Thursday, October 5, 2017

Life Changing Events

Thirty-seven Years

Thirty-seven Years

                                                        The years are thirty-seven     
                                                        Since you left us for Heaven.
                                                        But hardly a day goes by
                                                        I don’t wish you were near
                                                       so I could talk with you.
                                                       hold your hand and walk with you.
                                                       I know someday we’ll meet again
                                                       and you’ll be there to greet me then.

All of us have life changing events starting us off on a different path. Marriage was one for me as well as the births of four children.  But the biggest change for me was caused by the death of my son John. I wrote about him in a blog in 2012, but since only a few of you were

with Writers Who Kill then it will be new to you. Two days ago on October 3rd, it was thirty-seven years since I held my eighteen year old son John in my arms as he died from cancer. I was able to give him his last gift of dying at home. I want to tell you about my first-born child.

Even as a baby, John was active and curious about life. Once when he was 16 months old, he climbed a ladder to a garage roof when my husband went to get a tool. At two and a half, we woke up one morning to find he’d opened numerous canned goods with the electric can opener in the night, and too many other things to put in this blog.

As he grew older he started a newspaper. He was the reporter knocking on doors to get the news from neighbors while his brother and some neighbor kids hand printed it. The following year he started his own detective agency. He was an avid reader who loved The Hardy Boys and other mysteries. He made business cards and again went through the neighborhood to see if anyone had any mysteries for him to solve. To his disappointment, there was no crime in our neighborhood.

 John was tall and thin with dark curly hair and wore glasses. He had neither athletic skills or interest in sports. To keep from being bullied in 5th and 6th grade, he became the class clown. Fortunately, his teachers still liked him.  It was about this time he started taking piano lessons and played the trombone in the school band. He was encouraged by the band director to play it because of his long arms, but it was the piano he loved and he outgrew two piano teachers who said they couldn’t teach him anything more because he was such a good pianist.

John enjoyed nature, camping, Boy Scouts and science. He was artistic and loved his art classes even though he got a D in art in 4th grade because he didn’t paint his pumpkins orange. Years later we found out he was color blind, although I don’t think that’s why he didn’t paint them orange. He was a very creative and independent soul.

When he became a teenager, he took up magic and became an awesome magician as he practiced for hours in front of a mirror improving his slight of hands tricks. His father had a wooden case made for him painted black with John Alden, Magician on it in gold paint. He started performing for birthday parties, nursing homes and hospitals. He didn’t charge anything at the nursing homes or hospitals. Every birthday and Christmas I bought tricks from a magic store for him.


In the winter of his senior year in high school, he started complaining his leg hurt. I discovered he had a huge lump on his inner upper thigh. Why he never mentioned this, I have no idea. The lump was removed. It was cancer. Thus. began our trips to the Cleveland Clinic. It was a rather rare form of cancer, but his wonderful oncologist kept up with the doctors from Sloan Kettering for the latest treatments. He went through a lot of tests before he started chemo and later radiation, too. In the weeks before they started chemo, he made a lot of friends and entertained them and the nurses with his magic tricks. I still have his magic tricks stored away.

John was tutored his last two months of school. At his graduation in a big auditorium at Packard Music hall, the principal told everyone to hold their applause until everyone got their diplomas, which the audience did until John walked on stage with the cane he’d made and decorated. The whole auditorium stood up and applauded and cheered for him. I still get teary eyed remembering that.

We made numerous trips back and forth to the Clinic. I stayed at Ronald McDonald’s nights. The cancer spread, and late in September his lung collapsed. As the room filled up with doctors, nurses, interns, with a needle to pump up the lung, John looked at me and said, “No more needles, Mom.” Two days later my husband and I took him home. The doctor told us he could live two hours, two days, but no more than two weeks at the most. We had a hospital bed brought in and oxygen tanks. Two days later our priest came and said Mass for John, my parents, my aunt, and my sister. After Mass John did a magic show for us. Because his friends were not answering his phone calls (they couldn’t face it), I caught him leaving with his car keys pulling his small oxygen tank. I told him he couldn’t go, but he told me not to worry because if he had problems he would pull off the road. He died two days later in my arms an hour after he sat up staring off in a corner at something only he could see, and then said, “God” and laid back in my arms. An hour later when his brother and sisters came home from school he breathed his last.

After his death I started seeking something that would make it all meaningful, if such a thing existed. I went to college, became a teacher, and taught third grade for twenty very rewarding years. Teaching third graders was mostly delightful, and yes, stressful at times, but it made me feel I was doing something positive, and it awakened the child in me so it was a lot of fun, too.

But something else came out of the tragedy of losing my son, John, and that was writing. In college I had to write research papers, essays, and even wrote a short story that won an award, and found I enjoyed writing. In fact, I went on to get a masters in English, not to further my career as an elementary teacher, but because I missed the reading and writing research papers. But what I wrote for healing was poetry. I have written an essay “Saying Goodbye” about that last day, and every year I write a new poem for the newspaper on the day he left us.

