(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)
Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.
- Mary Oliver, The Uses of Sorrow
A year ago my son celebrated his 17th birthday alone. By the time I got home from the hospital, the sun was an hour from rising. I showered and returned to the hospital later that morning with Dev. Rob had been moved to a more intensive unit from the oncology floor where he had been so that a nurse could be stationed right outside the door to his room. He was supposed to have received his first immunotherapy earlier that day, but was unable to do so because he spiked a fever. The night of Dev's birthday was the first time I understood that Rob's chances for living were unlikely. Early that night an attending doctor asked me rather abruptly about Rob's decision concerning the DNR. We had neither discussed nor had he Rob filled one out. He explained that the cause for the spiked fever and pneumonia-like illness that was non-responsive to antibiotics might be caused by a pulmonary embolism and added that Rob might not make it through the night. Should he be resuscitated? And I said, yes.
The CT scan he would have the next day would show there was no embolism. The CT scan he would have early the following week would reveal that the cancer had spread throughout his thoracic and abdominal regions and that his life expectancy was now no more than a few weeks.
A year has passed and Devon has turned 18. Winter is more than half-way over and though both of us are ill we went to a restaurant last night of his choice joined by my older brother and it was night of relaxing and celebrating this wonderful, young man's life. Devon, like Rob, laughs easily. He is driving now (and quite well his uncle would later say to me) and he is looking forward to attending college next year, and to talking on line with two young women from far away places. He is learning to speak German and plans to add Japanese. He has a world before him--one he is wide-open to experience and perhaps, shape. Some mornings, like this one, my heart breaks over and over again as I think about our lovely and kind son who is making his way in the world without his dad and all that each has lost. And Rob was surely a super dad at that--one so intimately connected with his child.
One year, a student of Rob's had lost his dad. My husband so cared for this young boy. After hearing of Rob's death, this mom would write to me and share what a difference that year with Mr. Cohen had made in her son's life.
Death happens and with it comes the unexpected gifts. I loved a man who was so good that many, many others knew his love as well. Rob dearly wanted to live, fought to live with a passion and commitment that framed much of what he loved in life. And no one who knew Rob would ever doubt his unwavering love for his son. One of the things I loved most about my husband was the way he loved our son.
This morning I found myself speaking out loud--speaking to Rob, telling him about Devon and all that has transpired since a year ago. I don't usually talk out loud to Rob, but I so felt a sense of rightness about this. This is our son. That bond that rises up, forms so deeply between a husband and a wife finds even deeper roots when that family shifts from two to three. There are words and experiences we shared while raising Devon that belong solely to us.
Even with death, that bond still holds.