“Grief is the price of love.”
– Queen Elizabeth II, after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks
I considered writing a Christmas Eve post about the magic of this season – with its benevolent Santa Claus, mischievous Elf on the Shelf, gift-giving of all kinds, nostalgic music, sweet treats, and general atmosphere of goodwill and joy. But my son does not yet understand any of this – beyond his adoration of holiday lights. So my husband and I decided to take advantage of one final holiday season without gifts and fanfare (although we did take our son to see Santa, just to confirm that last year’s terrified response was not a fluke – it was not). Instead, we will be celebrating our simple family life with good friends, food, and quality time with each other.
That being said, I apologize for this gloomy post at such a happy time, but I need to write about something that has been weighing heavily on my heart.
Although I was one of the first to join Facebook in 2004, I have never used it much. As a rule, I only “friend” people I am actually friends with, and use it as a lazy way to find out what they’re up to and keep in touch. Generally, my news feed is full of exotic vacation photos, links to parenting articles, and announcements of engagements, pregnancies, and births. Every once in a while, however, a friend uses Facebook to send out a call for support – a smoke signal to the dispersed “village” indicating a time of need.
In the last few weeks, one of my friends’ 14-month-old son was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia and has been undergoing chemotherapy while he waits for a bone marrow transplant. Although less susceptible than adults, currently 1 in 285 children will be diagnosed with cancer before they are 20 (about 10,500 kids under 14 have been diagnosed this year), making the disease the second leading cause of death for kids (after accidents). That statistic is horrifying, but it really comes to life when that 1 child is someone you know (even tangentially). Like most of these young fighters, my friend’s son will almost certainly survive, but that fact offers only modest comfort during the ordeal that his family is undergoing.
My friend has used Facebook to tell her story and ask for help – in prayers, meals, messages, and by signing up to be a bone marrow donor. I think she is incredibly brave to share her suffering with her community. Fortunately, for every heart-breaking post (she recently wrote: “I am pretty convinced if there is a hell, this is what it feels like. To have brought a child into the world that is experiencing such pain and misery and not being able to protect him. . .”), there are a dozen more with sincere well wishes from around the world.
I am sure that pregnancy hormones are at least partly to blame, but I have spent many sleepless nights this month thinking about my friend’s son and wondering when a tragedy like this will strike my happy family, then whether/how I will be able to cope. Throughout my life, I have often felt guilty for my multitude of blessings and have wondered when my perfect world will all come crashing down. But I have chosen not to live in fear. When bad things happen to good people, like my friend’s son, I do what I can to help and hope that others will be there for me when my time of need arrives. Until then, I resolve to continue basking in my blessings, and I hope that you will, too – at this special time of year and always. As my friend urged from the depths of her despair: “Hug your family and tell them you love them.”