August 27th is creeping up and it will be one year since we lost our Sam. You might wonder how we plan to mark that day this year….. we are saying goodbye to Natalie and dropping her off at college. I’m not kidding. Natalie begins classes at Azusa Pacific University in Southern California on August 28th. So, we’ll just call this the Day Family Goodbye Day.
Goodbye Day is not sneaking up on me like the regular emotional tsunami-type days. Those appear out of no-where. They sometimes coincide with milder sorrow, from another challenging aspect of life. On those days I am reminded that my emotional capacity is low. Like taking on crashing waves of water in a tiny little row boat. Occasionally, I have to stop what I’m doing to bail out and lighten the burden before picking up the oars to row again. With emotional capacity, the only way to bail out is to cry it out for a time. Then I can reorient and move forward.
Since August hit, I’ve seen this one coming. We’re watching it approach in slow motion. This one profoundly transitional day.
It’s been one full year since the world lost such a vibrant source of light. That kid could elevate the energy in a crowded room. He could leave the most intelligent professionals perplexed by his uncommon knowledge, insight, and wit. Sam could reenergize a dreary classroom and cause an explosion of cheer in a gym full of students. Sam could also bring delight and smiles to a quiet interaction with marginalized students, and friends struggling to survive middle school.
His energy and light is our loss.
My fragile spirit sits with both the sadness of missing him, and the haunting memories of all he had to endure.
I miss his companionship, his humor, his attention to me and his “How was your day mom?” inquiries after school. Especially when the bulk of my day was spent with him; first with a trip to the clinic, then to school, then driving back to school because he needed the right food or medicine. An hour later Sam would still come home to say, “So mom, how was your day?”
I would chuckle and say “Sam, I spent most of my day with you. Since I last saw you, I did laundry.”
I miss his “Mom, have you had your coffee yet?” when I was less than delightful in the morning.
I miss his “Who needs a hug?” when he sensed my fear and sadness.
I miss how he would turn down the volume of NPR to give me his take on the complex political story we listened to on the way to the hospital.
I miss listening to his laugh, watching him become a young man, and I miss how his spirit would ignite with deep insights, a good game, and true connection.
I miss Sam.
The other pattern of thought causing waves of sorrow comes from the images and memories of his last few days in the hospital. Grieving requires dealing with those awful events leading up to our loss.
Like the hours I spent in his bed with him the night before he was admitted to the hospital, because he was in so much pain.
The shortness of breath that came over him while we headed up to the ER on August 19th, and the hyper-cortisol-driven, bear-like being I became as we entered the hospital.
The absolutely, inhumane hospital room images too troubling and private to share.
The moments Sam realized he was dying and the words he chose to verbalize.
The people who lined the halls and the groups who gathered in prayer, sorrow and support in the lobby of Doernbecher Hospital.
The phone calls I had to make and the unbearable story my daughter and husband were also facing.
August 27th is coming and I expect the emotions to accompany the date.
But somewhere embedded in the loss that follows a goodbye, I can find gratitude.
My story is tragic, but it’s not limited to sorrow. Intertwined with the sadness is great love, ambition, compassion, and even joy.
As Jerry Sittser says in his book A Grace Disguised, “The sorrow I feel has not disappeared, but it has been integrated into my life as a painful part of a healthy whole.” I’m headed in that direction.
August 27th will be sad but it will also be full of hope for Natalie, and pride for who she is. She was given an extra dose of sparkle when she was born and she has carried that well. We believe she will thrive.
I’m the lucky one who got to be Natalie and Sam’s mom.
Bob and I plan to embrace this empty nest thing, and Sam will be very much a part of our every day, as we live well and advocate for young people battling cancer, starting with the 4th Annual Sam Day Soiree. Check it out here or purchase raffle tickets for a Sam-style surf trip to San Diego. Join us if you can. It's part of our journey, our healing and our future.