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THE SUN WILL COME OUT TOMORROWBeginning Again after the Death of a Child
By Wayne Triplett
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2010 Wayne Triplett
All right reserved.
Chapter OneA DEATH MOST PRECIOUS
Who better to soften the wound of another, than one who has suffered the wound himself? -Thomas Jefferson
Kevin's seventh trip to the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston was to have been a "tune up" to get his lung infection under control with stronger antibiotics as well as repeat the usual scans and develop a treatment plan. Kevin was hospitalized on Tuesday evening, November 21, 2006 because of continued fever and general discomfort. I had been giving him nourishment through his G-tube as well as chemotherapy in our hotel room. He seemed to be responding well to the medications, but he had some puffiness around his eyes. This possibly was due to edema, although he had been taking a fluid pill.
The hospital staff prepared a Thanksgiving meal for those patients and their families who were there, and Kevin enjoyed the turkey and trimmings. On Saturday evening after Thanksgiving, he became restless for a while and required some morphine. This happened again on Sunday evening, November 26, and he required more meds. He laid back in bed, and I presumed he was resting, so I opened his laptop computer and composed two e-mail updates to my school staff at his bedside.
The evening wore on with his vital signs fluctuating and him becoming more lethargic. When the doctor on call came in I asked her, "Do you think he is going to be ok?" She replied, "We've seen this before. Sometimes they make it through the night." Immediately, I felt a shock course through my body. Was Kevin going to die tonight? He was just talking an hour earlier. I don't think Kevin heard her, and I never told him what she said. I just tried to make him comfortable. His mom and I took turns wiping his forehead, rubbing his arms, and holding his hands over the next six hours. "I just want to go home," he said to his mom.
"How are you feeling, honey?" I asked. "Are you ok?" He never spoke but nodded his head up and down. "Is anything hurting you?" I asked. This time he turned his head left and right signaling that he was in no pain. His morphine had been increased and his oxygen level on the machine was at its highest setting. There was a steady stream of nurses in and out, each respecting our privacy. "I (we) love you Kevin, and I'm here for you. I'm not going anywhere. I'll stay with you all night," I kept repeating. I continued holding and caressing his hands. I placed a small cassette player beside him and began playing a taped sermon by Pastor Craig Church which had been sent to us. I borrowed the doctor's stethoscope and listened to his heart beating. His breathing became more labored and the oxygen bag attached to his face filled and emptied sporadically.
He looked at me with eyes wide open as if he was staring past me, and I sensed his time was growing short. I noticed a slight grin on his face as his eyes blared one final time. It was 4:18 AM CST in Houston, TX, and Kevin had taken his last breath. I turned to his mother and said, "I think he's gone." I turned him from his side to his back. He looked so serene and was warm to the touch. For the first time in ages, he was in no pain. Kevin's seven-year battle against osteosarcoma had ended. No doubt, Jesus had just welcomed him home.
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I thought about so many things, as I held tightly to your hand. Oh, how I wished that you were strong and happy once again. But Jesus knew the answer, and I knew He loved you so. So I gave to you life's greatest gift, the gift of letting go. -Anonymous
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I was not scared or panicky. I was there to witness his birth and now in the end, his death. It was a spiritual moment for me. With tear-filled eyes, Kathy (Kevin's mom) and I gathered our things, and a short time later met with the chaplain around Kevin's bedside for prayer. Kevin was an organ donor and his corneas would help others to see. He would make his final trip back to North Carolina on a later flight. Within twenty minutes of his death, I called Kevin's dear friend, Pastor Craig Church. "Craig, sorry to call you so early, but I have some bad news to tell you." "What's wrong? Is it Kevin?" he asked. "Yes, he passed away a few minutes ago," I said through tears. We both cried together.
I knew that barring a miracle, cancer would eventually claim Kevin. He knew it, too and on occasion stated, "Dad, I don't want to live another fifteen months like the last. I had just as soon go home to be with Jesus." He wanted to live, he fought hard all the way, but he knew the odds of surviving and living a normal life were not in his favor.
