March 4th 2011 was one of those life altering days. Sam endured many life altering days but the amputation of his left leg just below the knee signified loss on a grand scale.
After many hours of waiting that day, Bob and I were called back to the recovery room to see him and I braced myself for the site my brain would
have to try to make sense of. My son without a left foot.
He was comfortable. The epidural did it's job and the nurses had tactfully covered his body with a white hospital blanket from the chest down, so our first look at him was only of his sweet face. We massaged his head, held his hand and told him he did great.
My level of anxiety was often dependent on how comfortable Sam was from moment to moment. He'd come out of surgery before with intense pain and nausea, so this was a relief to see him feeling comfortable. But the concern that would not escape me was,
how will he handle this loss?
I had heard somewhere that if a child is willing to look at his limb soon after the amputation, that is generally a sign of an emotionally healthy response. I remember wondering, when do we look under that blanket?
It was a couple of hours before I got a glimpse of his heavily bandaged leg without a foot and it happened accidentally during the transfer from his recovery bed to his hospital room bed. The nurses are so skilled at this, but naturally, the blanket shifts and exposes in the process. No matter how much I tried to prepare myself, my body reacted with that autonomic response that felt like my stomach was trying to run away.
All Sam needed was a little time to recover from anesthesia and to settle into his new room before he reached down to lift the blanket and get a glimpse of his new leg. It was as simple as noticing that someone had left the room. No comments. No tears. Just an acknowledgement of his dramatic and irreversible reality. I still wonder what went on in his heart and his head in that moment. Was he in shock? How much did he keep hidden from us? Regardless, I felt it was a sign of emotional health and I was grateful and proud.
That moment was his first step, so to speak, in response to the day's command to "March Forth."
How do you March Forth when you've just lost your leg?
It seems to me that acknowledging the loss is an essential step in the task of discovering a new way to march. Obviously you have to find a new way to move forward when your leg has been removed. You have to adapt to the loss. If we refuse to acknowledge the loss, we either sit still, or we hit the ground with injury inducing force. Sam had to figure out how to use crutches knowing a second leg would never be there to break a fall. Because he was on crutches for six months, his brain found a new center of gravity.....a new midline. In that six months, he not only learned to go forward, he learned to move sideways, backwards and practically upside down....on crutches. He learned to climb trees and fences, leap over large objects, participate in most PE activities and cruise through the neighborhood on his electric scooter. Talk about adaptable!
So "March Forth" became a thing for our family. A command. A challenge. A blessing.
At some point along our extended cancer journey, I recognized the cycle we were repeatedly experiencing. We'd get bad news and we'd fall apart for a few days while we searched for the next treatment option. Then a sense of hope would surface as we made a decision to go forward with a plan.
Grieve. Find Hope. March Forth.
It became a painfully familiar routine.
Today is March Fourth and we are grieving a new loss. The worst kind. How do we march forth now? Like Sam's need to feel the loss of his leg, we find a similar need to feel our loss in order to keep moving forward. Is there a "healthy" way to grieve? How do we do life without Sam? It seems as impossible as learning to march without a leg.
There are multiple challenges in our life right now, in addition to the obvious. We believe in the need to "feel the pain" in order to keep moving forward in new ways. Some days are dark and painful with the absence of joy. But we believe that Sam gifted our family with a spirit of, not just choosing life, but fighting for it.
Considering my loss, I am doing ok. I don't mind it when you ask. I know you care.
I am grateful that I can get out of bed most days and find a sense of delight in engaging with the world around me. I know that beauty and friendship are essential to healing. I choose self care often. I walk with faith in a mysterious God who withholds a sense of certainty but still has the ability to increase the capacity of my heart, when becoming angry and hardened seems the most logical. I'm getting strong enough to carry the sorrow without it incapacitating me and I know there may be harder days ahead. But I'm learning to March Forth as proud as a mom can be.