My son Dominic who turned 14 years old on May 27th 2009 left the earthly body that no longer served him on January 5th 2010 to go somewhere more joyful, beautiful and connected than I know how to imagine.
It is with great grief and sadness that I watched him pass out of his little leukemia riddled body that day at 3:23 pm. When I realized that his heart was no longer beating, I climbed on his bed and hugged him and cried and wailed “My baby, my baby” but that did not bring him back.
His passing was a beautiful thing to behold and I am so honored that I was a part of it. I had been sitting vigil at his bedside at the Mark West Children’s Home where they take care of children who are terminal. As the hours and days passed he would talk more about the other world he was in than the physical world the rest of us were in. He would sit up and play video games without the remote. He would take his brand new I-phone that he was so proud of and make twisting motions and do all kinds of magical little manuevers with it that had nothing to do with making a phone call. I’m not sure what he was seeing or doing, but he seemed to be into it, and he often would talk about the bunnies he was seeing.
On Monday he looked at me and made a weird face and said that my face was melting purple. Monday night (actually Tuesday morning) around 2 am, as I slept a few feet away, I “felt” him sit up. That night I had forgotten to put the railing up, and he was sitting up and trying to get out of bed. I walked to him as he stood up in his now bloated, heavy body and he put his arms around me for support and we held each other. I hadn’t been able to hug him in so long since he had been in pain and it wasn’t comfortable for anyone to be in bed with him or touch him too much. We stood there hugging for what seemed a blissful eternity to me. I was nuzzling my nose into his neck and smelling him. He smelled sweet, like a newborn baby. I think a part of me knew this was my goodbye. I wanted to enjoy every little sensation in that I was experiencing. We stood there holding each other for a while, then he wanted to sit in the chair that was next to his bed. He looked at me in the dark, and in his most lucid moment that I had seen in days, he said “I trust you Mom”. Earlier that day, I had told him that it was safe for him to leave his body and that I was going to be okay without him and that it was okay with me if he wanted to go. I think he may have been referring to that. Or maybe he was telling me he trusted me to let him go and to live the life I was meant to live. I think I will know more later, or maybe it doesn’t really matter what it meant, he just wanted me to know that he always had trusted me and that I did right by him. Then I put him back in bed and he went back to sleep for an hour.
At 3am he got up again, but this time on the side of the bed my sister and niece were on. Again I went to him, and my sister and niece got up too. It took the strength of the three of us to corral him in our arms as he was determined to walk out his room door. He said, “Where is my backpack? I need my backpack. I’m going on a trip.” Then we said we had the backpack for him. He then asked me, “How do I know what is real?” And I asked him if he could feel my arms around him. He said “Yes” and I said that was real and he said, “Oh,this is real.” That made him feel peaceful and he was ready to lay back down again. He never woke up after that. I waited all day just to have one more interaction with him. To have one more opportunity to hear his voice and to watch him play his imaginary video games and talk about bunnies.
A little bit before Dominic died, I asked his dad to step outside to talk. I was still worried I wasn’t doing enough. Was just waiting for him to die what I was supposed to be doing? Was that the best use of my time? We spoke for a while and it was a very sweet and healing talk between the two of us. I don’t remember what we said exactly, and I do know it was what needed to happen for Dominic to pass. As we were out of the room, Dominic could separate himself from me, and have the space to do what he was ready to do. As I walked back into the room, at that very moment, he was sitting up taking his last breath. And then he was gone.
I spent another night with his body. The nurses helped me bathe him with a tea bath, and I dressed his body in some of his brand new Christmas clothes. I put his favorite hat on him and tucked his stuffed kitty next to him. He was so beautiful still to me. It was a gift to be there with his body for another 28 hours so that I could have the time to let go. My family was all around me, and I sat mostly right next to his bed and played beautiful devotional music by Snatam Kaur. It was the most wonderful and gentle way I can imagine to say goodbye, and I wish that everyone who loses a child or anyone close to them could have a similar experience.
Finally they came to take him away the next day around 7 pm. They put him in the truck and drove away. He was to be cremated. I slept at home that night with my niece Madeline beside me.
It has been a little over 3 weeks now and I have had a large spectrum of emotions from joy and relief that he no longer suffers in that body to a sadness I’ve never felt before that seems to be registering in every cell in my body. It’s like every cell is feeling the sadness, not just my mind. I never know when it will hit or what will trigger a crying spell. It could be a movie that shows a mother and son connection or just someone saying telling me something about Dominic that they remember. Pictures are full of emotions too. I think most of my sadness comes from the longing to be with him in his physical form, and the knowing I will never get to see him have a girlfriend, graduate high school, have children and all those rights of passage in life that I as a mother took for granted , thinking I would get to see him do all or most of those one day.
Since he was my only child, I don’t know if it’s harder than it is for others who have more. Perhaps. I do know that I am grateful I had the gift of being a mother to this incredible soul and that he continues to teach me every day. Sometimes I feel his arms around me hugging me and I feel comfort. Last night it felt as if someone sat on my bed and I know it was him. He is all around me, and I am trying to get used to communicating with him in a new way now.
Right now it hurts. My heart feels broken open. I know that breaking open is different than just breaking, and right now, I don’t know how it is different. I’m sure that time will show me. I do know that life is still good for me and that I am experiencing much joy, laughter and love thanks to my many wonderful friends and family members who remind me every day how much I am loved.
My kitty Oscar is here too. We got him for Dominic when he was diagnosed with leukemia in January of 2009. Oscar keeps me company and gives me lots of love that I am needing. I know he is here to comfort me. It’s funny that Dominic insisted we get Oscar not realizing he was ultimately going to be here for my comfort less than his own.
There are photos of Dominic all around my house, and little items that remind me of him on an altar by my front door. I get many loving cards and gifts in the mail that give me comfort. I do know that this will get easier. Today is a hard day because I am by myself (which I am a lot by choice). I think that having others around is nice, but it really just distracts me from my journey of healing and being in the presence of the loss I feel.
I know many other women have lost their children and that I am not unique in this experience, and maybe that makes it easier, I don’t know.
The rain is pounding on my window as I type this and that makes things seem a little more bleak at the moment and a little less hopeful. I’ve gone through a good bit of tissues since I sat down to write this too. I know that I can embrace the rain and the sun and know that one will always follow the other. Words can comfort and words can teach, but only experience makes us become who we are becoming.
This year I am looking forward to all of the wonderful places I will travel to like Mt. Shasta, Calgary, Washington, Arizona, France, Italy, Austrailia, Hawaii and more I’m sure. I know that in some ways Dominic’s leaving has opened some new doors for me to be more out in the world. I choose to continue his message of kindness and compassion and I am going to enjoy the journey.
As we move forward in life, let us remember that there is no room for judgement, blame, shame or guilt, and that a kind word or smile can make all the difference in a person’s day or even life. Unless we have walked in another’s life experience, we cannot know why they make the choices they do, and that all choices are good choices, simply because they are what is being chosen in that moment.
Goodbye Dominic, see you “around the way”.