make you a rainbow
By Linda Bremner
Looking back, I've often thought the doctors should have written a death
certificate for me as well as my son, for when
he died, a part of me died too.
Andy was almost twelve. For over three years he
had been battling cancer. He'd gone through radiation and chemotherapy;
he'd gone into remission and out again, not once but several times.
I was amazed at his resilience; he just kept getting up each time his
cancer knocked him flat. Perhaps it was his pluckiness and grit that
shaped my own attitude about Andy's future or maybe I was simply afraid
to face the possibility of his death; whatever the cause, I always thought
Andy would make it.
He would be the kid that beat the odds.
For three summers, Andy had gone to a camp for kids with cancer. He
loved it and seemed to relish the week he could forget about hospitals
and sickness and just be a kid again. The day after he returned from
his third camp adventure, we went to the clinic for a routine check-up.
The news was bad.
The doctor scheduled a bone marrow transplant for two days later in
a hospital 300 miles away from our home. The next day we threw our things
in a suitcase and left. One of the things I tossed into my suitcase
was the present Andy had brought me from camp - a plastic sun catcher
shaped like a rainbow with a suction cup to attach it to a window.
Like most mothers, I considered any present from my child a treasure
and wanted it with me. We arrived at the hospital and began the grueling
ordeal the doctors said was my son's only chance. We spent seven weeks
there. They turned out to be the last seven weeks of Andy's life. We
never talked about dying - except once. Andy was worn out and must have
known he was losing ground. He tried to clue me in.
Nauseous and weak after one of the many difficult procedures he endured
on a regular basis, he turned to me and asked, "Does
it hurt to die?"
I was shocked, but answered truthfully, "I don't know. But I don't want
to talk about death, because you are not going to die, Andy."
He took my hand and said, "Not yet, but I'm getting very tired."
I knew then what he was telling me, but tried hard to ignore it and
keep the awful thought from entering my mind.
I spent a lot of my days watching Andy sleep. Sometimes I went to the
gift shop to buy cards and notepaper. I had very little money, barely
enough to survive. The nurses knew our situation and turned a blind
eye when I slept in Andy's room and ate the extra food we ordered off
of Andy's tray. But I always managed to scrape a bit together for the
paper and cards because Andy loved getting mail so much.
The bone marrow transplant was a terrible ordeal. Andy couldn't have
any visitors because his immune system was so compromised. I could tell
that he felt more isolated than ever. Determined to do something to
make it easier for him, I began approaching total strangers in the waiting
rooms and asking them, "Would you write my son a card?" I'd explain
his situation and offer them a card or some paper to write on. With
surprised expressions on their faces, they did it. No one refused me.
They took one look at me and saw a mother in pain.
It amazed me that these kind people, who were dealing with their own
worries, made the time to write Andy. Some would just sign a card with
a little get-well message. Others wrote real letters: "Hi, I'm from
Idaho visiting my grandmother here in the hospital . . ." and they'd
fill a page or two with their story, sometimes inviting Andy to visit
wherever they were from when he was better. Once a woman flagged me
down and said, "You asked me to write your son a couple of weeks ago.
Can I write him again?"
I mailed all these letters to Andy, and watched happily as he read them.
Andy had a steady stream of mail right up until the day he died.
One day, I went to the gift store to buy more cards and saw a rainbow
prism for sale. Remembering the rainbow sun catcher Andy had given me,
I felt I had to buy it for him. It was a lot of money to spend, but
I handed over the cash and hurried back to Andy's room to show him.
He was lying in his bed, too weak to even raise his head. The blinds
were almost shut, but a crack of sunlight poured in slanting across
I put the prism in his hand and said, "Andy, make
me a rainbow."
But Andy couldn't. He tried to hold his arm up, but it was too much
for him. He turned his face to me and said, "Mom, as soon as I'm better,
I'll make you a rainbow you'll never forget."
That was the one of the last things Andy said to me. Just a few hours
later, he went to sleep and during the night, slipped into a coma. I
stayed with him in the ICU, massaging him, talking to him, reading him
his mail, but he never stirred. The only sound was the constant drone
and beepings of the life-support machines surrounding his bed. I was
looking death straight in the face, but still I thought there'd be a
last minute save, a miracle that would bring my son back to me.
After five days, the doctors told me his brain had stopped functioning
and it was time to disconnect him from the machines keeping his body
alive. I asked if I could hold him. So just after dawn, they brought
a rocking chair into the room and after I settled myself in the chair,
they turned off the machines and lifted him from the bed to place him
in my arms. As they raised him from the bed, his leg made an involuntary
movement and he knocked a clear plastic pitcher from his bedside table
onto the bed.
"Open the blinds," I cried. "I want this room to be full of sunlight!"
The nurse hurried to the window to pull the cord. As she did so, I noticed
a sun catcher, in the shape of the rainbow attached to the window, left
no doubt, by a previous occupant of this room. I caught my breath in
wonder. And then as the light filled the room, it hit the pitcher lying
on its side on the bed and everyone stopped what they were doing in
The room was filled with flashes of color, dozens and dozens of rainbows,
on the walls, the floors, the ceiling, on the blanket wrapped around
Andy as he lay in my arms-the room was alive with rainbows. No one could
speak. I looked down at my son and he had stopped breathing. Andy was
gone, but even in the shock of that first wave of grief, I felt comforted.
Andy had made the rainbow that he promised me-the one I would never
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christine longaker discusses
the loss of a child
By Gilles Bédard
Q: How can people deal with the death of a child?
A: I myself don't have direct experience with dying children but I've
learned a lot about it from others who do. Children pick up the feeling
and the view point about death from their parents. If they have a very
negative or frightening view of death, this is what the child will feel.
If the parents have a more positive, life-affirming, or spiritual view
of death, then a dying child will feel more secure. Thus it is vital
to support the parents, because when they can come to terms with the
loss of their child, then the child will have an easier time as well.
It is important to acknowledge all of the layers of the parent's pain,
to allow it to be expressed and released. Of course, there are no words
to describe how difficult it is; there's nothing, in this life, like
seeing a child in pain without being able to do something. But we can
also help parents to see that their own attachment and fear may make
the child's pain worse.
So it is vital for parents to find sources of support and release --
perhaps through a parent's support group, with a counselor, or by writing
out and releasing their fears and attachment. We are naturally afraid
to let go, afraid that by accepting the death, it means we do not love
our child. But beyond our attachment, there is still a pure love there.
As Elizabeth Kübler-Ross says, "Your child may die, but real love doesn't
Q: It seems easier for children to die because they don't have a
lifelong habit of attachment and grasping as we do.
A: That's true. If children are given good support in their process
of being ill and dying, if they have really caring caregivers and a
good communicative family, for them dying is not so difficult. They
have often a natural trust or confidence in life and a very natural
spirituality. It makes sense for them to pray or to call out for help.
So, letting go, as you said, is not so hard for them. The pain they
often suffer is worrying about their siblings or parents.
Of course, we have to be kind to ourselves. It's natural to have an
attachment for children. It's equally important to realize that when
it's time to really let somebody that you love go, we need to think
about what is best for them in that moment, and not make them suffer
more on our account.
©2006 Gilles Bédard
Read more about Christine
Longaker here ...
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