our special, most beautiful little 3 year old son Ethan to AML just 11 months ago. We are expecting a baby in April and your writing encapsulates many of the things I have experienced and anticipate we will go through when the baby arrives.

    There is no right or wrong way in this horrendously difficult journey and many people around us make so many mistakes. I suppose we have to try and be forgiving in the knowledge that only bereaved parents can truly understand the complexities of losing a precious child to a cruel disease.

    Please keep writing, it helps others in the same position more than you know…..Christina.. all the way from Northern Ireland xx

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