Monday, November 25, 2013


James and his Uncle Patrick

The above picture is of my brother and James. My father is holding him. The band-aid on James' hand is from one of his last IVs. James has his port in this photo and fortunately he required fewer IVs after the port surgery.

When I wrote that last sentence, I immediately began writing another. My mind spiraled from James' port to the chemo drugs he never needed that it was designed to deliver, to the TPN he did need his last few days alive. From there to me taking each custom made bag of TPN out of the outside refrigerator when he died and tossing each into the trash, unable to look at them lying on the bottom rack, promising a week's supply of food and life for Sikes/James Camden. To the trash can in his room where two years later I found the empty wrappers from the many drugs we did have to give him and my strange, complete unwillingness to throw them away.

The spiraling happens. An involuntary tic, it seizes you and for a moment can take you right back to chilled hospital rooms, saline and morphine. This is unavoidable. I used to think you could avoid it, but that is a fantasy, and not a helpful one. The best you can hope for is management.  In the beginning a detour like that might cost you the day or the week. Over time you can hope to cut that to minutes or hours. The day can survive. You can survive.

In that picture my brother is engaged. Six months after James died, he was married. James was supposed to be his ring bearer. My cousin took his place. A year after he was married my brother and his wife announced they were expecting. Nine months later, my nephew was born. James' cousin is now two months old and mercifully looks nothing like James.

Life moves on. Its rhythm is singularly unmoved by your personal catastrophes. That is difficult to accept when your world implodes, but is absolutely true. There are babies littering my Facebook news feed who were nothing more than a hope or a dream to their parents when he died.

The holidays and the attendant motivation of these parents to monsterize, turkeyize, and santaize their babies in (admittedly sometimes adorable) costumes and outfits always strikes a chord. James had too few holidays. he barely caught Halloween and did not really understand all the fuss about Christmas and Thanksgiving. He spent July 4th in the hospital, though appropriately attired. The boy was always well dressed.

The first round of holidays was the worst. Unbearable almost. The next improved. The spiraling continues but can be contained. The benefit of life going on is that you can go on with it. I will never "get over" James' death, but I can have a life I am proud of with people that I love. I can enjoy them, and enjoy my memories of James. I can sing him Christmas carols at the cemetery because I believe he can hear me. I can hold my nephew in my arms and think not only of my son's death but his cousin's life. It doesn't have to be either/or.

I am thankful for all of that and for James. While I suspect I will always approach the holidays with trepidation, I am thankful that I can look forward to them now as well.

Thank you for your continued thoughts and prayers.