Slurping Some Soup

Slurping chicken noodle soup, Robert looked up from watching Saturday morning cartoons, “Robert, I need to leave for a bit, will you be okay for about an hour?” “Sure Mom, I’m feeling a lot better this morning. I hope I can get out of here today.” “I hope so too, I love you, I won’t be long.” “Love you too, Mom.” I leaned down and kissed Robert’s scruffy head of newly grown hair-I breathed him in a bit holding my face there for just a moment. 

Five minutes prior, I had been sitting with a doctor who informed me that Robert’s leukemia was back and he would die inside of 6 weeks.  As he spoke, I stared at my 11 year old son watching cartoons and eating soup; the doctor’s words traveled from his mouth, hovered in the air finally, piercing my ear. He offered no mercy, there was no hope, no clemency in his words. They were a death sentence for my young son. Robert had no idea what his mother had just been told. His fate was being sealed on the other side of a glass window…

I stepped out of the cold hospital to be greeted by a clear, crisp cloudless fall day. It was early October and as much as we hated being in Tennessee, the idea of watching the seasons change seemed inviting. Robert and I would drive around the winding roads taking in the lush green landscape and talk about how it will look once the season changed. It even smelled like fall that morning. I sat on a bench, looking into the cloudless sky, the words of the doctor resonating in my ears, the image of Robert sitting in his bed just like any 11 year old boy would on a Saturday morning watching cartoons.  All I knew was, I had to call his Dad and repeat the words of the doctor. 

Robert was elated to learn that his dad and older sister were coming back early. “Jessica is coming too? She will have to miss school, I can’t wait to hear about school, heck I can’t wait to get back to school!” They arrived late that day. The drive from the airport was silent except for the short conversation where the 3 of us agreed not to say anything to Robert until after his bone marrow aspirate on Monday. I did not know who I ached for more, Robert, his Dad, or my 12 year old daughter, the oldest of our 4 children. I did not even bother to factor myself in the equation of pain. There seemed no grace for a Mom at a time like this. It seemed my fate was sealed as well. 

Robert’s excitement to see his sister and Dad warmed our hearts. He quizzed his sister about school, told her about his new backpack and school supplies, how it felt “kinda cool” to be in Tennessee this time of year, fall, back to school time. “They had a big party for us, they gave us school supplies, some dumb Barbie dvd and there was this girl dressed up like Barbie.” Robert talked and talked to his sister, they did what any brother and sister would do, acted like kids excited for new things. 

The 4 of us spent Sunday together. Robert wore his mask to protect himself from as many airborne things he could, he had no idea we were told it did not matter what he did now. We had as much fun and laughter as we could that day. At one point Robert kicked us out of his room so he and his big sister could watch one of his favorite dumb movies. His Dad and I stood outside the room listening to them laugh like fools…we cried and laughed when they did. Robert and Jessica were thicker than thieves, my “Irish Twins.” They loved being called that. I do not know how my 12 year old daughter kept the secret of her brother’s fate those days, but she did. She wanted to enjoy his laughter; her bravery humbled me and made me stronger. 

 Monday came too quickly. It was October 7th. The hospital had begun decorating for Halloween. The kids talked about their costumes and wondered if Robert would be home for trick or treating. Robert’s bone marrow aspiration was finished by late morning. His Dad and I were delivered the confirmation that his marrow was full of cancer cells. His transplant had failed. How were we going to tell him? Robert understood, as best as an 11 year old could understand, what it meant if his transplant failed. We all went back to our apartment. I knew I had to be the one to tell him. I also knew his Dad could never tell him, he could not even tell himself. No one offered us any hope, there was no mercy to be extended. Relapsed leukemia offered no leniency, and handed down a hefty sentence. 

Robert, Jessica and I were lying on the bed in our room, Robert’s Dad listened quietly in the other room. I had no words. What or how do you tell your 11 year old son he would not be attending the art school he had been accepted into with his sister, or that he might not be alive for Halloween? There we were, the 3 of us, huddled like puppies. Our heads together, me in the middle, my “Irish twins” on either side of me lying there anticipating an afternoon nap.               

                       “Robert, I have to tell you something…                                                                         Robert, your cancer is back.” 

As the words left my mouth they hovered above us as we hoped they would vanish into thin air, but they didn’t; they landed right where they were intended to land… 

                          ”Mom, my transplant didn’t work?”                                                                            “No Robert it didn’t work.”  

My heart slowed, I was gasping without making a sound…I could feel tears on my left shoulder where my sweet boy always laid his head. 

                          “Mom, I don’t want to die…                                                                                                I don’t want to die…”                                          

His words breathed out quietly, softly a plea for mercy sent into the thin air hoping not to vanish but to be heard to change his fate… 

*Robert lived to trick or treat that Halloween, he died 6 weeks and 1 day later. 