My heart aches for him daily, and I miss so many of the things that were Kevin. The "bet I can make you smile and show your teeth game" we played when he was small, the "family hug" with which he often embraced his mom and me, the "give me five" he and I often exchanged spontaneously as we traveled down the road together, grabbing his ticklish left knee suddenly causing him to burst into laughter, all these are now precious memories. I can still see his infectious smile as I would raise my hand in praise as the lyrics of a Christian rock song touched my heartstrings as we rode to and from chemotherapy sessions. Cradling his toboggan or shirt to my face, or lifting the covers of his still made bed ever so slightly, I can breathe in the lingering essence which was Kevin. I am forever to relive in my mind's eye the way he would answer me with a slight left and right motion of his outstretched hand, and I can still see the inward pursing of his lips as he made beautiful music with his guitar. (Triplett 2008, 287-289, xv-xvi)
There is no loss that cuts to the core of our being as that of a child, regardless of the child's age. The loss of a child creates a rift in the natural order of a parent's world. The time we spent loving, nurturing, and caring for his or her bright future is wrenched from us. The heartbreak is like no other. Parents who survive and live through these tragedies without becoming bitter emerge as the strongest, most loving people on earth. Experts surmise that parental grief often lasts a lifetime. Our lives are forever altered when our irreplaceable child dies. Nobody thinks it will happen to them or to their child. And when it happens, then it's our life instead of some stranger on television. It stops feeling like a story. It starts affecting our every moment.
No matter the age, the smallest infant or the mature adult, the loss of a child is the most devastating blow a parent can experience. How many have stood over a dying child's bed saying, "I wish it were me!" And meant it with all their heart. We cannot handle the loss of a child. The moment of loss is a moment of monumental change. In a moment of time we go from the land of the living to the land of the dead. To lose a child is to enter a new world, a world bounded by life and death where both combine in seemingly inseparable ways. We will never return to the world as we knew it, nor, would we want to without our child. Every grief is as individual as a fingerprint.
All the wonderful things that life had to offer me were wrapped up in Kevin. Life's simple gifts leave us unaware of their impact on our lives-until they are gone and out of touch forever. Never have I felt the wonder and beauty and joy of life so keenly as now in my grief that Kevin is not here to enjoy them. When I see parents cross or impatient with their children, I want to say to them, "But they are still alive! Be thankful for that! They may be difficult at times, but you have them with you!" You, who are suffering this loss, will feel what I mean. Others, luckily who have not, cannot. I would admonish them to embrace their child with added rapture and live fully the joy of their presence.
People ask, "How can you stand it without Kevin?" It's not a matter of being able to stand it. It's a matter of affirming and opening your heart and mind to believe truly what you have been taught all your life-that there is a God whose ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8) and only complete trust in His infinite wisdom can bring you peace. You cling to that hope with your whole being.
The death of a child bewilders our hearts. We find ourselves living in a different time zone, the time before our child's death and the time after. There are no answers. There never have been. Even in the depths of our despair and grief, there is the energy of hope lying hidden. There are the beliefs which for a season lie hidden: the redeeming value of friends, the belief in life everlasting, the ultimate adequacy of God to supply our needs, and the indestructibility of love.
The child-parent bonds which we knew so well are ripped apart. Our child invited our love, and we returned it richly. The hopes and future aspirations most precious to us dissolve before our eyes. The protective bubble we placed around our child has burst. We lost a piece of ourselves, our identity, and our purpose for living. Children aren't supposed to die, at least until they are old.
Will we ever see our child again? Where, when, how? What will they look like? Will we ever be able to speak with them and hold them close? Our child was torn from us. We were left with a mortal wound that cannot be healed unless and until we can once again reach out and touch them and know that they are well. What wouldn't we give to once again see them smile? See them as they are today?
We may think that our child is eternally young, beyond the power of old age and cynicism, never to be cut down or ever detract from the eloquence of their life. Heaven must be enlivened and certainly enriched by their arrival and the unspoiled wonder they bring with them.
When death occurs, the life that is gone is irretrievable on this earthly plain. We can call all the numbers in the phone book, travel to the moon, offer a king's ransom, but we cannot bring back our child, this part of us, the fruit of our very soul. As horrible as this feeling of helplessness is, it is this point at which a special convergence enters life. Finity and infinity meet. Although hidden from view now, there ultimately arrives the peace that passes all understanding.
Although hope for happiness exists, this loss leaves us drowning in deep despair. So many major changes with heightened emotions cascade over us as we embark on an often unacknowledged healing process. Understanding these challenges can help us in working through them.
The sense of disorder permeates everything we do when a child is lost. Not only physically and emotionally, but the entire state of our world in general is in disarray. Our future is attached to our children, and we expect them to outlive us. With this loss, our world crumbles and along with it the hopes and dreams of a bright tomorrow.
