When your child is diagnosed with cancer you become a member of the parents of kids with cancer club. No one else can understand your life except those in that club – not your friend’s aunt with breast cancer, nor your brother’s best friend who had leukemia – those are different and unique clubs of their own – each with their own challenges and fears. For parents in this fraternity there are only two clubs to graduate to: parents whose kids have survived, by some sort of luck of the draw – and parents whose children did not. When Ben left us we graduated to the worst club, one whose members we didn’t want to know, one whose membership does not expire. We became members of the “Dead Kids Club”.
A little over a year ago Jeff and I decided to join an official local Dead Kids Club, also known as a “grief support group”. It is sponsored by Children’s Hospital through their Journey Program. As the date approached for our first meeting, I wondered what kind of people would come to this sort of thing. Clearly cancer and disease do not discriminate – as we saw during Ben’s treatment. Every race, religion, economic status and more were all clearly represented. So surely those whose kids died would be from all walks of life as well. As we arrived that night I was pleasantly surprised by how many lovely people were there. Lovely people who were living in hell. Each one carried their own pain so acutely I thought the walls of the conference room we sat in would explode. How could it possibly contain us all? Yet somehow it did – kudos to Sellen Construction. That first night we all shared the cliff note version of our kids – of who they were, of how they were taken. They were all taken against our wills. Taken by cancer, by epilepsy, by mental or physical disability. Taken.
As I have listened to these friends for the past year, I have been reminded of what I already knew in my heart – that no one can fully understand what it means to lose Ben. For no one else but Jeff loved him as much as I did, and our relationship with him was unique. Similarly I cannot comprehend completely what it meant for them to lose their child – for they were theirs only. But these parents understand the symptoms of being separated from Ben: intense pain, unbearable sadness, shattered dreams, lost faith, indescribable longing, lack of control, insanity, depression, and so much more. And in their understanding there has been some sort of communion.
Our grief group is unlike most other support groups. Often times I have thought that I would rather be in AA, or any type of 12 step program really. For in all of those support groups you can actually “do” something to change your situation. You can work towards not drinking, not gambling, or overeating, etc. Not that there isn’t pain and struggle associated with those issues – I know there is. But the problem ultimately with our situation is that you can’t change anything about it. This isn’t the recession. We can’t wait it out and hope our stocks will recover at some point. This isn’t a bad break up where eventually you find a better mate. We can’t work toward a better behavioral outcome. This is the death of our son. And he is not coming back. So really, our group is a “coping” group. Just a group of parents trying to make it in their day to day lives without their children.
You would be surprised to know that we laugh a lot there. There is a dark humor that we share together. I am grateful for that because I said to Jeff that first night, “If they can’t laugh about the ridiculous parts of this with us I don’t think I can go.” Luckily for me they did – and so much more. Many thanks to my Dead Kids Club. For listening, for crying, for laughing, for understanding.