Monday, November 13, 2017

On Death + Healing + A Little Bit of Football

I haven't talked to many kids about death. But kids, I find, are generally equal parts curious and blunt. My six-year-old, Quinn, casually asked me last weekend: "What if my baby sister stays in your belly until my birthday, in March?"

"Then I'd be in some kind of record book," I said. "I promise she'll be here in the next couple of weeks."

"What if a mom was pregnant for 5,000 years?" he wanted to know. Then, quickly, "I guess then both the mom and baby would be dead by then."

In the abstract, death is a concept that isn't yet scary to him -- or wasn't, until very recently. He wants to know how old the oldest person on Earth is, why people can't live to be 600 years old, and very occasionally, he'll tell me he's worried we might need to move to another planet because ours is getting too hot. To be fair, we live in Phoenix, where it was still hovering around 100 degrees the week before Halloween. AND his dad is a climate scientist/geologist who studies the correlation between climate change and human evolution, so that could contribute.

Quinn is curious about our collective mortality, but death hasn't seemed imminent in his life (other than my bout with metastatic breast cancer, which he doesn't remember very well, and my mother-in-law's passing away more than two years ago -- also not a strong memory for him).

If you follow me on Instagram, you might have seen that Quinn had his first stitches three weeks ago. Because October wasn't awful enough already.
Chris was at a geology conference in Seattle, and Q and I were watching Monday Night Football. Quinn wants to be an NFL player when he grows up.

He loves everything about the game, and cheers for teams as wide-ranging as his flag football team the Patriots to the Seahawks because they're my team to the Cardinals because Arizona to the Eagles because his favorite color is green. Three weeks ago, Mack Hollins, a rookie wide receiver for the Philadelphia Eagles, caught his first career touchdown pass, and in Quinn's estimation, nailed his end zone celebration.

Quinn tried to recreate the dance on his knees, on our couch, and, in a rare moment for him, he lost his balance. In what seemed like slow motion, he fell, head-first, and smacked into a leather-covered ottoman storage cube, then landed head-first on the floor. I didn't think it would be that bad because the cubes are padded on top. But he hit the unpadded, stitched corner, and when I scooped him off the ground, his forehead was gaping open and blood soaked my t-shirt. While I quickly set him down and assured him he'd be okay (as I tried not to show him how terrified I was and ran to the kitchen for an ice-pack and a towel), he kept repeating through his tears, "I'm so scared, I don't want to die."

My heart felt like it was being twisted and wrung out like an old dishrag in that moment.

I promised him he wouldn't die. I called 911 and just a few minutes later, several firemen stood in our living room and assured me he would be fine but also that he'd need stitches. "Can you do them here?" I asked, naively. They don't offer that service, apparently. We went to the emergency room at Phoenix Children's, where several hours later, Quinn got five stitches.

I'm not sure at what point he calmed down -- though it came more quickly for him than me. I was still  sobbing about his head and the wrenching ache in my heart days later, always at night when the house was quiet and my brain started racing again. I am more okay now, though Quinn's words have been replaying in my head the past few days.

***

My friend Beth Caldwell died ten days ago. Her daughter is Quinn's age, give or take a few months. Beth's husband, J, has been posting updates (up until his FB account was blocked because of a troll). Their kids are having trouble sleeping. As someone who still snuggles with Quinn every night until he falls asleep (and lately, I'm falling asleep with him), I get it.

How can you assure children that there's nothing to be afraid of after dark when their world has just imploded?

I haven't known how to write about Beth, but at some point I figure I needed to, whether I know what to say or not. In the last ten days, as Beth's husband points out on Twitter, this country has lost another 1,130 women like Beth to metastatic breast cancer. 113 every damn day. In the last ten days, Beth's husband had to live through their fifteenth wedding anniversary without his lovely bride.

And while we in this community are all too sadly familiar with grieving and death and losing our friends, there are some people who are just different in their scope and impact and the vast vacuum of emptiness felt in their absence. Beth was one of those women, and even now, it is so hard for me to write about her in the past tense. I told her husband that she and I used to joke we wished we'd met in law school, or over bourbon -- anywhere but because of cancer. Stupid fucking cancer.

Yes, you've seen this photo before, but - regrettably - it's the only one I have with Beth. Note to self: take more photos.
I know I'm not the only one who feels this way about Beth. She was a friend to so many of us, and a fierce advocate who led by example. She was whip-smart, even when she thought she was at her worst. And as I advocate in the years to come, I will always ask: would this have helped Beth? Will it do more to keep the Kelly's, April's, Danya's, Dana's, Rebecca's, Jennie's, Nicole's and Kisha's in my life alive? In other words, does it live up to Beth's standards?

I don't know what else to do to carry the torch she lit.

***

I woke up at 5:30 this morning to our meowing cat scratching at our temporary bedroom door. Temporary since we are still in the throes of a remodel because... I don't know? Paint is more complicated than I could have imagined? Even without the hungry cat, I'm not sleeping well. I'm 39.5 weeks pregnant. Waking up forty-five times a night is nature's way of preparing you for the sleeplessness of a newborn, blah blah BLAH. Whatever. I just want to stop peeing every two hours (or every time I sneeze).

This morning, I read through the news and my Facebook feed. I noted that the forecast has us at 86 degrees today. I saw that Beth's husband's Facebook account has been suspended because some terrible person reported him for who knows what... Grieving too hard? And I don't know how to stop being angry.

But then Chris woke up and we had coffee together. And Quinn woke up and I remembered him singing "Hush Little Baby" to my belly last night, how my heart finally felt un-corkscrewed. There was no longer a tornado brewing in my chest. Instead, it swelled to the fullest it has felt in weeks. As the Grinch would say, it near tripled in size, and love poured down my cheeks.

***
Quinn's head is healing. There is a pinkish scar that extends for about an inch above his left eyebrow. I massage it gently a couple of times a day. He's no longer asking me about death. His flag football team has their playoffs this weekend, and baby-willing, I'll be there to cheer him on.

I wish some calendula or coconut oil and a weekend of football could heal every kid's pain and scars so easily.

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