“If you are going to be used by God, He will take you through a multitude of experiences that are not meant for you at all. They are meant to make you useful in His hands.”Oswald Chambers
“Mom, why am I the only person in our family that has cancer?”
Finally. Here we were. I was wondering when something like this would come up. I was sure the reality would begin to settle in to his little 6-year old awareness that beyond the joys of unlimited iPad time at clinic, and the novelty of missing school more often than not, this whole Leukemia thing was, actually, bullshit.
“Well, your Aunt Denise had cancer, remember when she was telling us about her radiation?”
I knew I was walking a fine line. Wanting to show him that he wasn’t alone, that he wasn’t the first, nor the last to have cancer. He was in the good company of people who had all done this hard cancer thing. But I also didn’t want to dismiss the real question. The question that bubbles up in everyone’s suffering, “why me?”
“Right mom, but in our exact family: Jay and Jude and Selah and Dad and you. Why am I the only one with cancer?”
Why did I kabosh screen-time in the car? The silence caused this. I should have known when I saw he was staring off into space. I should have never said no screen-time this morning.
“…I don’t know sweetie… I wonder the same thing.”
No, no, maybe this is exactly what we need. We need this silence; these questions. Lean in Betsy, answer him, honestly. He is scared… and confused… that’s ok. Tell him honestly. Take the words slowly. He is listening. This is Holy ground.
“We don’t always get to understand these things Bubba. Sometimes it’s really obvious and sometimes we have to search for the good.”
“There is nothing good about Leukemia.”
“Well. Ya, there is a lot of crappy stuff…” I pause, letting that be true as a stand alone statement. Then I continue, “What about spending so much time with me? That’s good!” I let out a corny laugh and he smiles. I know he thinks the extra time with me is a benefit. On Day 4 of Lukemia I asked him the best part about it and he said it was spending time with family. Beau the homebody is fine with always.being.home.
“Or what about going to clinic? … Without cancer we would have never met Ricky Ricardo Artichoke-o.” (that’s our nickname for his nurse.)
“I still don’t want cancer.”
“I know, Bubba. I don’t want you to have cancer either. I hate it.”
“Mama, can we say ‘hate’?” Jude chimes in.
Ya mama, can we? Betsy, everyone is listening.
“I don’t know, I think we can hate cancer,” I respond. I felt like I could detour and go off on not using the word hate. On staying above the waves of trite language to describe things more powerful, using more than a four letter word. But to be honest, I love a well placed four letter word, and for right now I really do hate cancer.
We sat in silence for a bit longer as our car continued down I-70 and I wondered if the conversation was over. I didn’t want to overwhelm him with thought on this, to keep talking just to avoid the silence. I know the “why me” is an essential part of the grief process, but sometimes it’s a conversation to have with God. It takes time, months, years, and isn’t buttoned up in a car ride.
A couple minutes later he asked, “Mom, what good is going to come from the leukemia?”
Here we were.
At that moment in the car, out of what seemed like no where, I retold Beau the story of my first miscarriage. A topic he has heard before in big picture. But this time I told him in the context of timing and understanding. I hadn’t planned it, but they were the only words that came to me.
“Beau, in that moment, you know what I wanted? I wanted to hold my baby. My very first baby! I wanted to hold her and have her live with me. But that didn’t happen.”
“Right, because that baby was born to heaven. And now she live with Loli and Molly and Alana.”
“Right. I never got to hold her. And that was all I wanted… But you know what? If I had held that baby, if she had been born to us on earth. I wouldn’t have had you because I wouldn’t have had another baby by April 11th.”
Is this landing with him? Is it landing with me? Oh Lord, this feels like sacred waters. I just want to say the right thing. I just want to say the right thing. I just want to say the right thing.
“So you were really sad about your baby? But then you had me. So it’s good the baby was born to heaven!”
“Well…I don’t know how it all works Beau. But here is what I know: In that moment, all I wanted was to hold my baby. But I didn’t get to. And that was hard and terrible and didn’t make any sense to me…. Kind of like your cancer… But then I had you and I think you’re pretty cool… And now you have cancer and that is hard and terrible and doesn’t make any sense either…”
“But you still have me.”
“And you are still pretty cool Bubba” I made eye contact with him in the rearview mirror and he smirked and I wondered how I was so lucky to have this life, “…Maybe we won’t know why you have cancer Beau, but I think someday, sometime, you will see why this was a part of your story. I believe that.”
“Me too, mom.”
The conversation continued as we finished our drive to clinic. We talked about death and cancer and all the people we knew who had cancer or were in heaven. Beau reminded me that Meemaw’s mom died of cancer, and Jude reminded me that Beau doesn’t have the kind of cancer that you die from. (This is a fallacy, it’s very possible to die from ALL Leukemia, but for Jude we stick with the 94% survival rate. It’s how it has to be for him to function.)
We pulled up to Children’s Hospital and as I put the car in park I took a deep breath and tears streamed down my cheeks. This was living. This was walking through the valley of the shadow of death and ending up in the other side. I would live that miscarriage 1,000 times over if it meant I could have this conversation with my boys. I would choose to walk (crawl…) that scary and painful road every single time if it meant that six- years later I could sit alongside my baby in his grief and my second born in his fear and let them know there IS hope on the other side of sorrow.
“Mama, but do you think we will see the good in my Leukemia today?” Beau asked as he unbuckled from his seat.
“I think it’s possible, but we have to keep our eyes peeled.”
We all got out of the car and Jude and Beau started to run up the sidewalk.
Right before they got out of earshot, I heard, “Beau! Beau!” Jude squeeling as he formed circles with his fingers and put them over his eyes and tried to get Beaudin’s attention, “You have to put your hands like this! You have to peel you eyes before we get inside!”