July 2nd happened. It was hard. It was painful. It was scary. It was sad. I did not die. I wanted to. But I didn’t. In fact I spent most of July 1st pleading – to no one in particular – to please let me die before morning. Alas, July 2nd came. And I had no choice but to face the one year anniversary of the last day I kissed your beautiful face and held your tiny, sweet hands in my own. To make matters more difficult – it was sunny, warm, and bright outside. It was as if the atmosphere took happy steroids and some invisible force catapulted me into a vibrant backdrop fit for a post card. Surrounded by quiet air, blue skies, green trees and wide open spaces – I couldn’t have felt more vulnerable if I had tried.
What I had been busying trying to do was shift my paradigm of thinking about July 2nd. For months, I spent a good deal of time and energy convincing myself that pieces of July 2nd hold a silver lining. After all, it is the day you ended your brave and gallant battle. It is the day you stopped feeling pain. I told myself time and time again, July 2nd was your very own personal day of liberation. I did my best to prevent July 2nd from simply being “the day my son died”. To help ensure the focus was not solely on the sadness in losing you – but also on carrying on your fight – I even declared July 2nd as National FU Cancer Day. My family, friends, co-workers, and many other special members of your adoring ‘fan club’ joined my pseudo movement. Despite Momma’s very good intentions, July 2nd proved more heart-wrenching than I could have ever anticipated.
I intentionally spent much of the day entirely alone. There is simply no one left in my life who knows exactly what happened in those final days…and final moments with you. I didn’t feel like faking it with my well-intended and kind-hearted friends and family. Maybe I should have. But, I didn’t. I ran away. I ran away to a place I’ve never been, where I knew absolutely no one. And there I stayed for precisely two and a half (2 1/2) days. I spent nearly the entire time searching for you…and, also searching for slivers of peace and slices of resilience. There were moments when I felt you with me: absolutely undeniably with me. And others when I felt like you were millions of miles away.
Back in Milwaukee, my very best lovelies and some of my closest family threw an epic “Celebration of Paxton”. To no surprise, they went over the top, bonkers to put together a celebration fit for a prince. (You are most certainly worthy of an affair of such nature.) Their ultimate goal: to send you love in such abundance, that you couldn’t miss if you tried. Rainbows and love served as the theme of the celebration. Each of those lovelies painted their nails a certain color to reflect the colors of the rainbow. (Broph even did hers as clouds!) They also made sure to paint their middle fingers gold…extra, sparkly-gold just for you. The extra-sparkly-gold middle fingers were used to send cancer a whole-hearted, united, resounding “FUCK YOU”. They sent that off at the part of the day they were feeling spiciest. The kids painted signs – outfitted with giraffes, balloons, rainbows and most prominent of all: your name. The adults recounted stories of your smile, your wonder, your innocence, your bravery. Music played, libations flowed, laughs echoed, tears fell. At the end of the night, when the moon illuminated the warm, summer sky, each one of those good people sent a wish lantern, full of good, sweet love, up into the sky for you. (***Lala’s was so chocked full of kisses, she wasn’t sure it would get off the ground.) I imagine you watching it all. I picture you smiling when they pulled out their inner-gangsta and gave cancer their gold-sparkly-middle fingers. I hope you felt all of their love, Diddy. Most important of all, I hope you know their love exists for you EVERY day. Not just on the day that marks the anniversary of the day you decided to end your fight.
Towards late afternoon, Momma met up with a new friend. She and I have had plans to unite for months. We met through childhood cancer; which we hate. But, we decided to be friends on our own; which we love. She lost her beloved son to cancer 26 months ago – just before he turned four years old. His name is Ronan. His mommy’s name is Maya. A few months ago, Ms. Maya was kind and gracious enough to invite me to her childhood home to spend some time with her on what she quipped as “…that horrible, awful day”. She explained how she and her family run away on Ronan’s “Death Day” too. The first year, she wanted to get as far away from the place Ronan died as possible. So her family headed to Boston. However, when they got to Boston Ms. Maya had a very difficult time. It turned out her tummy didn’t feel right in Boston. In fact, “…she fucking hated it.” She asked her strong and kind husband, Daddy Woo, to take her to Maine instead. So he did. It was reassuring to learn I wasn’t the only Momma who needed to run far away from the place I was on the day you were taken away from me.
In fact, so much about being with Ronan’s mommy was helpful in getting through the day. She knew all the things I was thinking before I could even get the words to come up my throat and out of my mouth. She talked softly, and slowly. She was thoughtful with her words, and compassionate with her eyes. Ms. Maya took me to a beautiful restaurant which held special meaning to her. When I couldn’t eat, she was unfazed. She simply placed her hand atop mine and said, “It’s okay, Momma. You tried.” After my non-meal, we went to a magical place tucked deep in the heart of the city. We spent nearly three hours there. We walked all about the grounds: sometimes talking, sometimes thinking…sometimes crying, sometimes smiling. The entire time each of us staring far off into space. Although we didn’t say as much, it was obvious what we were scanning the skies for: our “Lost Boys”. It was at this magical place where I especially felt you with me, Diddy. Did you see me? Was that you? (I’ll never stop hating that I have to ask these questions.)
When we parted ways, Ms. Maya and I ended our visit, the same way we started it: by hugging…and sobbing. Hating what brought us together…but, grateful we were brought together. I gather there is a secret society amongst we unfortunate mothers who know first hand the gruesomeness and helplessness – which magnifies the enormity of the loss – of watching your child wage a war against cancer. In each other, we found someone who shares the same rage over the lack of awareness about childhood cancer, and also the same passion in bringing about real change to the world of childhood cancer. We also found a slew of other things we have in common – which are more light-hearted and girlie. But, for now, those are secrets for only Ms. Maya and I to hold. Late in the night, Ms. Maya called to check on me. Among other things, she said, “I’m sorry we are going to have to be friends forever because of this. But we are. I love you.” Thank you for sending her to me, Paxton. (You always send me the best ones.)
So there it is, Diddy. July 2, 2013. It was nothing like I wanted it to be, nor like I imagined it would be. If I had control of any of the major changes in my life – I’d have switched so many things about the day. However, as irony would have it…I found a sliver of peace and a slice of resilience by running off to an unfamiliar place, to spend the scariest day of my life alone, and the rest of the time with a girl, who was once but just a stranger.
I miss you. I love you. I ache for you in every cell in my being.
Stay with me, Sweet Boy.