In the Trenches
I picked my daughter up from school the other day and as she ran into my arms, she very joyfully said,
“Mommy, mommy, I made a card for my friend”!
I knelt down, and as I hugged her, said what most people would anticipate by giving out the obligatory,
“Well that was very nice of you honey.”
It wasn’t until a few moments later that I realize the significance of the very simple but beautiful gesture she was sharing with me.
On the drive home, my daughter commenced to telling her brother that she had made a card for her friend along with her other classmates that would “bring her friend lots of smiles” while visiting the doctor. My son who is a bit older and quite curious, follows on with a barrage of questions as to why her friend would need a bunch of cards or even smiles while seeing a doctor in the first place. After all, my children both LOVE going to see their pediatrician and leave with a smile accompanied by a 4x4 inch sticker upon exiting the office following each visit.
When I did not answer immediately, my son kept layering on the questions….
Is it her birthday? Remember mommy when I had to get that shot at my last appointment? Maybe she’s just not used to going to see the doctor, so maybe she could go see ours, because he is super silly and fun.
By now, we were halfway home and my eyes were so consumed with tears, I had reached a point where I simply could not hold them back further, so I sobbed. As I listened to my son ask repeated questions, in my mind, I asked many more while trying to find the words on how to even respond. It was this moment, when the simplest words I could think of passed out my lips when I said, “Baby, your sissy’s friend is pretty sick, and will need to see a doctor for a while”. As you could imagine, my near six year old son’s response was, “with what mommy, a cold”? I half smiled at his innocence as more tears flew from my cheeks.
I kept looking for easy words to use, but then realized, there really were none, other than those of the truth. I said,
“Son, sissy’s friend is going to the doctor, and won’t be at school any longer, because her mommy and daddy were told that she has Leukemia.”
In the remaining drive home, I tried the best I could to explain to my children what cancer was and that sometimes it affects the people that we love and care so much about. It is very hard to reassure a near four and six year old that their friend would be okay, especially when there are no certainties like that ever given to us.
There are very few conversations I’ve had in my children’s short lives thus far that have been challenging, but attempting to navigate a topic such as this was far more difficult than I ever thought possible. As a parent I felt ashamed that I was not better equipped to discuss the topic, I was ill prepared for it, and quite frankly only have myself to blame. As “mommy”, I’ve had a tendency of wanting to protect my kids from the “big, bad, ugliness” of the world, its violence, the illness that plagues us, and even death. Some people have said to me that such conversations are not appropriate for small children, and as such should be postponed until they are older and have the mental fortitude to handle. I will say through this very painful and emotionally draining ride home, and although I don’t believe done intentionally, I had a realization that as adults, we all too often underestimate our little ones.
At the age of three, my son was able to recognize symbols of death while watching “The Good Dinosaur” when he hid his face and begged to leave the theater. Also at three, he felt heartbreak when he told me his heart hurt when his crush was moved up into another classroom and thought he wouldn't get to see her again.
Why hide from this? I quite honestly cannot find a good answer, and as much as I like to believe that it was not intentional, I decided going forward, I would be very deliberate in talking about the “tough stuff” with my kids. Maybe we can protect them from bad language in television shows, x-rated lyrics on the radio, gun violence shown in the news, but the question is…. should we?
By talking about what was going on with my daughters friend at school, it was actually quite therapeutic and also opened my eyes farther to just how big a child's heart can be. My son came up with the idea to give their little friend a gift that could comfort her in case she needs it while spending so much time with the doctors. It was because of a big hearted five year old little boy that, we decided to make one of my children’s favorite things…. A LINUS blanket! My daughter and I made a special trip out so she could pick out the fabric, which she believes will make her friend feel better while giving her the appearance of a mermaid while snuggled up!
I learned a great deal on that 15 minute drive home which has left such an impression on me that I will forever be marked by it. My heart goes out to the family of this little girl who is just rounding the corner of four years old, as I cannot begin to imagine their path ahead. I realize there will be good days and some not so good ones, but my hope is that in some way this very small gesture will touch the life of this little girl the way that she has mine.
I normally wrap with a few actions or things you should consider for yourself, however in this instance, I’m merely going to share what my calls to action are for myself. If you choose to join in, I applaud and congratulate you on opening yourself up for a bit of personal growth and also making yourself a tad more vulnerable through outward expression of your feelings and emotion.
Commitments to my family, loved ones, and others I love and are yet to meet…
- I will hug, and I mean truly embrace my children at every opportunity (If an opportunity isn’t apparent, I will create one)
- Engage with my children and do more! I don’t mean staying busy, but I mean that I will look at the already busy life I have with them and will DO MORE!
- Tackle the tough topics head on with my children rather than an awkward and often difficult attempt to try and “protect” them
- Be transparent and share openly my feelings with others in a calming and supportive way, regardless of the situation
- Embrace my husband and tell him I love him at every opportunity (If an opportunity isn’t apparent, I will create one)
- I will share with others how much I care about them and express how much their feelings matter
- Extend my hand farther to help others. This means not just offering to help, or asking if someone needs anything you could assist with, but it means literally getting in the trenches with them and perhaps coming back out with my own scars to prove it.
This last item particularly resonates with me as I often do a lot of volunteer hours but something I committed to many years ago while in college, I ultimately drifted away from. I used to sit for hours and make Linus blankets which are handcrafted and shared for children in need. I’d sit in my dorm room floor, cutting blocks of fabric for hours and then when finished, would deliver the blankets to Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, West Virginia to be shared with children in the cancer unit. I’ve made blankets over the years, but not for the same cause as what the mission started out as. So why did I stop? I really don’t have a good answer other than the fact that I stopped reaching far enough. It is not as if the number of children suffering with various forms of cancer has gone down, so it must simply be because I climbed out of the trenches (regrettably on my own).
Perhaps it was out of fear, and perhaps this is the same fear I allowed to build inside while raising my own children. The concern of getting too close with the potential to end in pain, sorrow and uncertainty may have been too much for me at the time. What I failed to realize is that the choice for me to only be partially reaching in has removed me from the reality which remains, and that is that there is a fair amount of human beings down in the trenches which may just need a supportive hand to climb out. Maybe it’s a warm meal served under a bridge, a pat on the back, a warm embrace, or even a snuggly blanket, but what holds true is that we need the strength of one another in the brightest and darkest of moments.
Because she won’t get to return to school and the family wants their privacy, we may not get the opportunity to see our little “Mermaid” friend again, but we will continue to pray for her and at least know in our hearts that as a family we reached in, and added a bit of brightness.
If you are interested in learning more about the Linus Blanket and are interested in helping children in need, I encourage you to check out the amazing non profit “Project Linus” who has gifted more than seven million blankets and no doubt has a chapter in your local area! They can be found by following: www.projectlinus.org — I look forward to re-engaging myself!
If you enjoyed this read, I’d appreciate a clap and possibly a share, but would also love to hear from you! It is through the sharing of experience that we as individuals can grow ourselves and would be excited to hear your story!