I never met you, but a week ago today I sat in a crowded church with your family and friends to celebrate your life. I’ve watched your mom through this process, usually from afar and sometimes up close, and I just had to tell you (although I know you already know) how amazing she is.
I met your mom and your aunt when we were all about your age. In high school your mom was impossibly cool. She was magnetic. She had strong opinions and wasn’t afraid to voice them. You wanted her approval. You wanted her to think you were cool, too. Your aunt, her twin, was sweet, charming, beautiful, and endearing almost to a fault. Your mom was fiercely protective of her, always her champion. As I think about you, it seems that’s how she is as a parent. Fierce, determined, supportive, and strong. During your treatment we had a benefit night at the comedy club in Denver. It was the first time I’d seen your mom since your diagnosis. I told her that I couldn’t believe how strong and amazing she was through such a devastating experience. And she shook her head, as cool as she ever was, and said “I am just a mom. I’m just a mom.”
The night that you passed away, I cried and cried and cried until I thought I didn’t have anything left. You might think it’s strange for a woman to mourn a boy she never met. But it doesn’t matter that I never met you. You are the precious child of someone I spent so much time with. Someone I love so dearly. And so I cried for her. I cried for your dad. I cried for your aunts, uncles and cousins. For your brothers and their families. I cried for your friends, your grandma and every other soul on this earth who loves you.
I cried for all the other parents I know who have lost a child. For the parents of childhood friends who died when we were young, for the parents of a boy at my sons’ school, for Facebook friends and acquaintances who have lost children and babies.
I also cried for myself. It’s a hard thing to admit, but I cried because my kids are healthy. I cried because I have never had to see them go through as much pain as you did. I cried for the desperate wish that I will never have to see them go through what you did. They were selfish and thankful tears. Please don’t fault me for them.
I went to my sons’ rooms and I stared at them. They are beautiful, energetic, sweet, smart, kind and wonderful boys. They are what you were when you were 7 and when you were 10. I saw you at those ages in your life during the slide show at your service. I looked at their faces and I saw them as they were when they were babies. I saw the maturity in their faces, the way they’ve grown and changed over the years. But in sleep they are still my babies. I haven’t talked to your mom about it, but I think in sleep, you are her baby.
Your memorial service was another notch on the belt of your remarkably cool mom. I didn’t meet your dad till the service, but was not surprised to find that your mom chose a partner who is her equal. Your parents spoke about you so beautifully. There were tears, yes, but they held it together like a couple of damned ninjas. I was awestruck at how they could stand in front of a packed church to thank the people who have helped you all, and particularly to thank you for being their son. They were eloquent, beautiful, steadfast and strong as Groot.
I don’t understand, and I don’t want to understand, how a mother can say goodbye to her baby, no matter how old that baby is. I don’t understand how they don’t hide in a closet, shut themselves away from the world, and eventually die from self-neglect. Maybe some of them do. Maybe your mom has had days when she has hidden and vowed to never leave her room. Maybe your mom is having a day like that today. Or maybe your mom is superhuman. Something tells me she’s not, regardless of my decades-long admiration of her constitution. My point, if I have one, is that even if she has days like that, even if the bad days outnumber the good, I somehow know that your mom will be okay. She will find a way to fight those demons, to rise above the grief and live a full life. And it’s not because she’s cool, but because she’s “just a mom.” She will love you and cherish her time with you forever. Because that’s what moms do.
I’m sorry I didn’t get to meet you, Sam. From the stories I heard, I know you were every bit as cool as your parents are. You couldn’t have picked better people to be your mom and dad.
Photo art by Casey Kalmes