Terry Fox Run Teaches Compassion

Recently at school, my older children participated in the Terry Fox Run to raise funds for cancer.  The kids brought money to school, and ran as many laps around the field as they could muster, to honour of Terry’s battle with cancer and support his legacy mission.  They wore stickers on their t-shirts upon which they wrote names of the people they were running for.

This annual event in schools across Canada is an early lesson for elementary school kids about strength, sacrifice and vision.  Terry Fox’s poignant story of courage and tenacity is beautiful and moving.  Since his heroic effort, many other movements of running for a cause have gained popularity.

Thanks to some pretty awesome kids, this simple act of running in remembrance took on a special new meaning for my family a year and a half ago when our fifth son Samuel was stillborn.

Our family was immersed in shock and devastation.  Each of our children were going through their own unique grieving processes.  They were confused.  They were sad.  They returned to school after about a week, tentative and nervous.  We hoped that seeing their friends and returning to their routines would help them heal.  Their teachers were kind and sensitive to their feelings and the entire school community showed incredible love in their outreach to us.

But the kids’ friends?  They were, in a word, amazing.

At lunch, a group of the boys’ friends from grades 1 and 3 took both of my sons aside and told them to come out to the field by the trees.  They had a surprise for them.  For Samuel, they said.  They told the boys that they wanted to have a funeral for Samuel.  They welcomed them into a circle by the evergreens and joined hands.  My oldest boy’s best friend Jonas led the kids in the Lord’s Prayer.  Then they sang a hymn they had learned at hymn sing.  This was their idea alone.  At the time, these kids were just 6 and 8 years old.  They did all of this to honour my boys’ baby brother.

Next they suggested that they collect pine cones just like they had collected coins for the Terry Fox Run, and run laps around the school field to honour Samuel.  And that is just what they did.

They ran to support my kids.  They ran to acknowledge that their friends had lost their brother.  They ran everyday at lunch for one full week.

They ran for Samuel.

Hearing from the boys at supper that evening what their friends did for them at school, was possibly one of the most touching things that happened in those initial terrible, awful weeks after Samuel died.  This beautiful act of kindness and acknowledgement offered spontaneously by six and eight year old children, helped my children heal.  The light returned to their eyes a little bit.  Their friends didn’t offer to fix it or change it or explain it.  They simply stood beside my kids, gave witness to their loss, prayed with them, and honoured their brother.

Could Terry Fox ever have imagined that his legacy could have extended so far beyond cancer awareness?

This year I remember this beautiful moment with such gratitude.  Those children showed levels of compassion and strength and faith which many adults struggle to find.   They supported my boys that day.  But what they will never know, is that they didn’t just support my children.  They supported a whole family.

You kids are amazing.  I will forever thank you all.






In Search of Lightness and Belonging

I see Moms at the preschool my little boy attends, standing at the entrance, laughing and chatting, their toddlers jostling around at their feet.  There is an easiness  to their interactions and lightness in their demeanor.

I used to join them.  Now, I do not.

Now, I stand just outside the group, busily checking my phone or studying the notice board.  I avoid the opportunity to engage at all costs, avoiding eye contact, and purposefully excluding myself from conversations.

I used to be at the centre of the group chat, rallying back and forth with the other parents, encouraging and humouring.  Our momentary interactions seemed to spur us on to make it through one more menial challenge, and collectively celebrating the small victories of parenting young children.  It was as if this camaraderie carried us forward to the next part of our daily round.  I loved these shared moments with other mothers.  Our animated discussions were for me, an outward celebration of doing this “Mom thing” in a community of people I respect just because they show up everyday and put their best foot forward.  I felt inherently connected to these women simply because we were all doing the same thing; being Moms.   I am fierecly proud of being a member of this club. But now I just don’t  feel like I completely belong.

Why is it different now?  I am still a Mom.  I am a mother to my four children here, and to my angel Samuel.  Losing my fifth child should not change how I connect to other mothers.  I have been a mother for 9 years, and still am.  So why has losing my baby changed how I identify with this group?  

Somehow it has, and I hate it.  I don’t understand this change.  I suppose I resist connecting with these women because these mothers, whom I now watch from a distance, all seem to have their bubble of innocence still well in tact.  They haven’t touched this part of motherhood; the part where you have to let go of your baby with no say in the matter.  The part where you did everything right, and still things went completely wrong.  I envy the innocence of this perspective, because I used to have it.  God how I miss it!  I miss the optimism.  I miss the “everything generally works out just fine” viewpoint.  I even miss thinking that small problems were bigger that they actually were.  Part of me yearns to find that again, to let myself be tricked into believing that everything is ok, and that it is ok to let go and let the light in.  I crave to be able to chat with other parents about the menial aspects of life and parenting without wanting to shout, “This doesn’t matter!  It doesn’t matter that you are tired because you are up all night with your baby, or that the hardest part of your day is trying to manage a playdate with school pickups and going to Costco!”  Because of course it matters!  The day to day round is what being a mom and a parent is all about.  I just can’t seem to let go so that I can converse with others about the smaller aspects of the everyday.

Will I ever see things without this filter of fragility and powerlessness?  I wonder if I will ever feel it is worth my energy to connect with my community of Moms unless I know them well.  I really want to feel inclined to try.  But  I just can’t summon the courage to engage with others the way I used to.  I guess I want them, those “other mothers,”  to know this thing about me.  The thing that happened to me that explains the cautiousness that veils my eyes and the wariness in my smile.  If I could just announce the news first, maybe it would feel easier to be amongst them.  If I were to stand up initially and say, “Hi, I am so and so, and I lost my baby boy 10  months ago.”  In other words,   “Treat me tenderly. I don’t know how to relate to you without you knowing this about me.  Help me find my way back to belonging.  And yes, please, please ask about him.  Please don’t avoid the topic.  That feels false and even more painful.  I want to share him and my experience just as you want to share your stories about your 10 month old.  Samuel would have been 10 months too.”  

I guess maybe that would feel just a tad awkward in a large group.

This experience I have been through though is not mine alone.  Sadly there are so many who have walked this road.  Perhaps even in this community of mothers I belong to, there is a Mom who knows this same truth about life and loss. Maybe she will recognize this pained look right behind my strained smile.  Maybe she will reach through the invisible barrier, and help me re enter this world I know so well and miss so much.

I hope she sees me.  I hope she recognizes my discomfort, and gently helps me find my way back to belonging.