There should be a rule, a commandment that says “thou shalt not outlive thy child.”
I was a teenager when my cousin Nicky died. He had just started college and was on the dean’s list when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease. He was handsome and athletic but the cancer didn’t care.
Our family gathered at my aunt and uncle’s home after Nicky’s funeral and ate food left by faceless neighbors. It was a somber afternoon. I avoided eye contact with my Aunt Winnie, who seemed to be in a daze.
Thirty years later I discussed another young boy’s death with this same aunt. My sons and I had just arrived in Los Angeles and were staying with her. We were on an all-sports vacation that included fabulous seats for the 1994 World Cup and a Giants game in San Francisco.
The first night on the road a friend called to tell me that my youngest son’s best friend had died. The boys were inseparable since pre-school. Drinking iced-tea under an umbrella in her back yard, I confided with my aunt that I was wrestling with a decision that my older sons and I had made not to tell Dana about Jonathon’s death until we got home. Her eyes welled up when I spoke. I could see Nicky in her eyes.
Jonathon had baseball practice that June day and begged his dad to take him on the Harley. Just a mile from their home a van made a U-turn in the two-lane road in the path of the motorcycle. Jonathon died instantly on impact.
It was one of the most difficult moments in my life when I sat my 11-year-old son down and told him his best friend was gone. We have lived with the pain and Jonathon’s memory ever since. His parents have struggled.
Now I have received the news about Jimmy. I met his mom a dozen years ago at a newspaper conference. We shared the same enthusiasm and passion for our work, but her seemingly endless energy made me jealous. We worked for different companies until I joined WesCom in 2001. It was never easy keeping up with such a charismatic, intelligent and dynamic woman. She always seemed to have the world by the tail.
About a year ago Debbie’s middle child was diagnosed with brain cancer. Here are excerpts from the e-mail she sent out Friday:
“Dear family and friends,
Jimmy passed away tonight, Friday, July 3, 2009, at 7:40 p.m. He was surrounded by his family…It’s been a hard few weeks for Jim as he worked to find peace and comfort with the final stage of his disease…stayed with Jimmy after his death, preparing him for tonight’s transport to Oregon Health and Science University where he will be received as the only adolescent in the research program at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. Our prayers go with Jimmy’s body with the expectation that this contribution, through research, will ultimately provide other children with hope…tomorrow we plan to spend the day at home…where we will participate in an annual neighborhood party with the kids lighting fireworks, blowing things up and engaging in otherwise crazy behavior. Jimmy loved this party…we all know that he’s there with us in spirit demanding more noise and bigger explosives…In his next life, he is skateboarding, snowboarding, cooking, playing sports, fishing, hiking in the outdoors, cruising downtown and above all, smiling, just like he did in this life.”
My heart goes out to Debbie, Leon, Daniel and Mary. Like a casserole or a bouquet of flowers, this column certainly can’t do much to comfort them, but it’s one way to make sure Jimmy’s memory lives on.