Sunday, January 4, 2009

Walking The Last Mile

I have to confess, it is getting very heavy. Weighing me down. Pressing into my chest and catching in my throat. This is the saddest walk, the hardest part. This sweet, sorrowful journey, this last week leading up to Joseph's death. I lost count of how many times I found myself in tears today. I was impatient with Nick and Alex, their playfulness and exuberance interrupting too many thoughts of their brother, thoughts I have fought hard to keep under control, with nice neat boundaries, with pretty and appropriate feelings of sorrow....not this trembling and helpless sensation of being sucked under, this graceless loss of control that I fear communicates a lack of gratitude for all that I have in my life now that is good. I have not talked about it to Joe. He seems to just know and diverted me by letting me "help" him put the finishing touches on the master bathroom. I was soothed to be in his presence. He put the drill into my hands and stood behind me, showing me where to drill to hang up the new towel racks, his arms wrapped around me and giving me warmth...the inner feeling of falling silenced for a few moments, my hands trembling too much to line the drill up with the mark we'd made on the wall. My "helping" was like that of a child, mostly that of watching and lingering nearby. In time he sent me off to the gym, and I, confused by this directive even though I had told him earlier in the day that I wanted to go there, went into auto-pilot and drove there, did my two miles on the elliptical and felt subsequent relief from the oppressiveness of my grief for a while afterward. I think if my body were fit enough, I would have gone on and on, churning my stumpy legs on that machine until I work it into the ground, until the fatigue or endorphins or both numbed me until the knowledge that I have not seen or spoken to my oldest child for two years no longered echoed in the hollow place of my heart.

So I am finding that leaving my grief in the background isn't going to really happen this week, or at least not today. So I put it out here and if this is too heavy, too sad, too depressing to read, if you feel impatient with me because, after all, its been two years now, then I do apologize and encourage you to come back here to read next week and skip this week. There was a boy and his name was Joseph. And he was mine. And I lost him. It is a darkness that is indescribable as I remember the last week of his life, a week of life that was not life at all, a week in which he lay inert and subdued by drugs and in which his body was trying to tell us it could no longer function and whose message we collectively, doctors included, could not bear to hear. All those emotions and memories wander within me, aimless roaming that seek to lay blame, that trigger enormous guilt, shame and sorrow. I never wanted to put him on that machine. I never wanted to let him go without saying goodbye. I wanted death to be something we could face together, that I could know I had prepared him for. But I was denied that beyond the two or three conversations in which we managed to talk about the possibility of his not making it. The first time we talked about it together, he trembled so hard, literally shaking head to toe, his voice trembling, so hard I knew he knew the reality of it and that he feared it. And he described to me a world, a heaven, that has become my dearest hope for him. How I hope the angels were listening that day, that they carried him there.

I am rambling. I don't know what to say, how to express this. I had a son named Joseph. He was real, I birthed him, nursed him, held him, spent months as a nearly single parent raising him while his father was in the military and gone so much of the time. I had a son named Joseph. And this week, two years ago, he died from complications of his bone marrow transplant, the last hope of curing the acute myeloid leukemia that was stealing his life from him. I had a son named Joseph. The last thing he ever ate on earth was popcorn. The last smile he ever had was directed at the beautiful blond nurse taking care of him in ICU named Traci. The last time he ever laughed he was playing a video game in which he was blowing up teletubbies. The last movie we watched together was The Polar Express. The last night he ever spent breathing on his own was December 10th, 2006 and I spent that night at his side. The last time he ever got irritated with me was when I asked him too many times if he was afraid, as I watched him struggling to breathe. The last time we talked about his illness was that night, when he told me he knew that I love him a whole lot.

I cannot remember the last meal we ate at the table as a family. I cannot remember the last time he cried. I cannot remember the last time we went to church together. I cannot remember his last night at home. I cannot remember the last time we hugged.

I had a son named Joseph. Those things I can and cannot remember both haunt me.

I wish I could be with my family and yet away enough to not seem as if I am neglecting anyone when I am slow or quiet. I feel a bit suspended, as if I am processing things just a second or two later than I normally would. I cannot believe two years have gone by.

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