Monthly Archives: June 2015

Daddy’s Love

After Aiden’s July 22, 2011 MRI he was taken back to his room to sleep off the sedatives he’d been given. Tim and I sat for a while before deciding we should eat something before the doctor came back with results. He left to get our late lunch. I sat on the edge of the hospital bed and tried to watch the old black and white movie that was playing on the little TV hovering over us.

The doctor came in much sooner than expected. He trailed in a couple of other doctors and some nurses. “Hello, Mrs. Vergori. I’m a pediatric oncologist. We need to talk.” I only needed the specifics at that point; I knew an oncologist I’d never met wouldn’t be the one to break good news.

The trouble was that Tim wasn’t there. We waited a few minutes. I could feel my heart pounding through my ribs. My mouth was dry and my stomach cramping. The medical professionals huddled awkwardly in the background while Dr B asked if I wanted to go look for Tim. I took a quick turn around the food court and skimmed through the convenience stores without finding him. I hoped I’d missed him and he was back in the room. He wasn’t.

I waited a few more minutes before telling Dr B that he would have to talk to me alone. He answered that I would need Tim with me for the news. I told him that I already knew it was bad news and that I couldn’t sit there while they all stared at me with the knowledge of my son’s condition. I couldn’t wait. He conceded.

I followed him out of Ward C (the pediatric oncology ward, I would later find out—they had suspected cancer all along, even checking him in there before he was diagnosed), and into what I later knew to be the Pediatric Day Unit. It was where kids with cancer went for treatments that didn’t require hospital admission. It was closed for the day. I was led by Dr B into Room 4, and followed by our medical entourage. They filed in and took seats facing the doctor and me. All eyes were on us. He and I were the show.

His English-accented voice was soft and direct. I tried to catch what he was saying but it came in hard, earth-shaking waves. I could only hear small threads of the total monologue: The brainstem should be narrow, but it was big and bulging. A tumor. No cure. Radiation supplying a small amount of time. Treatment. Our family was American. We might want to move back home immediately. I don’t remember saying anything but I must have because he answered: without treatment Aiden had months; with radiation he might have a year.

What struck me as absurd, and still does, was that after his talk our audience let out a collective sigh and someone exclaimed how brave I was; “not even a tear”. Had someone knocked me silly with a cast iron frying pan I may have looked and acted much the same as I did then. If you’ve ever had a car accident, you may have experienced the slow-motion moments from when you realize you’re going to crash until the seconds after when the damage is done. That’s where I was: slow-motioned shock.

The entourage filed out and I was left with Dr B. I can’t tell you if we spoke. I have the sense that we did. Somehow he knew when Tim arrived and went to get him.

I could see through the windows into Ward C from my hard plastic seat in Room 4. I saw Tim walk down the hall, shopping bag in hand. I saw the doctor pull him aside, and Tim gesture that he would put the food in the room. I could see his tension. His face didn’t show emotion, but I saw the intensity of his eyes.

And then I experienced my first wave of conscious emotion: I felt unspeakable sorrow that Tim was going to be told his son would die.

It’s strange, the way the mind parcels out bits of emotion slowly so one isn’t overwhelmed. It was days before I had a coherent thought concerning my own feelings about the cancer. I actually apologized to others when I told them about the tumor. “I’m so sorry I have to tell you this…” I remember the shock on a friend’s face when I broke the news- I fully comprehended her thoughts and feelings. I couldn’t tell my own for anything in the world.

And so it was with my first emotions: I was horrified and broken that Tim would have to walk into Room 4. When he did, he took on the weight of the new world we lived in.

Tim’s thoroughness and hope were apparent from that first meeting. He asked intelligent questions, seeking to understand. He heard the name of the diagnosis: diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma. He gleaned information from Dr B, and throughout that night formulated more questions to ask in the morning. (We stayed a night because Aiden remained very sedated.) He expressed deep concern for the pituitary gland that would be killed off due to radiation, even though we were told that it wouldn’t matter- the doctor said Aiden would be gone by the time that became an issue. Tim refused to believe that. He only agreed to radiation when he was assured what was lost with the pituitary could be replaced with a pill.

Once we got home, he spent hundreds of hours researching possible therapies for Aiden. Since so many cancers have gone from terminal to survivable, it’s reasonable to assume that DIPG has a medical cure as well. Tim set out find it. His studies ranged from natural treatments to legal drugs. While I did much of the hands-on work for Aiden, Tim did the virtual work via the internet. He read many studies and eliminated options while pursuing others.

