This is our first Thanksgiving without Theodore. I should be cutting up turkey into small pieces and placing it on the tray of his highchair next to me. Instead, it sits empty in the corner of our kitchen. I’ve been living every day since August 4 with a tender heart and shattered soul but the holidays certainly have a way of emphasizing Theo’s absence. I previously experienced this when I celebrated my birthday last month. As I blew out my candles I had only one wish – the one wish, which I know is impossible to grant: to have my sweet boy back.
Although I celebrate it without Theo, this Thanksgiving, I realize that I have so much to be thankful for.
I am thankful for palliative pediatric physicians and nurses. I can’t imagine a more difficult job. You watch sweet, innocent children slowly fade from this world, at times suffering in such cruel, unfair ways. And, you have conversations with their exhausted, hopeful parents that should never be heard. Yet your strength does not detach you and your compassion is always apparent. To you, every little child is as special as the next and the small details never go unnoticed: which stuffed animal was his favourite, which songs seemed to relax him best, when he was cutting a new tooth, or when he received a new haircut. You did everything in your power to save him and when medical intervention failed, you did everything you could to keep him comfortable. But, the tears in your eyes when you said goodbye to him for the last time meant more to me than your medical degree every did.
I am thankful for organizations such as the Ronald McDonald House, which provided us with a room to stay so we could be as close to Theo as possible while he was in the hospital. I am also thankful for a healthcare system that allowed us to eventually leave the sterile confines of the hospital and take care of Theo in our own home. This required coordination from multiple agencies and is a luxury that parents in most other countries would only dream of. We were able to stay by our son’s side, create countless memories, and eventually provide him with a dignified peaceful passing in the comforts of our home, surrounding by family.
I am thankful for my nieces and nephews. Every single time I see you all together, I can’t help but picture your cousin running beside you. And most days, the vacancy of that empty swing next to you is almost too much to bear. But then you say the one word, which plays such beautiful music to my ears. A single word, which confirms his existence. His name. Theo. Unlike most adults who are afraid to say his name, your innocence protects you from this fear. And when you do, I have to fight back the tears and resist from wrapping you in a big hug because it absolves me from my greatest worry: that he has been forgotten.
I am thankful for my sons. One of whom I carry in my arms and one of whom I carry in my heart. I will suffer no greater loss than the loss of my child but I am thankful for the opportunity to be his mother. There are women who would trade anything in this world to hold their child in their arms and to experience the joy of motherhood. I am blessed to have experienced this first with Theo, even if it was taken from me so painfully and so soon.
I am thankful for other bereaved parents who have reached out to me since Theo’s passing although I wish our club didn’t exist. No one should experience the pain of seeing their child take their last breath, and the cruelty of picking out their tiny coffin and watching it be lowered into the ground. And, the worry that you’ll one day forget his sweet smell, the softness of his cheeks, or the way his hair tucked around his ears. You have reminded me to breathe on the days where the grief feels suffocating and that it’s ok to smile on the days when I feel him extra close to me. We are united by our angel children and are comforted by knowing that they are together, at peace, watching over us.
Lastly, I am thankful for you. Your messages, prayers, cards, phone calls, donations and comments on this blog have radiated through the darkness. You have carried me on the days when I lacked the strength to take the next step. I wish I had the opportunity to thank each and every one of you personally. This year has definitely been the hardest of my life and I have certainly struggled with its merciless events but then I remind myself of you. Your selfless compassion and genuine empathy have upheld our family and assured me that life still is beautiful, still is deserving of gratitude.