Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Goodnight, Moon

I’m driving south on I-95, a few dozen miles south of Manassas, Virginia. I'm listening to an audio book, but my mind keeps drifting. It is dark out, and I glance out the driver’s side window and see the full moon, bright in the sky.

I’m reflecting on this evening and thinking of similar evenings I’ve had this past year. I’ve just come from the wake of a child who spent nearly 5 of his 6 years battling the vicious beast of cancer. I was trying to make sense of it and not making any headway. The moon caught my eye.

I think back to last spring, when my Aunt died. She was in her late 70’s, and had been bedridden for many years after a stroke. In some ways, her death was a blessing. People talk of “quality of life” and hers was not one I envied. She’d had a full – if hard – life. She survived the sinking of the Andrea Dorea. She married and had 3 children, although her third child – a girl – was born severely disabled and institutionalized nearly from birth. She had a loving family. Her death was sad – she was a beloved family member. But she had had her fair shot at life. It may not have been even close to perfect, but she got to the starting line and ran the race. I could do the math on this one.

In December, my family was hit with the sudden and very tragic death of my cousin Melissa. The last time I’d seen her alive was at her wedding, not 18 months earlier. A lifelong epileptic, her neurologist changed her medication so she could safely carry the baby she and her husband so wanted to have. Melissa was a feisty one, and I remember thinking when she was 12 or 13 that she was ‘an old soul’. I don’t know if I attributed it to her illness or her status of “first born’, but I had this vague notion that she was born a few years later than she should have; She always seemed to be a few squares ahead of her peers in the game of Life. As tough as she was, she was 10 times a sweet and loving and giving. She was the uber-aunt, adored by her nieces, the person ready to jump in and help at a moment’s notice. While she swore – as a 20-something year old – that she would never marry or have children, she fond her soul mate, a sweet, burly teddy bear of a man. At 37 she married, and from there they started their all-too-short journey. The medication switch fatally altered her blood chemistry, and shortly before Christmas, she collapsed. She was rushed to the hospital and put on life support. It was December in Milwaukee, and it was snowing. My Aunt later related while eulogizing her daughter that her condition was getting grim. Her niece pulled her over to a window – it was dark out – and she pointed to something under a lit street lamp: a single, perfect snow angel. There were no boot prints around the angel, and they grabbed on to this talisman of hope and comfort after Melissa died. I don’t know if we look for these ‘small miracles’ to help make sense of the senseless; as with so many situation, you find any port in a storm. I know – while it may have helped – there is nothing to balance out the loss of a child.

As I speed down the 95, I glance again at the moon. While still bright, there is a slight bit of haze covering it. I think about these deaths, and about the one I have most recently faced.

How do you reconcile the death of a child - a beautiful, lively 6-year old boy? Cody Johnson was this boy, a mere slipknot of a child who loved pirates, legos, and his family. The cancer was so vicious and without remorse it claimed 80% of his liver, his ability to live a carefree childhood, and ultimately his life. He endured more pain than most of us will collectively face in a lifetime. His parents are in awe of the courage of their son. His father, Mickey, told me he never complained, never ever put up a fuss of having to go to the hospital. That’s not to say that Cody was sweetly ignorant of his predicament: when he was subject to procedures he’d sometimes put up a fight, he’d lash out in anger, or be plain grumpy. He rebelled against this slice of his existence, the one over-inhabited with needles, chemo, nausea, and procedures that kept him from being ‘just a little boy’. I’m not sure if he was brave or didn’t have a memory that didn’t include a life without discomfort and pain. His resiliency was born of experience that predated memory. He just knew that this thing robbed him of kindergarten and soccer, and often interfered with swimming in a pool or his beloved ocean.

As I entered the funeral home, I saw an incongruous sight: a white hearse parked behind a blue minivan. I’ve never been to the wake of a child – I have no experience against which to draw. I’m lucky in that sense. I don’t know how parents face this; I know there is no chapter in any child-rearing guide titled “Burying Your Child”. I know enough to know there are no words for a moment like this: There is nothing for a moment like this. I walk into the viewing room and see Cody’s profile peeking out of an impossibly small coffin. I’ve never met this child, and this is not certainly the way I wanted to. My eyes fill. I can think only of a pithy sentence: It’s just not fair. I see my friend Mickey and he looks strong but the fatigue and grief are etched around his eyes. I hug him tightly, this tough, sweet, genuine friend of mine. I suspect he is in the numb antechamber of disbelief and denial. I guess he is trying to get through the next days, the next horrible few days of saying goodbye forever to his beloved son, to be brave and solid and be like his hero, Cody.

His wife, Diane, is beyond sorrow. When I embrace her I have a sudden realization that all the strength she garnered for her son is – for the moment – gone. She feels so thin and fragile, I want to hold her forever and help her support her impossibly heavy heart. I hold her face in my hands and I want to say something – ANYTHING – that will resonate, that will help her in the certain dark days to come. I believed he’d get better – it was easy for me. I could make the logic work, that the chemicals would do their horrible, wonderful magic and kill the thief that was trying to rob this sweet family of their child. But he wasn’t MY SON; I didn’t have that emotional investment. I could stand pat on the science and hope for the best. It’s emotionally cowardly, but I have to admit to its truth.