He reminded me of the father in the parable of the prodigal son. He never gave up. His eyes remained on the horizon, looking for the signs of hope. While we were told to accept the inevitable, Tim wouldn’t. Giving up on Aiden wasn’t an option. Eleven months after the diagnosis, he remained so singly focused on Aiden’s recovery that I had to call his attention to the signs of Aiden’s last minutes approaching.

I’ve learned volumes on Tim’s character through this experience. I have seen the deepest level of loyalty, faith and determination possible. What must have looked like denial to some was actually one of the deepest loves known- a father’s for his child.

Tim has a famous family saying that, honestly, drives the kids and me a little nuts: “Stick together!” We don’t walk through a parking lot in a broken group without hearing him call it out. But now it means something more to me. I don’t just hear “stick together”, I hear “I won’t leave you.” That’s what he said to Aiden and what he would say to any of our kids, and to me. It’s not that Aiden was the special exception that received this devotion; Tim initiated it because of who he is. He wants to provide for us, to protect us.

I’ve learned so much of God’s love for us. The pain I endured seeing my son suffer and die, my heavenly Father endured for my sake, though His son Jesus was perfect in every way and needn’t be subject to human suffering. The dedication Tim showed to Aiden is only a shadow of what God shows to us. God’s love is Tim’s love, perfected and multiplied. What Tim showed in months, God shows outside time. Tim is limited by the boundaries of his skin; God hasn’t a single boundary. His love is perfect.

“When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father,the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth.I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.” (Ephesians 3:14-19)

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How I Feel

“I don’t want to ever be ‘okay’ again. I want to be happy and enjoy my time with family and friends and do what I’m here to do and count my many blessings, but I never want to go a day without feeling my loss. That loss, that hole in my life, represents my deep, undying love for Aiden. It represent the years and the moments of our lives together. Have him back? Yes. Live a life completely comfortably without him? No. He was too important to move on from. So, I’ll not be ruined by my broken heart but I will feel my broken heart and carry it with me till I die. If I have to live without him, I wouldn’t have it any other way.” -Reese Vergori 

Round and Round

“For in grief nothing ‘stays put.’ One keeps on emerging from a phase, but it always recurs. Round and round. Everything repeats. Am I going in circles, or dare I hope I am on a spiral? But if a spiral, am I going up or down it? How often — will it be for always? — how often will the vast emptiness astonish me like a complete novelty and make me say, ‘I never realized my loss till this moment’? The same leg is cut off time after time.” ― C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed  

I’m definitely feeling this right now. I have found myself experiencing the same emotions I had in the weeks after Aiden left, with the same intensity. I think this is partly due to the fact we are approaching the one year anniversary of his death. The same leg cut off time after time.

Mourning Mother’s Society

Modern western culture doesn’t do grief. It doesn’t do mourning. It can handle funerals, and the first days after death, but beyond that an individual is on one’s own. In a society where everything broken must be fixed and everything not put together must be presented as put together, a person in deep mourning is out of place. In movies and television shows, grieving parents are usually shown as crazy or suicidal, rarely as people deeply immersed in mourning for their children in a healthy way. I don’t think most people have a clue what that looks like. As a result, mourning parents can feel like blight on “normal” society. They don’t fit in anywhere, unless they are willing to act “normal”. 

This is why I was relieved to discover the Mourning Mother’s Society. They don’t advertise, but when I find that another woman has experienced the loss of a child, my heart is instantly knit to hers. We have a kinship that’s nearly impossible to find elsewhere. Of course, there are different facets of this society, as some have experienced miscarriage or early pregnancy loss, some stillbirth or early infancy death, SIDS, accidents, illnesses, murder, and suicide. I can’t pretend to understand them all, but I understand the pain of having my child taken from me. That we all have in common. 

It’s funny, the things that become blessings after a loss. What once would have looked like a curse becomes balm to a mom’s heart. This happened for me on Sunday. I found myself unexpectedly sitting on a couch by a friend who also lost her son. Years ago, I sat cluelessly with her as she poured out her grief. I did my best to sympathize, but I couldn’t empathize. I didn’t even realize how wholly inadequate I was for her at the time. What I did right was to give her an ear. But I didn’t really, truly understand. Fast forwarding nearly twenty years: we sat on a couch, silently holding hands and crying. The tears streaming down our faces were for ourselves, for our sons, for each other. No words necessary. I didn’t feel ashamed or embarrassed or awkward as I would have in the company of someone who hadn’t experienced this loss. I was safe from uncomfortable looks, awkward silences, well-meant but unhelpful words, and that tinge of anxiety I feel because I know I’m the odd one out in any room. What a blessing those tears, that silence and the woman sitting next to me as we shouldered our burdens together for those moments. It was like breathing again for a brief period of time. 