The college papers and the poetry was a start of my writing career, but it didn’t end with poetry. Eventually I started writing mysteries; books and short stories. I’ve always tended to tackle things with enthusiasm. For years I painted and loved doing it. Then there was teaching – a great challenge both creatively and sometimes tedious with grading papers or meetings. Is there anything more boring than meetings?

Today I’m a mystery writer and gradually attaining a modicum of success at it. Will I ever be on any best seller list? No! But that doesn’t matter as much as having people read and enjoy my books, and even more it’s using my creativity to plot, create characters and write a satisfactory book or story. I can’t imagine not writing and I’m very content and happy with my life path. Would I have followed this path if John hadn’t died? Maybe I would have, but who knows. I live with what ifs. I’m planning to put together a book of essays and poetry I’ve written since John died. Sort of a memoir of him. I know poetry doesn’t sell well unless you’re someone like Billy Collins, but the money doesn’t matter as much as hoping it will help people out there on their path through healing from the death of a child.

                                                                        What if?                  
                                                What if you had lived longer? 
                                                What if you hadn’t died when you did?
                                                What if you were still with us?
                                                Where would you be living now?
                                                What career would you now have?
                                                Would you have kids?
                                                But you didn’t live past eighteen,
                                                So I’ve only memories now
                                                and what ifs.

What events have changed your life? 

What “what ifs” do you have?



Ann G said...

A lovely post, Gloria. It's hard to fathom the "what ifs" - perhaps that's the basis of all the stories we tell - asking those kinds of questions and trying to make sense of it all.

I love the story about him opening all of those cans! And the disappointment when he didn't get any mysteries to solve in his Hardy Boys phase. I recall seven of us Enid Blyton fans getting our little secret group together and creating a clubhouse in a friend's father's garden shed - but we didn't solve any mysteries either.


Julie Tollefson said...

What a beautiful tribute to your son, Gloria.

Gloria Alden said...

Ann, I suppose most of us have "What ifs." Sometimes I wonder if I would have gone to college to become a teacher if my son hadn't died, and what my life would have been like if my husband hadn't left me nine years later. I know I wouldn't have my small farm that I love so much.

Thank you, Julie. I found some newspaper pictures of him at a Boy Scout Jamboree and one of him taken at our county fair with a skeleton of a pony next to a real horse. John and a neighbor boy had found the bones of it in a nearby field and took them into school for a science class and put them together. Unfortunately, they didn't turn out clear enough to
post when I took pictures of them.

Debra H. Goldstein said...

Such a beautiful tribute and sharing of memories. Makes me think to value every day and every hug from my children all the more for the fragility of the what ifs you articulate so well. Your description of John makes the what ifs of what he could have been all the more poignant and the knowledge of what you have become the more powerful. His years may have been short, but his life was truly a blessing.

Gloria Alden said...

You're so right, Debra. Each of our children are special in their own way. At least I got to experience my other three as adults and appreciate what they've become.

Warren Bull said...

This is truly touching.

Warren Bull said...

This is truly touching.

Anonymous said...

You are a wonderful mother. --- Laura

Vicki Batman, sassy writer said...

Oh my, I got so sobby reading this. What a wonderful boy and a wonderful post. I have Handsome's cancer journey for the last eleven years. He was cured of throat cancer, but the radiation played a number on his jaw and over the last year, he has had nine surgeries to repair.

God bless. vb

Gloria Alden said...

Warren, I know it is. The death of any child is hard to bear by anyone.

Thank you, Laura.

Vicki, he was a wonderful boy. I hope your Handsome comes through all this. My brother was cured of three kinds of cancer over ten years, but when he went for rehabilitation at a different hospital to wean him from his trac tube, he contacted a viral contagious disease and that's what killed him.

Grace Topping said...

Your son would be so honored having you write about him with such love.

Gloria Alden said...

Thank you Grace. I started a memoir about him several years ago. I need to keep working on it. I have written so many poems for him, too, and I'll include those in it, also.

carla said...

What a lovely tribute.

KM Rockwood said...

A very touching story, and for me, very timely.

I spent most of today at a funeral service and reception for a friend who was, like you, burying a son. Larry was older--an adult--but of course his parents found it devastating to be saying goodbye to a son.

You have shown a great deal of strength and courage, and have used the energy created by John, his life and his death, to forge ahead. I'm sure John is proud of his mother.

Gloria Alden said...

Thank you, Carla.

Thank you Kathleen, losing a son or daughter has to be awful for any parent no matter what the age. I remember people telling me after John died that they couldn't go on if their son or daughter died. Well, what option does one have except to commit suicide and how would that effect my other children, my parents, my husband, and my siblings? And I never wanted my other children to think John was my favorite, either. They were all grieving, too. I recently came across and essay my other son wrote for a high school class about missing his brother.

Ellen Byron said...

Oh Gloria, I'm in tears. This was absolutely beautiful. I can't imagine your loss, but I have such respect for how you let it change your life in such a positive way.

Coincidentally, I'll be blogging at on Monday about the experience that changed my life - a rare tumor I had when I was twenty-five.

Thank you for sharing your story. xoxoxo

Kaye George said...

Lovely tribute, Gloria. {{{Hugs}}}