Friday marks three and a half years since his cancer robbed him of his life, along with its purity and innocence. My 5-year-old Connor died from a horrific type of brain cancer called DIPG.
I wish I can tell you that it gets easier to live without him. It does not. I wish I say the pain subsides, and we are doing okay. It does not, and we are not! That computation of time is agonizing to comprehend. It’s been 42 months, 1,277 days. The death of a child leaves an unnatural order of events for a parent, and this is perhaps the hardest to accept. The loss is life-altering and you simply never get over it.
My capacity for joy has dimmed. My two living sons fill me with gratitude, and I love them with all my heart but there is a profound sorrow left by Connor’s absence. I grieve the loss of dreams. I grieve my ability to believe that all children grow up to be adults and parents leave this earth first.
When we were told his cancer is terminal, I thought I understood how hard it was to live without him. I had no idea! It’s worse than I ever anticipated. It’s unrelenting, crushing sadness that leaves you unable to function at times. Unless you have walked this path, it is hard to understand the depth of a grieving parent’s despair. Child loss is isolating, too, because we have to navigate so much of pain alone. Grief is as unique as the person feeling it. Even when I escape it for a few hours, I am exhausted at the effort it takes to keep my composure.
I have a new perspective of what matters most and the people I choose to surround myself with. A dear friend called it “cancer eyes” after his own diagnosis with terminal lung cancer. Cancer eyes are 20/20. You have the ability to see through people and narrow what’s truly important to you. Quickly, you shrink your world to include people and things that bring you and those you love great joy. My child’s cancer and his death has also led to a tremendous personal change. I am not nearly as friendly meeting a stranger as I used to be, largely because the dreaded, “how many kids do you have?” question. I’m also more irritable, sensitive to comments, guarded with what I share and bitter about losing my child.
It’s a trying path to endure and navigate when you aren’t given a choice. It’s a constant battle between paralyzing sadness, anger, and exhaustion. I don’t wish this ache on a single living soul. What I do hope for is recognition from others just how important family and good friends continue to be. We don’t want pity; we want understanding and human compassion.
The biggest message I hope you take is that a grieving parent still need your love and support, even years after a loss.
Perhaps Connor’s greatest legacy lives on in his brothers. I hold on to hope that they will grow up and thrive. I know in my heart that he will never be forgotten by all those that knew and loved him for the five years he graced this earth.
This holiday season, hug your loved ones extra tight and tell them how much they mean to you because tomorrow is not guaranteed for any of us.
“I’ll love you forever,
I’ll like you for always,
as long as I’m living
my baby you’ll be.”
‘Love You Forever’, Robert Munsch (1986)