It is this heartbroken mother who says something of such simple ferocity that I am left nearly breathless: I can’t believe Cody is dead! I never thought he would die! Even when he was so sick, I believed he would get better, that one day he would wake up and just start playing with his toys… She hoped beyond hope, and was betrayed by her hope and her child was taken and he is not coming back…what do you say to this? Nothing. I hug her again, tightly. She has been so brave, and devoted, and caring and still her sweet baby is gone. How can anyone make sense of this?

I go to see the boy. While waiting in the receiving line, I watch streaming slideshows of him. Anyone can deduce from the photos he was a feisty kid, full of life, in the thick of everything. You see him smiling, mugging for the camera, kicking a soccer ball, wresting with his brother or his cousin, Chris. There is such LIFE to this boy. And when I approach the casket, I see that yes, the funeral home has done a nice job in preparing him, but it’s not Cody, at least the Cody I have come to know. Regardless of the genetic makeup of this tiny body lying so still in front of me, this is not CODY. Cody was perpetual motion, and animation, and LIFE. Like a blossom, the beauty is on the tree, in the air, near the sky; the husk of the flower is on the ground.

I have a sudden realization and kneel before the casket and pray - not for Cody - but for his family. I pray for those left to mourn this brave, sweet child. I pray for his parents - for Mickey and Diane - that their grief will not consume them, that the beast will not further add to its tally of this family. I know this is a wound that will never totally heal, and like the beginning of his life, they will be living the horrible mirror image of a year of “firsts” where they will be desperately missing their boy and saying too often the word without. I know many people believe in heaven and an afterlife, and if there is one, then Cody is surely in it. If there is a God, I believe he is one that ushers children in without the scrutiny that is leveled on adults. I want to believe Cody is there; but even if there is no afterlife, Cody is still at peace and free from the pain, needles and chemicals. He may be gone from the earth, but he is most certainly not out of the orbit of those who love him.

I speed down the I-95. That moon is still there. I reflect back on how I believed in Cody’s treatment, I firmly believed it would work. I’m trying to make sense of something that is senseless – it is the ultimate exercise in futility. There are those who try and find some meaning in such tragedies – but regardless of whether Cody is an angel in heaven, or his illness causes a philantrhopic streak to raise funds to cure the disease – there is NO WAY you can convince me that there is some earthly math that will balance each side of the equals sign. Regardless of the aftermath, there is nothing that will mitigate the ultimate loss of this child. There can be redemption and solace, but not a loss of memory; It is the very definition of grief.

And now I look at the moon and wonder if my belief and hope were of any substance, like the light of the moon. I get angry for a moment – this moon is a fraud. It creates no light – it simply reflects the light of the sun. It hijacks it and passes it off as its own. Without the sun, the moon is nothing but a gray, barren, crater-pocked rock in orbit around our Earth. It’s a cold, lifeless place. But of course the moon doesn’t steal the sun, it redirects its light. And then it occurs to me: we are all like the moon. We would orbit this Earth, cold and barren but for the light and beauty of the warmth of something bigger than us all: LOVE. We are nothing without it.

I want to believe - regardless of the final resting place of the souls of those who leave us too soon – that we carry with us an ember of their love and humanity. And I throw up a silent prayer to the moon and beyond for these parents of stolen children that they not feel some sort of misplaced responsibility to live for their lost child, but to live life – with joy – for having had the blessing that was this child, for however unfairly short was their time on our Earth. And that in reflecting the love for their child, it will light their way.

For Cody and Melissa

36 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing that. I too am having tremenous trouble with Cody's passing. Your words, although triggering yet another round of tears, help.

After the funeral today I felt completely drained, so I can't imagine, truly, what Mickey and Diane feel. Your description of them, and Cody, was dead on.

The Geetah

Gregory said...

Hi MarathonMoon,

I'm kind of at a loss of words after reading that but very well said and thanks for writing this passage.

Gregory (Pudov)

Kati said...

wow Moon. Thank you for this...

Deck Ape said...

Moon,
I love you and I love your writing. You are the best.....


:)

Trish said...

Came here from Mickey's facebook. Thanks for sharing these thoughts.

elizabethnyc said...

Moon, beautifully written, and you captured how so many of us are feeling right now.

Thanks for your gift of words...

Gettin Older said...

That was great. As surreal as my last couple days have been it can't imagine saying goodbye to a kid instead of a parent. Saying goodbye to a parent is part of the natural, expected order. You are not supposed to say goodbye to a kid....

Cameron said...

Beautiful...simply beautiful....I can see why Mikey wants to be a writer like you when he grows up. Your tribute to Cody and his family is priceless.

Masters Lurker said...

Monica, that was extremely moving. You would have to be inhuman not to shed a tear or at least well up after reading such a beautifully written piece.

Steve

Babs said...

Oh my wow... I do not know you and have only followed this sweet family for a few weeks via their blog, but you have captured the true feelings of these sad days. You always want to believe in the power of the medicines and the power of hope. Cody's life has touched so many and that will be his legacy.

