David was in France for nearly two weeks, on a school-sponsored trip with his French teacher and 14 other students. This is one of the experiences that we dreamed we might be able to provide for our children, since travel abroad has been one of the great joys of Gregg’s and my life.
We are well aware that in financial times like these, a trip to Europe is a huge expense that we could certainly do without. But we couldn’t pass up the opportunity for heart, mind, soul & body blessing that a trip like this would give to our son. So we let him go…far, far away, where we could not see him, and could not be sure to hear from him, for 12 days.
This is not a big deal to some families, but it is to ours, nowadays. Since Katie passed away, “letting go” of David has become one of my more difficult pieces of inner work. It’s not as if I have a perpetual hold on David, nor as if I have to send him out into the world, all alone, forever, at age 16; it’s more that I have to consciously resist the impulse to cling a little more to him, worry a little bit more about him, than I would have if Katie hadn’t been diagnosed with an invisible, asymptomatic, fatal tumor, and died from it. If she were alive and well, I would still be concerned with the welfare of both of our children, but the thought of losing one of them wouldn’t be so REAL to me.
Learning that your child has cancer is awful, but it still leaves room for hope…hope for a cure, hope for remission, hope for her future. When you are told that she is definitely going to die, your hopes change: hope becomes hope for a miracle, and then for mercy, for a gentle passing, for love to help you to help her, each step of the way.
When we learned that 12-year old Katie was going to pass away, we had no idea how much time we would have with her (it turned out to be about 4 weeks). We had to face the fact that it was going to happen, and do our best, loving each other, taking care of her physical needs, and waiting. We only had the present moment, and it was not always a pleasant moment, but it was bearable, because we still had Katie with us.
It is excruciating to try to accept the fact that your child is going away from home, without you, to a place you cannot go now, when you are not finished helping her grow up. It feels wrong, because it is wrong.
Occasionally, Katie brought up the subject of her own death. She sometimes expressed her concern for us, for how we were going to cope without her. During one of those conversations, I told her, “Maybe I will try to think of you as if you are at college. I will think of you every day, send love to you every day, and miss you every day. I could think of you as if you were in another state, having new experiences of your own, like you would at college.” And I do think about her, miss her & send love to her, countless times each day.
This way of thinking about her has obvious limitations, however. If she were away at college, we could mail, email, text and speak to each other on the telephone; she would come home for vacations, so we could hug her, see her, listen to her voice and shower her with love, in person. We could watch her grow. I realized, after she passed away, that this way of visualizing her does not fully comfort me, because I want her here, and there is no substitute for that.
Since I believe in life after death, it is as if she is in “another state,” a state of being, of consciousness, that I cannot see. I believe that she exists, and that love passes back and forth between us; I sense it. It’s not as good as having her here with us, healthy and growing up, but it’s better than having no hope or faith at all.
Sending David off to another continent, another country, across an ocean, was a big step for me. He did have a phone that worked (thank goodness!), and he was able to chat with us on it, and online; we were very fortunate in that. And he had a wonderful, life-changing time, living with a French family, attending school, seeing beautiful art, architecture, nature and landmarks. We are deeply thankful for this. But most of all, it is a great joy that this child, who went to a far-away place where we could not see him nor accompany him, came home, safely! It gives me hope and faith for the next steps of his growth, and mine…such as his high school graduation, college, and eventually, moving into the world on his own.
You can also read this posting over at www.hopefulparents.org.