Our child was a piece of us. As he grew we could see our own physical traits and personality emerging albeit a small copy of ourselves. Through our child, our hope for the future is secure. With this loss, we lose this hope.
Death has stolen our child from us. Yet, in some ways, our child still seems as much a vital part of our lives now as before. There is always the underlying comfort that comes from knowing that every day that passes brings us one step closer to holding our child again.
We lament and revisit everything we did with our child in their lives. We long to tell them even in death they have made a deep and lasting impact on the lives they touched. In dying, they have become larger than life to those who knew them. They are alive in their friends' memories, picturing them as they were before they died, forever eight, twelve, nineteen, or twenty-five. Just as they are always within us, so they are within others who knew and loved them.
Is it easier to lose a child of three or one of thirty? There is no better or worse time when our child's life is cut short. There is only "different." The nature of mourning may be different. Evidence can be given to support claims that it is the young child, or the adolescent child, or the loss of the adult child that is most difficult. The question is meaningless to the bereaved parent. No matter what age, parents have lost their dreams and wishes for their child. This is sometimes forgotten when the child who dies is at opposite ends of the age spectrum. When the death is a miscarriage, a stillbirth, or an infant death, or an older adult child, the grief is just as intensely personal.
If our child was still born, an infant, very young, or an adolescent at death, we are consumed with thoughts of what might have been and the realization of a life which will never know fruition. We feel cheated, robbed. If the child is an infant, parents may be told that they are fortunate they did not have a longer time to become attached. A young child and his parents are bound together by the day-to-day activities of their young lives. Often, a young child is the centerpiece of a parent's life. At death, the parent is left jobless. Young children are untarnished, emanating pure and unconditional love. Their loss devastates our hopes and dreams. We expected to see our child grow older. There would be grandchildren who perhaps resembled us. We would see our own child take on the responsibilities of adulthood and eventually middle age. We were robbed of those rites of passage.
The loss of an adult child carries unique challenges as well. You spent days, months, and even years grooming him or her for the real world. Precious memories of a longer life may comfort you, but that does not mean your grief is lessened. With an older adult child, grief may be pushed aside in favor of the spouse or other living children. Many adult children have become the anchor to their aging parents, the source of meaning. Adult parents may appear to have rich lives, but they feel empty. Frequent phone contacts and special occasions together are sorely absent. Older parents have fewer options for ways to gain an emotional connection with their child. Even though he or she was grown, they were still someone's child. The focus of support is usually on the surviving spouse and children-not the aged parents. And who will help look after the needs of the aging parents with the adult child missing?
Different issues, different ages, different stages of grief, but the same pain is there. Again, no matter what age, the loss is just as real for young and old alike.
Anger permeates our first brush with our child's loss. Why me? Why him or her? They had so much life ahead of them, so much to live for! It's not fair! Why did God allow this to happen? A parent just cannot accept this life-altering loss. Their pent up anger must be vented somewhere or toward someone. Anger, though, must be expressed and believe it or not is expected and a healthy, unavoidable outlet. Anger aims in many directions. Venting may be toward a spouse, a boss, a doctor or nurse, a situation; even the child who died can be a target. God is often the target of choice, but He is big enough to take it while not hitting back. Admitting anger to God is difficult. After all, He is in charge. We may feel that His response will be to judge us. Those fears are not founded. Like a fire, if it is properly harnessed, it can be beneficial. If it is uncontrolled, it can consume us. When this anger is recognized, you are one step closer to using it to promote healing. Talk about your feelings and admit that you are angry. Trying to hide anger is futile. It always comes to the surface. Suppressed anger may become headaches, stomach problems, a heart attack or a stroke. Holding anger in is the prime ingredient for a delayed explosion. By identifying the source of anger, actions can be taken to lessen its impact. Anger is an honest emotion that needs to be expressed. You can talk with other bereaved parents helping heal their wounds and pray about your feelings of helplessness. If someone has made you angry, you may need to talk with them to clear the air, not to inflict more pain, but to forgive them. Forgiveness helps extinguish anger's fire and by God's grace you can. Face your anger, and it will not control you.
A child's death creates stress like no other. Whether sudden or anticipated, this most personal death steals from parents what they loved most and isolates them from others. In short, it is unimaginable. Parents desperately need the support of family, friends, clergy, one-on-one counseling or support groups. Various means of support will be covered later.
Excerpted from THE SUN WILL COME OUT TOMORROW by Wayne Triplett Copyright © 2010 by Wayne Triplett. Excerpted by permission.
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