farewell, dear friend

Yesterday, a friend of mine died, a friend I never had the pleasure to meet. Three and half years ago, she began commenting on this blog. She found me through a mutual friend and followed Caemon’s story to the end. When my boy died, this woman I had never known but who wrote the most beautiful comments reached out to me. Her only son had died too, as had her husband. And so even though we were decades apart in age and oceans apart in space, we became sisters on this dark path that is grief.

When Caemon was diagnosed with cancer, I never imagined the good that could come out of it, and when he died, I certainly never thought that there could be bright spots. I have learned since that the bonds I have formed with other bereaved parents and other parents of children with cancer are some of the truest and deepest I have known.

Throughout the past few years, my friend has come to feel like family. She has sent me voice messages on my birthday, poems and letters for my son, my wife, my daughter, myself. She has shown me that grieving openly and earnestly and without apology is important. Throughout the past three years, she has grieved with me through the magic of the internet, remembering every anniversary, honoring my process, helping me see that one can live with this albatross of grief with grace. We have read one another’s writing, commented thoughtfully, offered words of comfort and warmth, and more than anything, we have understood the other.

I had dreams of traveling to Australia and finally giving her a hug, of sitting with her all night talking about our sons, crying and laughing together as I knew we would. I know I would have enjoyed her cheeky humor even more in person. I think she would have liked my own sly wit. It would have been more a meeting of long-lost friends than internet strangers, for we were two bereaved mothers, two women longing for their sons, two women so familiar with pain but unafraid to laugh, two travelers in lives that became almost too painful to bear, two survivors of the worst loss. We knew one another’s souls. But that meeting was not meant to be.

I will not be able to see my friend off in the traditional sense. I won’t be attending a memorial or visiting her grave, but I can say my goodbyes right where we said our hellos. And as much as I already miss her, and as much as I know everyone she touched misses her, I also know she has finally escaped the unrelenting suffering of her grief.

T, sweet friend, wherever you are, may you finally revel in the twinkling of those lights.

You can read T’s poem “Twinkly Lights” inspired by a post about Caemon on her own blog here



Thirty Days of Caemon–Day Five: Caemon’s Story–Explaining the Impossible

When Caemon died, he had a number of peers who knew him, who knew he was sick and in the hospital, and the parents of these children–his cousins, his friends, even children he didn’t know–had to figure out how to tell their children about death in ways that they would understand but also in ways that wouldn’t scare them. I felt for these parents, but I was also curious about how they would do it, how they would help children Caemon’s age understand something he didn’t understand himself. Where had Caemon gone? Why wasn’t he with his moms? Could this happen to them? Honestly, these were questions we all had.

Parents in our lives shared with us the many strategies they tried to use to help their children understand Caemon’s untimely death. Two different friends told their children that they could choose a star for Caemon, and that every time they saw that star, they would be able to say hello to him. Months later, these girls still pointed out their Caemon stars. Some obviously used their spiritual beliefs to explain where Caemon had gone; others tried to help their children understand the cycle of life, that we all have lifetimes with beginnings and ends, some much shorter than others; others waited, not knowing if the time was right at all to share this loss with their children. No one was wrong. Every parent did what they needed to do to help their children navigate waters they never imagined.

We knew at Caemon’s memorial service that many of his peers would be present. In fact, we invited their parents to bring them; after all, they needed to say goodbye as much as we did. However, we also wanted to let them have a time for their own understanding of Caemon’s death–and then a time to leave and play as well. To help make this something they would understand, we entrusted a dear friend with writing a story for Caemon, and we asked her to tell the story at his service. As you will see, we asked just the right person, for this magical story was something for all of us.

We invite you to read her story, written for Caemon, here on our blog:


“Caemon’s Story” by Crystal McDougall

Once upon a time there was a boy who died.  Half of him went floating, but the other half stayed grounded. The half a boy looked with his half-a-boy eyes and he saw what he saw, and what he saw was Light.

“Who are you?” asked the half a boy.

“I am Light. You have known me your whole sweet life.  You have played in my rays and I have warmed your face every day.  Since I know you so well, I volunteered to come and collect you.”

“Where are we going?” asked the half a boy curiously.

“Wherever you want,” answered Light. “You can go anywhere and be anything.”

“Anything?!” the half a boy shouted, positively glowing with glee.

