I didn't believe in cancer (for Michele)

Michele, I don’t want to say goodbye to you.  I don’t want this world to be without you — baby fanatic, mother motherer, visionary, compassionate soul. I’m very angry at this cancer thing! I never wanted to believe it was real. YOU, of all people, so passionate about creating a healthy life and healthy lives! But I am so grateful that you shared the adventure with me. I am so grateful to have had you as a mommy-mentor, client, partner, fan, friend, and inspiration.

How do you say goodbye to someone who catalyzed so much? Child-Friendly Initiative—a group of incredibly capable mommies at a critical time—who made a noise that started a movement that led to the family bathrooms and airport nursing stations we now rely on - and even made an impression on the United Nations! Even the CFI fundraisers left a legacy, amazing events with amazing art. (Amazing - one of Michele's favorite words.) Those gorgeous Art of Life bellies are still a gift to the world. And we've still got a Chair-ity for Children chair my kid no longer fits!

You don’t say goodbye; you can’t. As we all learned in our time with Michele, babies grow up. Some day they'll have babies. Friends move away and make new friends. The mysteries – the things you don’t know - keep one step ahead of the accomplishments, the things you do know. Life comes and goes, but love, laughter, and amazing beauty are everywhere, ever-renewing.

Michele told me a secret, earlier this year; perhaps it’s no longer a secret. She had had a few glasses of wine after one of her amazing cancer healings, then went down to visit Hannah in college. Wandering around campus, she felt lightheaded, out-of-body. She had visions. She saw hands, everywhere hands. When I heard this, tears came to my eyes —what a beautiful vision for Michele, all the people she touched, who touched her. The babies she massaged. The mothers she reached out to. Look at the CFI logo. Look at the logo for Healthy Family Living. Michele ‘handed’ us a new, more compassionate way to see the world. (I’d love to see what she would do with a fundraiser about hands, to follow up on those bellies and chairs.)

I don’t worry about Michele. But I weep for her children, to have lost a mother whose love was so awesome it spilled out beyond them to change the world. I weep so hard for you guys, and for Dan, love of her life, who made it all possible. (There is something wrong with a world in which your grandkids don’t get to experience Michele!) But I don’t worry about Michele. I told her those visions of hands were the hands of everyone supporting her, which she really appreciated, since she was a little creeped out. Of course, since I was such a loyal cancer-denier, I kept my real thoughts to myself: that those were the hands of the ones who’d gone before, reaching back for her. "Come on, Michele! We need you on the other side!"

So Michele, I won't say goodbye. I know you'll be back. There is still work to be done. And I hope to meet you again, in the blink of an eye.


Too Much to Swallow

This is a reprint of Innocent Perspective: A Mother's Reflections on September 11, 2001, an essay I wrote for Child-Friendly Initiative.

On Tuesday, September 11th, my four-year old vehicle expert told people very importantly that "an airplane had crashed into a building." The next day he wanted to "watch New York" on TV - all the rescue and construction equipment was much more interesting than nap time. I took a deep comfort in his innocent perspective.

By the time the weekend rolled around, though, a loneliness hung around our small family, perhaps exacerbated by the fact that mom and dad were on the phone all the time, and friendly visitors also seemed to carry a cloud of debris in their hearts. On Sunday my son grew warm and listless, and that night began crying out every hour in a fever.

For the next few days the fever clung, and he clung to me. This time I took comfort in the small scale of a bad virus and willingly sat under him for a few days. I was grateful for the moments he was asleep, for then I could turn on the television and try to absorb it all, sort it all out. He was desperately afraid of being alone, and I would run to him each time he woke.

He complained of a sore throat and stopped eating. The doctor blamed a virus that had caused blisters in his mouth and prescribed tylenol, liquids and rest. After a few days I was exhausted. I didn't know what was worse - battling with him to get him to take medicine, or hearing him cry out in pain each time he swallowed. His mouth and throat were covered with white, oozing sores. Eventually we discovered a strep infection raging behind the blisters.

Today he is on the mend, thanks to an army of antibiotics and a new construction set to play “can we fix it” with. But he hasn't seemed himself. Every interaction is demanding and tense. I figure it's because he's cranky because he hasn't eaten in three days.

But finally, he opens up his feelings. “Mom, dad, I'm worried,” he tells us on the cranky edge of sleep, beginning to weep. He is worried about Oakland. About the buildings falling down. About car crashes. Suddenly I realized he has been there with us in our confusion and grief. He is not a baby anymore. Although it seemed important at the time, I wonder now if letting my vehicle-loving son (who wants to see every jack-knifed big-rig and derailed train) see those bulldozers was the right thing to do. Did he feel something was being forced down his throat? Was it too much for him to swallow? A part of him must have welcomed that virus and that bacteria. It gave him a time-out. He gave me the gift of a time-out, too.

Tonight after we fought about toothpaste (I let him win), we talked a long time. About bad guys. About sadness. About safety. I told him we were all sad but we were glad to be together. I told him our house wouldn't fall down. I told him this terrible thing that happened had never happened before. I told him all the presidents of every country in the world were going to work together to try to make sure this would never happen again. Because they all want to protect and take care of children. “And you'll take care of me, right?” he asked. Yes little one, I will, no matter what.

He went to sleep peacefully for the first time in days. He just grew up a lot, and as a mom, I did, too. I really want my words to be true. We will all work together to protect and take care of children.