The following post was written by Jenny, a guest blogger:
I lost my 18-month-old son to brain cancer on March 15th, 2020. He had been a perfectly healthy and incredibly happy boy just prior to his devastating diagnosis in October of 2019. Between that time and the day I kissed his sweet face for the last time, five long months had passed. Five months living in the hospital by his side. Five months watching our sweet angel suffer as cancer spread throughout his body. He fought like no person I have ever seen! The strength, resilience, and joy he was still able to experience in the darkest of times, became the inspiration and fuel that got us through it all.
During the week of his death, there was a sudden surge of panic amongst the staff at the hospital. Something called “coronavirus” had recently been introduced to the world. Honestly, I hadn’t spent more than a few minutes here and there catching up on any news. My son’s fight and health was all that was on my mind. I remember a nurse that week telling me that the policy in the hospital regarding visitors would soon be changing. The hospital would likely limit each patient to only one visitor per patient for the entirety of their hospitalization until this deadly virus was under control. The thought of my husband and our other children, my son’s grandparents or aunts not being able to give him a kiss or hug and tell him how much he was loved was too much for me to contemplate. We were already in panic mode, knowing that his health was rapidly declining and knowing that we were likely going to be losing him soon was more than enough to process. Our son passed away moments before the hospital changed the visitation policy. My husband and four other kids and my parents were able to spend the day with us before our precious baby was free. For this, I will always be grateful. The ability to say our goodbyes and to be together for one last time, was heartbreaking but was so very needed. This day was full of love. I cannot imagine losing a child or anyone and not being able to tell them “I love you”, give them comfort, or hold them. I’m heartsick to think about so many others who have been affected by COVID 19 who are now are in this unimaginable situation.
Leaving the hospital without him was the hardest moment of my life. I remember wrapping him up in a blanket after holding his lifeless body in my arms for hours after he passed, taking in every last second with him. With tears streaming down my face looking at my husband I screamed, “How do I do this?!” I was saved in that moment by an amazing nurse who had cared for our sweet boy that week. She put her hand on my shoulder and assured me she would continue to take care of my son. I can’t explain how those words will always give me comfort. My fear that leaving him, laying there on his hospital bed, this perfect little body I had loved and cuddled, once warm and pink and now cold and pale, would somehow mean that nobody would understand that he was still my child. I feared they wouldn’t treat him like a precious boy who still needed love and care. I took a deep breath and whispered to the nurse, “Please leave him wrapped in his blanket.” “Of course, I’ll be with him and I will take care of him,” his nurse said. She gave me a big hug. Little did I know this would be the only hug I would receive from someone other than my immediate family for God knows how long. My husband and I slowly picked up our belongings and somehow began walking. Through a hospital that was empty and starting to shut down. The only faces we saw were covered with masks, fear, and uncertainty. The emptiness looked like the exact way I was feeling at that moment.
Coming home during the beginning of the COVID pandemic was strange. I just lost my child. I JUST LOST MY CHILD?!?!?? Oh, and there is a deadly virus overtaking the world! We have to stay home. We can’t go anywhere in public. We can’t work. We need to buy toilet paper and hand sanitizer! Do we have face masks?? What is going on?? Is this serious? Where have I been?? It felt like the Twilight Zone. This was my initial reaction.
My next thought? I’m home! I’m safe with my living children and my husband! I even have my elderly parents with us! Nobody can come over?!?! I can mourn peacefully?? Cry and hug my other babies all day who’ve I’ve missed dearly and who have situationally been neglected while I was caring for their sick brother? There wasn’t any pressure to “get things done!” or “go on with my life” because life literally stopped! It stopped not only for me and my family, but for everyone! This was a blessing in disguise.
The next few weeks were oddly uncomfortable because I felt happiness. Why was I happy? Why was I enjoying being home? How can I be feeling okay when my son is dead? The joy stopped and was immediately replaced with a load of guilt. What’s wrong with me?? Was I suppressing the real grief that I knew was looming? No. I felt that too. Every moment. But I also felt joy. I was confused. A good friend told me, “Gio was full of joy every day of his life.” This was true. This was my son. Everyone who knew him loved him because he would smile and laugh even when he was feeling incredibly lousy. He was and is my inspiration. When I look at his pictures and hear his sweet voice in our family videos I smile as the tears flow. It is ok to feel joy and sadness concurrently, I’ve decided. It is normal! I’m not a horrible person after all, I’m a grieving mom who loves her son. This will never change.
The difficult part of processing my son’s death during COVID was the inability to connect and be there for my extended family and my friends through their grief and mine. Not being able to visit and hug them. Not being able to celebrate my son’s life! We still haven’t been able to set a date for his memorial service. This has been hard. Especially for our other kids who are younger. It’s hard for them to process their baby brother’s death and his service will give them a bit of closure that they can’t yet get until we can officiate his service. We’ve spent a lot of time talking about our son. Sharing stories of our favorite memories, framing our favorite photos, planting a memory garden in his honor. We also talk about our sadness, our anger, and ask questions like, “Why did he have to die?” “Where is he now, mama? Will he come back home?” My four-year-old twins recently put his favorite teddy bears in our living room window. When I asked them what they were doing they happily said, “Letting Gio know we love him”.
Overall, COVID has been devastating for us and so many others. The ability to connect with and love our family, friends, and neighbors through physical touch is so important, and without it especially when you so desperately crave and need it when you’re in a dark space of grief, is extremely hard. I am lucky that I still have others around me. My husband, my kids and my parents. Without them here, it would be absolutely impossible. That’s also the positive of COVID. Having my husband, kids, and parents with me. Even though it’s forced, it’s been amazing to be together. To spend time together without the pressures of day to day living. It’s allowed us to remember and honor our sweet baby in peace and without a rush to make quick decisions on how we want to memorialize his special little life that impacted us all in such a positive way and has brought us and everyone who knew him closer together. Not having to run errands and drop everyone off at dance and practice, not running to appointments and constantly working has allowed us to grieve our son slowly and naturally. Deadly virus? Just another day! Seeing the positive through the hardest of times and finding ways to be with the ones we love, whether it’s in person or on a virtual meetup for now, is what’s important during these times. COVID has taught us to prioritize our lives and get rid of the excess garbage that weighs our lives down. Life is too short, and too precious. My sweet baby boy has taught me to appreciate every ounce of happiness I can muster out of life, rain or shine. Loving you forever sweet boy…