“Anything,” answered Light beaming down on him. No sooner had the half a boy thought it that click went the light and the half a boy was a….

Bird! He was a fantastic, flighty, floating, fearless, flying bird.  He swooped and soared, singing his little heart out to the wind and sky.  He gathered speed and shot straight down, so close to the ground that if Light had eyes she would have covered them.  But the half a boy pulled up just in time and went skimming over the grass so fast it tickled his belly.  He whooped and hollered and did loop-de-loops until he was very happy but very tired.  Just as he landed on a branch of a nearby tree, big wet raindrops began to fall from the sky.

“Light!” shouted the half a boy in the bird’s body.  “I have no nest to take shelter in, and flying is fun but it sure is a lot of work. Can I be something else?”

“Anything you want,” answered Light.

“Anything?!” sang the half a boy in the bird’s body.  No sooner had the half a boy in the bird’s body thought it that click went the light and the half a boy was a ….

Deer!  He was a remarkable, rambunctious, racing, radiant, running deer.  He dashed through the sweet smelling forest leaping and jumping.  He skipped over streams and splashed through brooks.  He pranced and bounced and danced his heart out, and soared over a bush so high that if Light had eyes she wouldn’t have believed them.  But after a while the half a boy in the deer’s body began to slow down.  He stopped in the middle of the sweet smelling forest and listened to the peaceful quiet. 

Then the half a boy in the deer’s body said, “Light, running is fun, but it is hard work. Can I be something else?”

 “Anything you want,” answered Light.

“Anything!?” laughed the half a boy in the deer’s body.  No sooner had he thought it that click went the light and the half a boy was a…

Crocodile! He was a sly, strong, swift, sensational, swimming crocodile.  He glided through the cool green water with ease. He zigged and zagged and dipped and dove to his heart’s content.  He whipped his powerful tail in the water and dove straight down to the bottom to settle in the mud so dark that if Light had eyes, she wouldn’t have been able to see.  The half a boy in the crocodile’s body saw many wonderful and amazing things deep down under the water.  But after a while he began to tire of swimming, and he began to wish he was some place warm and dry and safe.  He swam up, up, up and barely broke the surface so his crocodile eyes gleamed above the green water.  

The half a boy grinned his crocodile grin and said, “Light, I am very tired.  I think I would like to go home to rest now.  I want to go back to my boy body.”  Light shone down on the half a boy and if Light had eyes she would have been crying.

“I am sorry my darling half a boy, but you can never go back.  You have lived so many lives and you have grown so very much that you no longer fit into your boy body.” The half a boy looked with his half-a-boy eyes and saw what he saw and what he saw was, it was true.  He had grown so much that there was no way he would be able to fit all of his half-a-boy self back into that little boy body. 

So the half a boy turned to Light and asked bravely,” Well, where do we go from here? What’s next?”

Light kneeled down right next to that half a boy and whispered in his half a boy ear, “There’s always beyond.”

“Beyond what?” asked the half a boy.

“Beyond here.” answered Light.

“How do we get there?” asked the half a boy. “Do we fly, or run, or swim?”

“No,” answered light.  “We simply walk. Beyond is just over that hill.”

“Can we rest there?” asked the half a boy, rubbing his sleepy half-a-boy eye.

“Oh yes. In Beyond everyone can rest if they so choose, or they can run or dance or sing or do anything they ever wanted to do.”

“Anything?!” smiled the half a boy still glowing with glee.

“Anything,” answered Light, and together they walked over the hill to Beyond.


And so, you see, this story is Caemon’s legacy too–this story, which has been shared with a number of children trying to cope with death, with adults trying to grasp it themselves. Our dear Crystal gave this gift to us all.

Jodi and I are occasionally asked for resources for children facing the death of a loved one. If you find yourself in this position, you may, of course, share the link to this story. A few other books we often recommend, which, not surprisingly are wonderful for both adults and children include those listed below. Consequently, these are all books that were gifted to us shortly after Caemon’s death, and they are all books we found profoundly helpful and beautiful.

  • Lifetimes: The Beautiful Way to Explain Death to Children,  by Bryan Mellonie and Robert Ingpen
  • The Next Place, by Warren Hanson
  • Tear Soup: A Recipe for Healing After Loss by Patricia Schwiebert