It’s every parent’s nightmare: being brought into a room, seated down and then quietly, but decisively, being told that your child is dying; the beautiful little treasure that was yours to protect is going to be dead, and soon. When those words are uttered, numbness grips your heart. Then, after the briefest of moments, the cloud lifts and a thousand fears, all of them real, flood your mind. You struggle, thinking “NO!”... “It can’t be”...”What do you mean?”...”Not my boy, surely?”: Then chaos.
In that moment all that you know in life, all that you hold dear is being taken from you and the feeling of powerlessness is overwhelming. It’s actually impossible to capture in words exactly how a parent feels in that situation. All I know is that I have felt it, and having done so, believe that only those who have suffered the same experience can truly understand.
I remember a time before my son passed away, long before he ever got sick, where I’d worry about him. When he was only 12 or 18 months old, and I’d be in the shower, I’d panic thinking that he would wander into the bathroom and fall head-first (arms back) into the toilet, drowning in the most terrible way. This thought would frequently enter my head, so much so that I’d have to leave the shower to check both toilets. In those moments, however, I always knew I was being irrational and although I’d always check, knew that all was going to be ok. I think this example I’ve just given is a variation of what most parents go through at various stages when raising their children. It’s natural to be concerned and perhaps fear the worst as a parent. It is a parent’s job, after all, to foresee all potential threats in any and all situations. But, as in the case of my checking the toilets, most parents’ fears and worries in those situations are accompanied by the greater expectation that all will in fact be fine. This ‘expectation’ is almost like a safety net, protecting you from surrendering to the true terror of fear. I mention this only to perhaps gauge the difference, as I see it, between what parents who have actually lost a child feel and those who think or say, ‘I can only imagine what you are going through.’ The imagination doesn’t come close. Before my son Craig died I had thought on many occasions what it would be like to lose him. It terrified me. It truly did. But I can say now with absolute honesty that those perceived terrors come nowhere near the reality of being told that ‘he is dying’. The emotion and despair is almost otherworldly. It calls into question everything you believe about life and seizes your heart.
I’m only too aware that, right now, somewhere a parent is being told their worst nightmare and my heart goes out to them. I know how they are feeling. If indeed, you the reader, are one of those parents then I can only offer my sympathies, understanding and the hope (and there’s always hope!) that despite everything you’ve been told your path takes on a new unexpected direction toward happiness, peace and full health for you and yours.