Glorybelle said...

Very beautiful passage, Monica, just like you. I'm without words right now. Trying to catch my breath and my tears.

Anonymous said...

As always, your writing is incredibly insightful and moving. Thank you for sharing, so beautifully, what we all feel.

God Bless You.

Greg
(mysol)

Samantha said...

Beautiful and eloquent...

I can not imagine their pain and grief... I only know the grief I feel for his lost life and although it is strong, it in no way comes close to theirs... That leaves me breathless...

Although it may sound trite compared to how strongly I feel, it is JUST NOT FAIR....

Anonymous said...

Yes, I agree with everyone else...beautifully written, but quiet tasteless. I know for a fact that Cody is now with God, because after all...THERE IS ONE! I only hope that you find him soon...

Heather said...

First and foremost what a testament to this precious boys life.Be proud of yourself.Beautiful and full of pure and simple love.Second,out of respect to Cody's life I will only briefly comment on the very tasteless comment from the cowardly anonymous poster, ... how dare you stand in judgment ... the God I love and know would never,ever believe that this was the way to spread His love and grace and if you feel so strong in your conviction,why would you post anonymously...as a Christian, I feel shame that you would choose this venue to speak up and out.Okay .. that wasn't brief but was necessary.Rest well sweet boy and to your family,peace and strength for the journey ahead.

Trina said...

Wow..this was BEAUTIFUL!!! I didnt know Cody or Melissa but I started following Cody's story a short while ago and was saddened to hear that he was gone. My thoughts and prayers go to your families!
~Trina

Anonymous said...

Monica - What a gift you have. I know Mickey and Diane will keep your words in their hearts for ever. I know I will. Thank-you for sharing your heart with us. Even though we can not make sense of why's, your words make it easier to cope with. As a mom of a football player,I related to your story about your son. WOW - you made my day and life a little easier. Take care & keep writting! Pam Kerns

Anonymous said...

Beautiful. Perfect expression of this loss. Thank you from those of
us who have followed Cody -complete
strangers- completely devoted. God
Bless.

Lilye said...

Follow the link from Cody's blog. Beautifully written and I can't imagine the pain that runs so deep.

Anonymous said...

I read it last night and cried so hard, I couldn't comment. You write beautifully - you express so well what I feel! Thanks

Lilly124 (RW)

Diane said...

Such beautiful words. I never personally knew Cody and his family but have been following Cody through their blog. I also lost my first child to cancer, my first son, at age 11. That was 17 years ago and while the horrible waves of grief and pain don't appear as often as they did in those first few months, when they do appear they are as fresh as ever. I wish peace for Cody's family.

Anonymous said...

Everything I wish I'd been able to say and didn't.
Thank-you.
Linda ( from Cody's blog )

Samantha said...

Thank you.... just, thank you.

Anonymous said...

Beautifully written. I too, have only recently come across Mickey's blog. I keep asking myself why? Why did Cody have to be taken away? Why such a beautiful innocent child? I have a son who is also 6 and this really hits close to home. I have spent many nights lying awake in bed praying and crying for Cody and his family, trying to make some sense of this all. Cody has touched me more than I ever thought a complete stranger could. I feel as though he is a part of my family. I am bound and deteremined to raise money for childrens cancer research. We have already signed up for a walk in April to raise money. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family.

Mommy of the Dynamic Duo said...

This was one of the most beautiful and poignant works that I have ever read. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, heart, love with us.

Anonymous said...

I am in awe with your words... you are a beautiful writer!
thank you,
robin in Iowa

Michael McGee said...

Monica

That was truely moving. Thanks for sharing your thoughts so eloquently on being at Cody's funeral. Your are the best Moon!

georgiagator

Cap'n Ron said...

Thanks Moon..... I have been struggling with the terms of Cody's death. Your words have helped tremendously.

Ron

Anonymous said...

I was so moved by your revelations and thoughts. A beautiful piece in tribute for a beautiful boy. His spirit lives on in each of us. My thoughts, prayers and heart go out to his parents, family and friends. God Bless and comfort each of you!

Teri B

JohnTheDork said...

Another beautiful bit of prose full of wit, wisdom, kindness, hope, despair and as usual, quite thought-provoking. Beautifully written Monica. You are such an intelligent woman and a talented writer.

Jennifer said...

Coming from Cody's blog.......That was beautiful! What a tremendous loss this family has had! I am praying for them!


Blessings,
Jennifer

Wolfgate said...

Beautiful Moon. Thanks for writing what many of us feel but can't say as well.

Anonymous said...

Dear Hoke,

What an awesome reflection on the loss of this sweet little boy. I will think of your words and our connections to children here and in heaven especially the next time I read "Goodnight, Moon" to a child.

Love,
Miss Daisy

Sam said...

That was the most beautiful thing I have ever read.

Ken said...

Thank you for your thoughts and prose--very moving.

So, so sad.

Ken (Arete)

Anonymous said...

Thank you, MarathonMoon. I have felt very heavy these last few weeks. You expressed many of the feelings I've been trying to work through.
Tamara (Runlonger)