I got a card in the mail today from a local address. Curious, I opened the card and read this on the front:
“Anyone can slay a dragon, he told me.
But waking up every morning and loving the world all over again.
That’s what takes a real hero.” - Brian Andreas
It was a thank you card from a family in my community who’s son passed away this summer. He was five years-old. I had made a donation in his memory and the family was thanking me for my expression of sympathy.
I had been feeling terrible since I heard the news about this beautiful, sweet little boy. He was the brother of one of my daughter’s friends from 1st grade (she’s now a third grader). The family has the same last name as my mother’s maiden name and I have always wondered if we were even in the slightest way related and felt an affinity for that reason. Our girls played soccer together one year and I remember talking to the father on the sidelines.
I received this email early in the year and I remember the day I received it very clearly. My neighbor had forwarded it to me.
A month and a half ago our lives changed forever when our 4-year-old son Leo was diagnosed with Leukemia. It was a total shock. He was rushed into the intensive care unit, and over the past 47 days wwamunity. Never in my life could I have imagined what we are going through but everyone has made it a little bit easier to get up each morning and face what the day has in store for us. This experience has truly made me proud to live among friends and neighbors who feel like family.
Leo is just beginning another intense regimen of chemotherapy that will keep us in the hospital for the next 4-6 weeks. The goal is to get him into a solid remission so that he can undergo a bone marrow transplant. The doctors prefer going through the national registry to find him a match for the transplant, and right now there are some likely donor candidates that they are investigating. As far as I understand it, the success of the transplant depends on many factors, one being how good a match is found. The doctors will continue to search the registry for the best possible match right up until the time of transplant.
His father went on to ask everyone to log onto www.bethematch.combeth and get a kit to become a donor to be a possible match to help him live. I did it right away.
I was not close to the family and our girls drifted apart as the last two years went by. Whenever I saw Leo and his mom at school since receiving this email, walking hand in hand, with his head carefully wrapped in a scarf or under a hat, to conceal his baldness, I felt a hole in my heart. I could see the love that flowed from mother to son and back. She was clearly devoted and a mother who would never give up. I knew that together with her husband, they would fight until the bitter end for their son.
As time went by, and the year progressed, I thought about Leo often, but there were no words between them and I. When I saw his mother or father, my heart stopped and a I went speechless. I didn’t know what to say or how to say it.
I so hoped that Leo would survive. The last time I saw him was the month before he passed away at our school festival in late May. His parents were tending to him so diligently and so lovingly, keeping him safe from the sun, from any harm. He looked frail, but I had no idea his days would be so short.
While we were in England early in the summer, I got an email about his death and upcoming memorial service. We wouldn’t be around for the service, and I wouldn’t be able to express my sympathy in person. I heard from a friend that the parents were very strong during the serivice, that his father said that he lived the life of 100 years in his short 5 years. That he was real hero, the biggest and best they’ve ever known.
When I came home, there was no way to express my pain for this young, loving family except to send in a donation to his synagogue. I have passed by their home many times but know that it would be awkward for me to just show up. I just don’t know them very well. Of course, as time has passed, it has become more and more difficult to just stop by. It got too late somehow, but I have never stopped thinking about him.
As a mother of two young children myself, I think about my life and I think about death. I can’t imagine what I would do if one of their lives were cut short. It is a nightmare that no parent wants to experience and I hate the fact that this seemingly amazing and happy family were struck and now have to move on without their child, and that a little girl has to deal with the death of her young brother.
A few days ago, I came face to face with his mother at our local Trader Joe’s. I said, “Hello”, perhaps too excitedly as I was quite thrown off guard. Sure enough, she looked at me, looked down, whispered “Thank you” and walked quickly away. I have not been able to get the experience out of my mind. I picture her alone in the house, while her daughter is at camp, and her husband is at work, sitting alone in his room. Is she looking through photo albums at his baby pictures or sifting through his clothes and inhaling their smell? Does she have visions of him following her around the house? How will she ever let go?
Do I wish I had stopped by when I came back from England? Perhaps. But I don’t think that she needed..or needs even now…a stranger to convey thoughts that she may not want to hear. I’ll never know what I should have done. Perhaps we will speak one day, somewhere, at another point in time.