Two weeks ago, my friend Jen’s sweet little cousin (really, more like nephew) passed away only a few days after his fifth birthday. He’d fought leukemia for fourteen long months. When Jen told me the news, I was so sad. It’s awful that he’s gone. It’s awful that his brother will grow up without him. It’s awful that his parents and family now have a hole in their hearts and lives. Sweet little Cole, it’s so unfair.
I haven’t been able to stop thinking about his family, specifically his mom, because she is the one I can relate to the most. I wanted to write to her and tell her something about my story with the hope that she could latch onto it and maybe find some comfort, like I found from other moms with deceased children. I couldn’t think of anything to tell her…our situations were so vastly different. While it’s obvious that every child’s death is so horribly and tragically unique, Cole’s passing reminded me of some strong emotions I had toward other grieving parents after Maddie died.
Madeline’s death was sudden and shocking, and Cole’s was drawn-out and, for lack of a better word, expected. In the immediate months after Maddie was gone, I was intensely jealous of people like Cole’s mom. They had time to “prepare” and to say goodbye to their children – mine was just yanked away. I would talk to my therapist about how much better off these moms had it, and how unfair it was that I didn’t get to have an experience like theirs. She would calmly listen, hand me tissues, and nod her head.
Eventually my therapist told me about another mother she’d once treated, one whose daughter had died after a long illness. This mother hated moms like me – women who didn’t have to watch their children languish until death. Moms like me didn’t have to hear things like, “at least she’s no longer suffering,” as though death was somehow the best option. Moms like me have memories of their kids playing in the park three days before they died. Moms like her have long hospital stays and agonizing days and nights blurred together as their children’s final memories.
I hadn’t thought about it that way, of course, and at the time I was resentful my therapist had shared the story with me. But with time and clarity I have come back to it many times to remind myself that no situation is better or worse. It’s manure stew or manure casserole – neither is desirable. We’ve all had to say goodbye to someone we didn’t want to say goodbye to, and regardless of how much “better” we assume others may have it, in the end we’re all just trying to choke down this awful plate.
To Cole’s mom I would say that I am so, so sorry, and I would tell her the one thing that I always like to hear – that Cole’s life mattered to me, and that I am different now from having known his story. He will never be forgotten.