Thursday, July 23, 2009

Stages of Grief

We've unwillingly become more and more educated on grief. It's a strange mystery so much of the time. We didn't know what to expect for Henry's birthday yesterday. We knew it would bring difficult memories. It marks, in far too real a way, the passage of time without him. He would be five now. In fact this was a birthday he too anticipated. He would hold up his handful of fingers outstretched and tell us he was going to be 'five at my next birthday'.

So instead of letting grief do it's will yesterday we opted to be busy and do something relevant to Henry's memory. We ran into the day at full pace and hoped for the best. It turned out to be a manageable day, the anticipation of it, perhaps more difficult than the day itself. We traveled to Baltimore after stopping for a couple of toy trash trucks. I was proud of Anna as she wanted to help pay for them. The girls recounted several memories of him on the way. Sophie recalled how he loved spaghetti and he had a particular way of eating it which was always fun to watch.

The car seemed to remember the road down to Hopkins by rote, even the stop at Chick-fil-a for lunch. Every step of the trip was like pressing on a still-tender wound. Simple things like finding a parking spot and getting out of the car were absent of him. No stroller, no bags, no mask. I realized how frequently I pushed him into clinic when the walk seemed odd and I realized that I didn't have the vibration of the stroller under my hands.

Standing in the elevator, I remember the many glances we always received and the smiles when people would catch his eye. Anyone who knew what was on the 8th floor knew that children heading there were children whose lives were forever touched by cancer. I wondered what they thought of our family on this day.

We met with Henry's nurse and donated one of the trash trucks. It was a brief meeting but good to close the loop with her. It had been some time last fall that we'd seen her last as with all of the hospital staff once he was turned over to the care of hospice. It was tearful looking through the aquarium that creates a window between the play space for the oncology patients and the waiting room in which we stood now, no longer needing to enter that room, wishing to remember fully at the same time wanting to be gone from there soon. Realizing again with full force that every hour of every day there are children still suffering with cancer.

We walked the corridors together silently, all in our mental worlds. Tara undoubtedly doing as I was, remembering pushing him through the halls to occupy us during hospital stays, watching the new hospital be constructed, seeing it rain, seeing it snow, remember the conversations with him, our daily routines to radiation. It all flooded back so thoroughly.

We went up the elevator to the inpatient oncology floor and asked the girls to wait outside. We immediately were met by two of Henry's nurses and the Child Life specialist. Again we had a brief conversation, thanking them all and updating them on our current family business. Parents pass behind us in pajamas, gathering new linens from the closets as we did. Patients in beds are pushed through the halls with IV poles connected. We stood just down the hall from the room in which we spent nearly a month in. He rode around and around these halls and now the rooms were full with new patients and their families. It happens over and over and over again.

We left and drove to Canton to visit Casimir. We took a short walk through the streets, passed by the residence and silently remembered some of the times we shared together as a family and with Henry. My fondest memories of he and I are there. It was just us for a long time during his radiotherapy. Just me and him. This was the hardest part of the day for me. We passed along where we first caught a water taxi. He loved the boats in the harbor.

We made our way back to the car, got some ice cream for the girls and headed home as the sky opened with tears of its own. Leaving Baltimore the rain stopped as suddenly as it began. Dry pavement and wet cars. Another analogy to grief, just when you think an episode will last forever, it evaporates and the sun comes out. We gathered in Frederick for a nice picnic with Tara's family. All in all a nice day to remember Henry.

After Henry's relapse, moment by moment, I would take in his presence and remember all too painfully that I would be in this or that place or doing this or that activity without him soon. I knew there would be birthday's without him. I imagined the future and that helped me focus on the now. Yesterday we were in the same places doing the same things but now only the memories of him to comfort us.

What do we have control over at such times? Shall we submit ourselves to overwhelming despair? Should we ignore the memories of him to muster a false smile? Do we press down our emotions because we feel as though we cannot allow ourselves to be happy? Do we give ourselves over to grief? Does being happy negate our sadness?

I only come back to asking myself what can I control? What can I realistically influence? So I try let grief in when it knocks on the door and allow it to leave when it's done. The lesson Henry taught was acceptance and I'll try to honor that.

Finally, thank you to everyone who passed along their wishes for a good day and happy memories, dropped us a line or otherwise yesterday. We felt uplifted by the support.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Happy Birthday Henry

We've anticipated this day with some anxiety, not knowing how to celebrate and remember Henry. My memories of him wax and wane, but lately they have been pronounced. The difficulty with loss is that you want to remember every detail, but every detail is a sharp reminder of what is gone. It is so difficult to separate the memories from the wishing.

I went for a long walk this morning and decided that today I'd be happy. Tara is off today, we're planning to visit Baltimore to donate some toys to the Child Life group that was so helpful to Henry. I'm sure there will be moments of sadness, memories that will be recalled for the place we're in. But I will continue to remind myself that we had wonderful times and that even if given the chance we wouldn't have chosen not to help Henry through that. It was our honor and our privilege to be his family and he will always be our son, brother, grandson, cousin and nephew.

Everyday when we awake we have a choice to be happy. I'm not always successful and many days I forget I have that choice or cannot convince myself that I can make that choice, but remembering him today, I'm grateful for what I do have - loving memories of him and today with my family.

So today we'll remember Henry and be happy.

Happy Birthday son. We love you.