Those of us that have been there are the only ones who know the feeling. People can sympathize with you all that they want, but unless you have actually been there, you have no idea. You don’t help bring a life into this world with the intention of outliving that person.
It is never even a thought in your mind until you are faced with that cold reality. You are here, and your child is not. For some it was sudden and happened in the blink of an eye, an accident, a tragedy you never saw coming. For me, it came through disease, we watched it happen. Worst of all, when the latter is the case you feel helpless as it happens.
I never expected to hear the word Cancer in regards to my 19 year old son. I would have put money on the fact that my children would hear that word in regards to me before I would hear it about them. But that night at the emergency room my world was flipped completely upside down. I had no idea what to do or what to say, but I had to stay strong for him, right?
I spent the next 10 months of my life at my son’s side. I often spent some of those days feeling bad about myself and feeling like I was inadequate as a father for quitting my job to take care of him and not providing for my family. In retrospect, I wouldn’t change one minute. I was able to spend the last 10 months of my son’s life with him, almost every waking hour. I watched him get better, I cheered on every victory no matter how small or big. But I also watched the cancer come back and break him down in a fraction of the time that it took for him to start building himself back up.
I am a Christian man, but I had to make two very hard decisions that tested me to the core of my beliefs. The first one was when we found out Justin was terminal, that we knew the end would come but we didn’t know when. I had to sit down with my wife and we made the conscious decision to not be angry with God for taking him. It sounds simple but to this day I know people that still struggle with that exact same thing. Some people leave their faith completely and they still carry the anger that their child was taken from them and it and want to blame it on God. Yes Justin was taken from this earth, but I prefer to believe he was chosen to go when he did. He made the impact he was meant to make, he lit a fire in me to keep his legacy alive through the work I try to do now in saving other parents from the pain. He was chosen to go before all of us. He is the lucky one, he isn’t in pain anymore. We are the ones left here with the pain of him being gone.
The second decision, whether it can be called that or not, was the decision to let him go. Actually it wasn’t to let him go, it was to give him permission to go. People that have not been there won’t understand, but it is one of the hardest things I have done, but it also brings a sense of peace. Justin died at our home, surrounded by family, but he went on his own terms and when he was ready. What do I mean by ready? I firmly believe that he waited until everyone he wanted to see had been there. He was far beyond normal communication, he had so much pain medicine in him that he was hardly coherent, but I know he heard every word. The night before he died all of his siblings came in and told him good night and how much they loved him. He couldn’t react much, but he heard. The day he died was the day the one Aunt that hadn’t made it here yet came to see him and spend time at his bedside with his other Aunt. But once the visits were done, I specifically told him that it was alright and he didn’t have to be strong for anyone anymore, he could go. I watched his mom tell him much the same thing and here is how I know he heard. Either his mom, stepmom (bonus mom as we say in our house), or I were in his room for much of the last 24 hours of his life. The one moment when neither his mom nor I were there, when my wife and his Aunt were in the room was when he began to draw his final breath. It was almost as if he waited for that moment for us to be out so he could spare us from seeing him go. We all made it in for the moment he passed, but I think he heard us and then left on his own terms.
I will never regret giving him permission to go because I know it gave him peace in hearing that he didn’t have to fight for anyone, he could just go.
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