Monday, April 13, 2015

Why DO People Get Sick?

Where to start? What a week.

We flew up to northern California on Friday to visit Chris's mom, who's dealing with advanced stage Parkinson's Disease. Together with her doctors and full-time in-home care, Chris and his brother are trying to figure out a new balance of medicines to get her back to comfortable, if not fully mobile or independent.

On the flight, I spent some time trying to prepare Quinn for what to expect. "Grandma's sick, and she might not be able to play with you as much as normal. We have to give her lots of extra love and try to cheer her up, okay? And remember that Grandma is Daddy's mom, so he might be a little sad and need extra hugs, too, just like you would be sad if I got sick."

I almost hesitated on those last words, as if I haven't been sick nearly his whole life, but I didn't know how else to say it and, after all, with the exception of the chemo itself, I haven't felt sick or had any evidence of disease in nearly a year and a half.

Quinn nodded in understanding. "I would be so sad, Mom." Then he asked me, "Why do people get sick?"

"I don't know, buddy," I said. I held his hand for awhile.

Seeing my mother-in-law was tough. How had things progressed this quickly in just three months? As I gave her a hug good-night on Friday, I started crying.

"Hey," she said. "I didn't cry for you, you're not allowed to cry for me." She was right, so I straightened up.

"That's because you're a lot tougher than I am," I cracked.

We've had moments of pure brightness this weekend, too. A superbly talented friend of Chris's took our family photos in a field off Highway 12, surrounded by wineries and a glowing sunset. I've gotten to spend an inordinate amount of time in the kitchen, because apparently when the going gets tough, I get cooking. And Quinn has blown me away with his empathy and compassion.

One of the concerns my mother-in-law expressed was that she didn't want Quinn to see her this way, that maybe we shouldn't be here because she might scare him. So I asked him on Saturday if Grandma being sick scared him, and he looked at me like it was the strangest thing I'd ever said. "No, it makes me sad," he said. "I'm sad because Grandma doesn't feel better."

Of course he wouldn't be scared. He has no point of reference to know what any of this means, or have any way of knowing that some people don't get better once they get sick. Grandma could never be scary to him. She's just Grandma, after all, not a monster under his bed. Every morning, he asks if he can go in to her room to be with her, even if we have to say no because she's getting some rest. Every evening, to Quinn's delight, we have a picnic dinner in her room.

I'm so proud of his pure and enormous heart.


  1. Quinn's pure and enormous heart is a reflection of his parents love and devotion. Thank you for sharing, Jen... "She's just Grandma"... so perfect.

    1. Thanks so much, Carolyn. Quinn taught me quite a bit this weekend about how to view sickness without fear. Sadness, sure, but fear we can do with a little less of.

  2. This was very touching. I am sorry your family is going through this tough time. I am sure grandma feels very loved.

    Your son is a sweetheart.

  3. jen, this is beautiful. he is beautiful. you are beautiful.

    1. Thank you! I feel like it's all I say, and it's never quite enough, but thank you, honestly.

  4. I stumbled across your piece on and came here. Thanks for the poignant story. Wishing you and your family well from across the internet.

    1. Thanks for visiting! And for the well-wishes. We're taking them all, from all over the place, and wrapping ourselves in a little healing cocoon right now. Thank you for contributing to that.