Saturday, February 7, 2009


Beve just got word that Kyle, the little boy I wrote about a couple of days ago, died a couple of hours ago.  He was lucid until the end, had a chance to say goodbye to his family, and, in the words of the friend who called, "It was actually pretty cool."  It's astounding to think that just a week ago today he was sitting at that basketball game.  But it's been a long, hard battle with this cancer, for he and his family.

It makes me wonder how a parent feels at the end of such a battle.  It seems like the most impossible thing on this earth to have to watch one's child suffer. I only get this in the smallest way: when J was 6 weeks old, he picked up a bug from a child who'd gotten a cold while in England, and my immune system, which I was still passing along to him in his milk, didn't have the antibodies to fight a germ from across the far ocean.  He got sick--then sicker--and we grew more and more sleepless, one night even sitting up with him the entire night so he could breathe upright.  The next day (the third time I'd taken him to the doctor), he was placed in ICU in the children's hospital. It was an unbelievably scary time.  I remember climbing right up into the oxygen-tented crib with him so I could hold him while he slept that first night.  The doctor told me later that he didn't think J would make it through those first twelve hours.  I held his fuzz-covered head and wondered who he'd become when he grew up.  At six weeks, though I barely knew him, the love I had for him was like a noose around my heart.  I couldn't imagine continuing to breathe if he didn't.

Obviously, he survived that scare.  The turn-around was almost as quick as the original dive into illness.  He came home from the hospital in a week, and the only lasting impact was that his high-pitched baby voice dropped about an octave, and never went back up.  He was the only baby I've ever known whose cry was a rich and throaty baritone.

But I was right that I didn't know him.  I think about what it might have been like if he'd been six years instead of six weeks when he got sick.  I think of all the things we learn about our children as they grow.  And how, by the time they're six (or eight, like Kyle), you can tell the real person they are. We could tell J was thoughtful, sensitive, and funny.  Just like he is today.  And I think about what it would have done to our family if he'd died at six weeks.  If I'd had to live my life without him, never knowing him, always marking birthdays, and holidays by his absense as well as the girls' presence.  The hole left by death that--no matter how much time heals--is never filled in.

I'm thinking of this today, thinking of Kyle's family with such a crater in the middle of it now. My heart breaks for them, beginning life post-Kyle. The world is a different place--forever--than it was when they woke up this morning.  It's a world bombed by a crater.  What they choose to do with such a crater is up to them.  Ignore it, make it into an altar?  Fill it with more pain, bitterness and garbage?  Plant new flowers around the edge of it, so that it's turned into something they can look at, enjoy and even find beauty in?

Death is ahead of all of us.  And we live with other kinds of deaths as well.  What will I turn those metaphoric deaths into?  How will I live with those holes in my life?  This is not an abstract problem for me at the moment, of course.  But I also think it's probably not an abstract issue for any of us.  What are the holes in your life?  The gap between what you thought would be and what actually is in your life?  How will you turn them into something beautiful?  And--and this is the clencher--what will you allow those holes in your life to turn YOU into?  Garbage or gardens?

If you think of it, pray for Kyle's family today.  Brother Nick, mom, dad, all those who are intimately impacted by the giant hole left by an eight-year-old boy.

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