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.


Anonymous said...

Dear Schecks,
What a wonderful way to celebrate Henry's birthday. Reading about your fun times with him (and tough ones too), again shows all of us the love that you have for him. It will never be forgotten but it will get a little easier each day to remember more and more of the good times.

And for you Henry, thanks for coming into all of our lives and letting us see what courage really is. You are the little gift that keeps on giving. We love you!!!

The Straits
Warfordsburg, PA

Anonymous said...

Bryan and Tara,

First of all, and most importantly, Happy Birthday to your sweet boy, Henry.

You are very right about happiness. I think to myself everyday, happiness is a choice, and joy takes courage. I try really hard to choose happiness, if not always for me, then for those around me. For my boys. And of course, for Caroline, because like Henry, - she always chose happiness.

Your description of going back into Hopkins was so perfectly on target. I was right there with you as I read, I felt like I was walking every inch of that walk with you. Parking lot, cranky elevator, the wristbands, the elevator again. I used to hate to push the button for the 8th floor, just knowing what it meant. And always those sympathetic, compassionate glances. You were brave to go back.

It sounds like you made the day the best that you could, especially for the girls. I know it wasn't easy.

I think of your family and little Henry often, and hope that you are doing well.

Carol Herrmann

A Doc 2 Be said...

There are no words to truly comfort. I always found the lead up to the birthday or the anniversary was much harder.

Days will become easier, there will never be a day where Henry is not with you in some memory. As you quietly state, you embrace them, anticipate them, let them come.

I continue to be amazed at your family's courage and grace.

I continue to be amazed at little Henry's impact on all of us.

And I continue to lift you up in thoughts and prayers. Those of us out here in the blogsphere are still concerned for you.


Anonymous said...

Thanx Bryan for sharing with us how you and your gang honored Henry on his special day.
I know he is proud of all of you


Anonymous said...

My heart is so heavy for your all continue to amaze me over and over with how you are handling this time in your lives and how much thought goes into it. Your are teaching Anna and Sophie to have strong character, to always give to others and giving them the experience necessary to handle tough situations. You and Tara sound like incredible people and your children are very lucky to have you as their parents.