Category Archives: anniversaries

four augusts

It’s hard to go much of anywhere on social media this month without seeing parents rejoicing at the end of summer and the start of a new school year–that time of year when parents get more freedom and kids are the responsibility of some other adult for at least a few hours a day. Advertisements on television, mom blogs, displays in stores all point to the same euphoric feeling of relief that parents have this time of year, counting down the days until school starts. The culminating event of all this build-up is the iconic first-day of school photo, kids all decked out in their new-school-year finery captioned by their parents’ lament: “I wish she would just stop growing.” August on social media is a minefield for the bereaved parent.

All that festive back-to-school clamor hurts for fairly obvious reasons, but for me personally, it also heralds the beginning of the darker months, the time when, four years ago, all of the outside world became a jumble of voices and lights, and I focused everything I had on saving my son, only to find that these were the last months I would share with him.

My wife’s birthday was a week ago. It was a lovely day of celebrating, but that day too is marred by the beginning of the end. Four years ago on her birthday, we had our last family photos taken–the iconic photos that have become Caemon the Legend, Caemon the Hero, Caemon, the Beautiful Boy Who Had Cancer, Caemon the Poster Child for JMML. Exactly one week following that day, August 21st, was D-Day: the anniversary of our initiation into the cancer club.

In fact, four years ago at this very moment,  Jodi and I were sitting in the hallway of the children’s oncology unit at UCSF, talking to a hematology fellow who would confirm that our son had some form of leukemia. I remember shaking so hard I could hardly sign the consent forms for the studies he was entering. It was just the beginning.

August is the keeper of so many beginnings. It holds Caemon’s first day of preschool, his first camping trip in the redwoods, but after August 21st, it held his first stay in the PICU, his first chemo, his first oncologist. After February, this is the month I dread the most. One might think, four years on now, that I should be getting over the diagnosis, that I should learn to move on, that I should place all my focus on my healthy baby girl and teaching and new hopes and dreams and somehow forget. But how can I when it’s August?

It’s August, and before I know it it will be September and his birthday, October and November and the memories of the hospital, December and his bone marrow transplant, January and his relapse, and February, the end–the end of my beautiful Caemon.

It’s August, and I don’t have my boy who should be going to school, and I am not rejoicing. It’s August, and my son did stop growing. August is just too heavy to forget.

The coming months are the hard ones for me. They bring with them so many difficult memories, and while my daughter and my imaginings of her future do certainly provide a counterweight–even respite–to some of that pain, this time of year will forever be changed for me. There will never be a back-to-school season when I don’t wonder what a seven-year-old or thirteen-year-old or college freshman Caemon might have been like. There will never be a Halloween when I don’t think of his return to the hospital in his nurse costume or a Winter Solstice when I don’t think of his transplant.

And so, with August 21st, I enter the season of missing my son more poignantly. Another year has passed since the beginning of his end, four years of Augusts without him.

 

traversing this life

In just a few days, we will be enduring the one-year anniversary of Caemon’s diagnosis. This month is excruciating. Last summer with Caemon was so beautiful, and yet, when we look back on last August, it’s impossible not to see the little boy who didn’t feel well for no apparent reason, the boy with all the bruises and the dark circles under his eyes, our little boy who was, indeed very, very sick.

A year ago this weekend, we took him to an air show. He had fallen in love with a local air museum here last summer. That was, in fact, where his tattoo obsession began (they gave him a bunch of air museum tattoos). He was so sick that weekend. He didn’t even want the rare treat of frozen yogurt we offered him. We thought he was just reacting to an antibiotic. We were so wrong.

It is so hard to express the pain this month has brought. I find myself trying to stay busy only to find myself too busy, too overwhelmed with projects and ways of bringing meaning to Caemon’s life and death. And how busy can I stay, really? There will always be another date looming ahead. After the diagnosis anniversary will come Caemon’s birthday and then the holidays and the anniversary of his transplant and the anniversary of his relapse and the anniversary of his death. And in between will be every fifth of the month marking yet another month I’m missing my boy in my arms. This month it was six. Six long months.

There are days in between when I’m okay, days when I even laugh and go about my life as though I’m a normal human being walking the planet, but I am finding the hard days are just as hard if not harder than before. I find myself struggling just to bring words to the page, but I want to, so here I am, not a lot to say, not a lot to share because it’s all so oddly, freshly painful once again. I’m learning yet again that this is how grief works. There is no straight line from beginning to end. It’s a tangle of bumpy roads and well-worn paths and plenty of cutting straight across untouched, sometimes seemingly insurmountable terrain. The kicker is that I never know where any of these paths is going to take me. I just keep walking.

Below are some photos from last year at this time:

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