Ryan’s imagination has exploded over the past couple months. Games, stories, and make believe seem to pour out of his mind and mouth continuously. Space helicopters that fly to the moon, dunk tanks in our basement, and pirate ships are common destinations in Ryan’s world. It has been highly entertaining for us. Having spent a portion of my life getting degrees in “pretend” and being paid to make things up, when it first starting happening I took great pride in it. And then it slowly dawned on me – this is not a product of his biology, this is normal. That this is developmentally appropriate. This realization was startling, for in looking back we realized that Ben seldom made anything up. He loved movies and books, but his imagination never took shape. I hadn’t really noticed that before.
Ben’s basic form of make believe came in telling Tigger what procedure was about to be done on him. “Tigger, you are going to get a poke right now.” Or, “Tigger, I am going to change your dressing and clean your tubes.” But can that really constitute as an imagination? Or just a copping mechanism to not feel so alone and tortured? Was it because his life was too real? Or that there wasn’t time? Or that he never had any freedom, for his course of treatment was too intense? I don’t know. But even as Ryan approaches the same age as Ben was, he seems so much younger. Ben was forced to grow up. That probably sounds strange, as he only lived to be three and a half. But there was a wisdom about him that defied his age. While Ryan flies around the house wearing Buzz Lightyear wings, Ben knew how to administer Heparin. He knew how to clean his Hickman line with alcohol pads. I suppose the only solace is that he didn’t know any differently. That’s what happens when you are diagnosed at the age of two – you don’t know what your life was supposed to be like.
Cancer ultimately took Ben’s life – but along the way, it took so many other things. It took his childhood and his freedom. There are so many losses – and I seem to be still discovering them anew as we grow with Ryan. For as first time parents even we didn’t know just how much Ben was missing, until now. Some days as my own coping mechanism I try to pretend that this didn’t really happen to us – to him. That Ben will be back soon. That his room will once again be occupied. That I won’t have to live here for the next sixty years without my firstborn. But then, that little train that took me like Lady Elaine Fairchilde into the land of make believe returns me wearily to the station of reality. Denial is smashed to pieces once again and sorrow overwhelms me. Luckily in those moments Ryan usually flies in and says something like, “Look mom! I am a big scary lion and my penis is really big!” Yah. We can all pretend right? Or at least most of us can.