Alexander is back from Camp Feliz, a camp for kids who have had a brain tumor. It was his first time to attend. Needless to say, it was a wonderful experience for him and very likely changed his life to some extent. It was his first campout away from home, a fact that made him very proud. He caught his first fish, a big mouth bass. He swam and stayed in a cabin with five other boys and a couple of counselors. He met a girl there, Lauren, who he made a necklace for and who he asked to dance with him at the barn dance they had Saturday night...apparently one of only two boys brave enough to dance with a girl. She is an eigth grader, and of course, had been through a brain tumor ordeal of her own. They say they will be pen pals. This was her fifth trip to Camp Feliz and Alex says he plans to go every year until he is to big to go anymore.
It seems like it ought to be the ending scene of a very dramatic and touching movie...having climaxed with Joseph's death, wrapping up neatly with the sweet symbolism of a prior intense battle coming to such a nice and neat close. Of course, its never really closed. It never really ends. But as I listened to Alex talking about camp and the other children there I was struck by how incredibly lucky we have been in Alexander's case. We were just as afraid for his life and his outcomes. We fear relapse just as acutely for him as we did for Joseph. We are still immersed in the world of childhood cancer..on the periphery now, but still a part of it....and still incredibly touched by, affected by, improved by the nature of the children who fight these battles. On one hand I can feel intensely blessed to have two such personalities as my own family....and on the other, very bitter and angry, wondering what I have done in some past life to have earned such a sentence of suffering and helplessness. It is honestly the most torn feeling I can imagine, the most polar of forces....intense grief over the lost life of one son....intense relief and continued hope over the life of another.
I went with my girlfriends today to Canton. It was never my intent to really find anything to purchase. Just to get time with friends whom I have struggled to find common ground with again. It was a good day. As we drove through some back country roads, we discovered a very old cemetery and stopped to get out and explore. The headstones were crumbling and cracked, in some cases fallen down, and many worn illegible by well over a hundred Texas changes in calendar. Most had both headstone and footstones placed, and it became apparent the vast majority who had been buried in the small clearing had been children, commonly under six years of age....the worn stones decorated with angels or lambs. One read "Budded on earth, blooming in heaven"...another "Momma and pappa weep not for me, I am waiting in heaven for thee"....and the bittersweet, incongrous presence of the parents' own headstones place nearby, some forty years later. One poor family buried five children in six years, ending with what looked to likely be the death of the mother in childbirth.
I felt such softness, looking at these little graves, places where over one hundred years ago surely mothers wept as I have done. Would their spirits reach out in sisterly sympathy to me now? WEre children as valued then, the death of them as shocking? Was it the same painful jolt, or was death in childhood more common and thus more accepted than it is now? I do not know those answers...I just know my heart bled for the young life buried there and the pain I have known myself. In a way it gave me some quietness inside, realizing I am not the one to have suffered. So few people can imagine the loss of a child. But here was evidence of family after family burying their young and mourning their loss, long before I was born, long after the mourners have themselves died. I could only imagine with some satisfaction that mother and child are together again now, families reunited, and hopefully, happy.