The Bible says

 All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4, NLT)

This is an “upside” to suffering: sharing the comfort we have received from God. The comfort my friend shared was painfully earned wisdom, and it was golden. I want to stress that there are people who I can be very real with and who comfort me yet haven’t experienced the same loss. They tend to be people who have been very close to loss, even if it wasn’t their own children, or who God has just given a special measure of grace to. These women let me be myself, let my mourning take whatever face it wants at the time. God has used these people regularly in my life. In the spirit of education for those who haven’t experienced loss, I’d like to offer a few suggestions for dealing with grieving and mourning mothers, and people in general:

Don’t use clichés, no matter how true they are. They probably won’t help, and they may actually hurt. For example, “He’s in a better place” may be a true statement, but to a mourning mother’s emotions that “better place” is in her arms. What she knows in her heart may not be registering with her emotions and what she really needs is balm for the emotions.

Silence really is golden. As badly as you wish they would, your words won’t fix it and she isn’t expecting them to. Sometimes all she needs is to know you’re there. Plus, it will keep you from spouting off clichés!

Respect when she needs to be alone. It isn’t a statement on your relationship; it’s a statement on her process.

Don’t be embarrassed by her displays of mourning: tears wherever she may be (grocery store, church, standing on a sidewalk), walking around with her child’s stuffed animal, wearing a veil (I’ve seriously considered it!) or a sweatshirt covered in her child’s name (I have done this), talking about her child, writing her child’s name on herself (done it), etc. She’s already aware that she doesn’t fit into society; let her fit in with you.

Carry an ounce of her pain with her.Your tears let her know she isn’t alone. Those tears do more good for her soul than a hundred beautiful words.

Memorialize her child in your own special way. One fear she has- one of the realities she hates- is that while her child lives on in her thoughts, dreams and heart, he is gone from the earth and no longer recognized. She may have the death certificate to prove that the world has moved on, she may visit his grave and know she is only one of a few to do so. Life has continued, as it must. Honoring his memory honors her as well.

Talk about her child. She didn’t forget that he died; you won’t “remind” her by mentioning him. On the contrary, she is comforted to know others remember.

Know you’ll get it wrong. It’s okay. Your love is the most important thing.

Rely on the guidance of the Holy Spirit. He was sent to be the Counselor, so follow his lead and ask his advice as you walk with an individual in mourning. Always ask for his presence. He is the ultimate Comforter.

Hanging By a Rope

“You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn’t you then first discover how much you really trusted it?…Only a real risk tests the reality of a belief.” ― C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

Awkwardness 

“An odd by-product of my loss is that I’m aware of being an embarrassment to everyone I meet. At work, at the club, in the street, I see people, as they approach me, trying to make up their minds whether they’ll ‘say something about it’ or not. I hate it if they do, and if they don’t. Some funk it altogether. R. has been avoiding me for a week. I like best the well brought-up young men, almost boys, who walk up to me as if I were a dentist, turn very red, get it over, and then edge away to the bar as quickly as they decently can. Perhaps the bereaved ought to be isolated in special settlements like lepers.” ― C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

With God All Things Are Possible

Can good come from the loss of a child? 

At the beginning of our journey through grief and mourning, I said that I knew mentally that good could come from Aiden leaving for Heaven, but my feelings remained defiant that it was possible in real terms. My wounded heart couldn’t comprehend “Something good can come from this”; that felt too much like “Aiden will be replaced with something better.” 

In the painful fog of early grieving, there really isn’t a place for looking ahead. Eating, sleeping, and showering take up enough energy. The focus is brought in, close and tight, and the concerns very immediate. It was hard enough realizing he was actually gone, despite touching him as he breathed his last, dressing him for the last time, seeing Tim carry his lifeless body downstairs and the well-dressed men from the funeral home wheeling him away. I could still “see” him in my bed. His medications were still scattered around my room; the sheets he’d died on were still in the wash. I broke down in Tim’s arms: He’s got to be around here somewhere

Reality is slow to sink into the grieving mind. There can’t be a future good when you can’t even see past this moment, and when this moment remains clouded. Slowly, the fog is lifting and I am beginning to see how God can bring good from our loss. Aiden is irreplaceable and there will never be a “better” than having him here with us. I do believe that God will redeem our loss and that from Aiden’s suffering and our obedience in giving glory to The Lord despite circumstances, there will be a legacy left. It once seemed that since Aiden wouldn’t grow up, get married, have children, and do big things, his chance at a legacy was lost. I’m beginning to get a glimpse of God’s redemptive power and now believe that: 

“Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.” (Matthew 19:26)