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.