It felt selfish keeping his broken body alive. But still, as the nurse wheeled my son into the room, I asked: What if I changed my mind? What if I could no longer take him off of life support? She shook her head sadly and explained that it was too late. No matter how much I wanted my baby to live, the process for him to die…had already begun.
I remember holding him. He had the strongest little hands and such soft brown hair. My poor, sick baby—he was so perfect to me.
I didn’t want to watch, but my eyes stayed glued to each detail of him as he suffocated in my arms, breathing oddly, gasping for air…like a godd*mn fish. He snuggled into me then, asking for help, but I couldn’t do anything to save him! In fact, his death had been my decision—my fault. And now I had to watch him die.
I naively thought a miracle would happen THEN. God knew I had enough faith. This could be like John 4 when Jesus heals someone’s son from afar. But this wasn’t some story in the New Testament. This was life. Where if it’s time for someone to die, no one can tempt fate’s hand. And so, after an eternity of labored, sporadic breathing…my son turned blue despite all of my hopes… And my baby boy died.
I shook myself from the memory and turned to the nurse, “I feel like I always have the flu,” I said.
“And you might feel like that for a long time. It’s just part of this journey with cancer,” the nurse said. “At least we have pain medicine.”
“I really don’t like medicine,” I countered, but this is the ‘new normal’ they keep talking about. I sighed. “And now I might need radiation on my neck and throat?”
“And there’s a chance it could affect my ability to talk ‘normally’ and to sing?”
“Yes, but like the doctor said, it will most likely shrink that tumor. That’s the good news.”
I didn’t mean to, but I let out a little laugh. I’ve been working so hard to “speak no evil—lashon hara” according to the Jews. Apparently more radiation could make that easier.
“But I love to sing…” I finally said, trying to keep from crying right in front of a stranger. I couldn’t imagine not being able to sing in concerts like I used to…or staying silent during worship at church.
And then I return to that memory with my son: I’m thinking about how I want to change everything and keep him on life support. I WANT to be selfish and keep him alive not because he should live in pain, because I NEED him.
“Elisa. Elisa?” the nurse steps closer. “Are you okay? I know this news about the radiation must be hard.”
“You know, if I didn’t have a young family, I don’t think I’d continue with treatments. There are just so many things I’m losing to stay alive. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. I know other people have it so much worse, but right now—for me—this is hard.”
She left the room after a moment and the door shut. I stayed even though I should have packed up. And despite everything, an odd peace enveloped me. I suddenly understood the situation with my son. I knew—beyond doubt—that I did the right thing by letting him go. This pain I’ve been suffering through is only a taste of what he endured.
I thought then about how continuing treatments is the hardest thing I’ve ever physically done. And as I closed my eyes in that room, clarity came and joined the peace I’d previously felt.
I know that no matter the outcome of this situation, everything will be okay. There is true beauty in the good and the “bad.” Even when my son died, at least he could feel my love wrapped around him as his soul prepared to enter Heaven. An autopsy later discovered he would have died soon after we let him go. I’m just so grateful I got to be with him before he embarked on a new journey without me.
Anyway, I have the opportunity to find a strength in myself that I never knew I had. Plus, I really think my son is rooting for me—all the way from Heaven.
Despite maybe losing the ability to sing and talk well, at least I’ll still be able to write. See, there’s ALWAYS a silver lining. Even if it robs me of everything else, I hope cancer will never take my ability to find the good—and right now, that’s the best I can hope for.