Thursday, April 30, 2009


According to many grief models, the first stage of grief is denial. It is also possible, as we've learned, to do 'anticipatory grieving' or grieving for the inevitable. We knew from the onset of Henry's disease that the chances for survival were slim. At least for me, once he began to have clean scans, then we bombarded his cancer with the strongest chemotherapy available topped off by radiotherapy, I became optimistic. He looked good, felt good - was good.

When he relapsed, we knew what that meant. I remember getting the call from our oncologist. "It's bad." I remember where I stood, where Tara was, my mood, everything. It was news that at some level, I think we eventually expected. We dreaded it, hoped it wouldn't arrive, but when it came, I didn't feel any shock. Just something I'd desperately hoped to avoid.

We had months to anticipate, to tell him we loved him, to see relatives, to enjoy the holidays - to hold him. We wanted to value every minute, each second with him. I feel very confident we did our absolute best.

When Henry died, I remember the awful stab of departure. It had been quick, but we'd seen it coming. It was painless for him, but difficult for us. We'd been as prepared as we could possibly be for the end and it had gone as well as we could have hoped for.

We knew full well what was going to happen. We'd told our families. Our girls knew what to expect. There was really no surprise about any of it. How could we possibly deny any of it?

The business of the memorial service and comfort of friends and family in droves, the purpose of readying for the service and of intensity of properly honoring his memory kept our minds occupied in a positive fashion and kept us going. We were sad. We recalled with tears our happy moments. We felt grateful for the love we shared with him and with those surrounding us.

Normalcy crept upon us but felt oddly hollow. We expected that too. How could we possibly feel normal as a family of four - without cancer in our lives - after living for so long with Henry and the cancer that was part of him? Yes, that too, we anticipated. It will take time.

The departure of cancer provided relief for us. Hordes of time opened in front of us; time to spent with our girls, to sleep, take long weekends, give back to our supportive communities, re-create ourselves with our new appreciation for life. Henry was gone, but he left behind a trove of lessons, gifts for us to learn from and incorporate into who we are to become. This is renewal. This is life. This is rebirth. This has become comforting to know he lives on so integral to the lives he's touched. A bounty of good, come from so horrible a thing.

So I dismissed denial. I understood what had happened. I knew my son had died of brain cancer. We had peace in that he didn't suffer. He didn't know he was ill and was happy until the day he died. Job well done. We managed through to the end with our marriage in tact, our family strong, our wits not too badly damaged and with a healthy appreciation of life.


Each moment in this future which I anticipated is so real and so empty of him. Anticipating missing him is nothing like actually missing him. So many moments without his quirky sayings, his laugh or his gravity. Yes, his gravity. It's like his pull on our family is gone. We don't have to adjust for him any longer and it's thrown our center of gravity off fiercely.

I'm beginning to understand that, for me anyway, denial is not really about mentally or analytically accepting what has happened. I don't think I've been able to bypass denial with any amount of thinking. Denial for me has been physical. Until I'm in an actual moment and have the experience of not having him in that moment, my physical body cannot acclimate to his being gone. I really don't think my body has allowed me to truly process what has happened. I've found my brain reminding myself that he's gone. Replaying his death, torturing myself over the details as if to make myself believe it more wholly. I don't know what the function is of this physical denial. I don't know why. But the longer I walk this road, the heavier my steps are becoming. The weight of what has happened is beginning to settle on me. It's gradual, but it's heavy.

"Henry will not get another birthday" "There will be no masculine bonding" "You will not see him at 10 or 15 or 50" "You will not see him be a dad" "You will not see him play with his cousins" "You will not teach him to drive" "You will not see him graduate" ... "You will no longer have a son."

These things I must live with.



And there's nothing to be done about it.

Perhaps denial is nature's way of letting the dust settle instead of overwhelming us with it at once. It's painful enough this way. I suppose it would be incapacitating otherwise.

So I've invited denial into my house for a time. I don't know how long it will stay and I don't know how or when to expect what's next. If there's one special thing I learned from my time with Henry, it's to accept what we're given.


Anonymous said...


My heart breaks for you as I read your words. I am in such amazement of you and your family, the strength and love that you have shown and continue to show for one another is heartwarming. During the walk, I talked to my dad about your blog. More specifically, Dear Henry's journey, your love and strength as a family and your courage and continuation of your strength to go on after Henry's passing.

I can not begin to tell you that I know what you feel for I can not even imagine. I do know that you and your family are wonderful people and together with God, you will be okay.


Natalie West

Anonymous said...

I wish there was something we could say or do(physically) to help. But we continue to pray for the four of you. Grief is a heavy burden to carry around. Over time God will lighten your load. But you couldn't feel Him lighten the load unless you carried the full burden of it for some time. I'm sure nothing we say helps. Keep expressing your feelings in the blog.

Praying for you all daily.

Anonymous said...

You are an exceptional writer -- capable of capturing the most difficult of human emotion. Your words are so heavy with your grief, but what I always feel most every time I read a new post is your love. How tremendously you loved--and still love--that beautiful boy and your wife and daughters. Your strength remains inspiring.

Anonymous said...

My heart is also breaking as i read this. Its so incredibly unfair for any human to lose their child. I wish there were word of comfort. i wish there was a way to bring your sweet boy back. Its just unfair.

THAT GIRL said...

it is amazing how "denial" and "grief" throw us into a mode of measuring time by what moments our loss is not living...

praying for you continued comfort

Anonymous said...

I have been thinking of you a lot these past few days and I was wondering how you were doing. Reading your words, I can feel your pain - or some of it anyway - I am so sorry for all of you and wish I could do something that would help. All I can do is tell you that we are still here, thinking of all of you and praying for you...and hope that it helps you some to know that we all care very deeply. If our tears could help erase your pain your burden would be so much less. Instead, we cry along with you and wish we could help.

Anonymous said...

I feel your loss as I have just lost my aunt, to cancer. She was my sister, aunt, best friend. You have captured all my emotions in your blog. I am sorry for your loss of your beautiful boy. He is with you always. Take care and love eachother.