Literal Thinking in a Hypothetical World

Literal Thinking in a Hypothetical World

“I tried to tell you…” These words crack me up. What exactly does that mean? Actually, I get it, I have seen it happen time and time again. I have lived this. I am in the business of “telling” others things. I find myself repeating the same things, ideas, words, and thoughts over and over again in all manner of delivery. I use humor, wit, charm, intelligence, I even throw in a little Spanish and get really loud if necessary. I know how to TELL something. So, really I do understand when someone does not hear me, or pretends they did not hear me or understand me. However, when someone recently said this to me, I laughed out loud. And I don’t mean LOL, I literally laughed out loud.

The reciprocal of being in the business of needing to speak in such a way so that others understand and hear me, is that I must listen. I am one of those that is often described as a “good listener.” I cannot tell you how many phone calls in the middle of the night begin with, “I called you because I knew you would answer…” or how many conversations I have had where the person speaking to me said, “I can’t believe I am telling you that, I have never told anyone that…” You know when you fill out some sort of questionnaire and it asks “How would your friends describe you?” I always teeter between selecting “loyal” or “good listener.” In my world, they go hand in hand. As they should. No doubt.

So I laughed, and was mystified by this statement I recently heard. “I tried to tell you…” What did you send up smoke signals, tell me in sign language behind my back, did you hold up a sign on my blind side where I would not see it? But, you knew you tried? Really. What I have decided this really means is, “Actually nothing I said was real, or true and I didn’t mean any of it; it was more of a hypothetical than a literal thought, feeling, or intention. Got it?”

No, I don’t get it. I am a literal thinker. I am a literal listener, and I hear really well and have a penchant for recalling and remembering details. I am an invaluable resource to certain people who do not have this trait. I am the one they take places and count on to whisper in their ear the name of the person they are talking to and where they met them because they have no clue. I usually get high fived for this. My literal thinking and listening enabled me to follow the thread of conversations chock full of excruciating details with regards to my own child’s life and death. This person said the wrong thing to the wrong person when they tried to convince me they “tried to tell me…”

My literal thinking and listening scares people sometimes. It is an interesting ability to have. For instance, recently, when I ran into someone I had not seen in years and remembered their name, where we met, and all the intimate details of the conversation that was exchanged in a matter of moments. Their raised eyebrows made me realize they were caught off guard. At least they recognized me and then recalled the meeting from 6 years ago. I feel like a stalker sometimes. But I am harmless. I generally use my powers for good not evil. The details shared with me get trapped in the minute crevices of my mind and vast caverns of my heart. Maybe that is why people like to tell me “stuff.”

How about this one, “You only hear what you want to hear!” This is usually spoken from an exasperated, confused, hurt person who has either done something wrong, or feels they are being accused of some wrongdoing. A close friend said this to me one day and I pondered and pondered it. After much self-examination, I decided in a way, he was right. And he should be glad I only hear what I want to hear at times. Because, being so literal, I know exactly what is being said to me, yet, when I choose to hear otherwise it is a deliberate choice made to protect, hope, believe, or gain insight from. His words took me back to a tiny room, early one Saturday morning when a doctor told me my son was going to die and all hope was lost-his words “he might have 6 weeks to live…” were HEARD. I HEARD him loud and clear. Yet, as I listened intently to his matter of fact medical jargon, memorizing them all, I chose to hear something else too; maybe, maybe he has a 10% chance to get into remission again-and if you can get him into remission and keep him alive for a few months we will try again…I chose to focus on this glimmer of hope, but believe me, I heard him tell me my son was full of cancer and was dying right before my eyes. So, the next time someone I love is angry or hurt, lashes out, wants to quit, runaway, or says they hate me, I will hear them, and I will choose to hear what I want to hear too.

Literally, does anyone mean what they say anymore, or is it all just hyperbole? We live in such bizarre times a literal minded woman like myself finds it hard to stay literal. A person who says what they mean, means what they say, does not get far in the world of hypotheticals. If I say I am going to call, I call. If I say, I will be somewhere I almost always am, and if I cannot be there I am sure to follow up with a call or a message. It seems that we listen to our animals better than we listen to each other. If we can interpret their barks or cries why not try that with each other. Okay, I know what our pets say is much more basic and “literal”, but, surely you hear what I am trying to say. Maybe I am more animal than human seeing I am so literal. Maybe that is why I prefer the company of 5 year olds.

“I tried to tell you”, Guess what, I tried to tell you too, I am literal, do not tell me you are going to do something and not do it. Oh the battles launched, relationships destroyed, feelings hurt over those words,“I tried to tell you…” Listen, hear me, hear whatever you want, but how about we try a little harder? Maybe, just maybe we can try to listen a little better, actually hear what is being said to us and what we say to others? Maybe, just maybe we can try in one small corner of our world put some effort into this. For the love of Peace, shall we?