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, etc.one 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?