Note to a Neighbour
Posted by Mishi Methven on Sep 07, 2012
Note to a Neigbour
I don’t know you and you don’t know me. Maybe just a quick nod or cursory wave once in awhile as we pass each other on the street. We are neighbours, but not the kind of neighbours that have BBQ’s together or whose kids play together. It’s probably because we just haven’t had time these last few years to talk, but more likely it’s because we don’t really have too much in common on the outset--- you guys are a bit older than us, you have a huge Greek family, your kids are 17 and 15, and I guess we are all just busy living our own lives behind the doors of our matching bungalows, close in proximity but strangers in real life.
But we do have a connection, even though we’ve never talked about it or acknowledged it before. You see, my daughter was diagnosed with a fatal brain tumor in June of 2011 and your son was diagnosed with Renal Cell Carcinoma in February 2012 that has now metastasized to stage 4, meaning his cancer, too, is fatal.
So while I don’t know you, I know that feeling you get when a Doctor looks you in the eye and tells you that your child is going to die. It’s a wave of iciness that rolls in waves from your stomach up to your throat where it solidifies into a gag. I know how it feels when your heart breaks and the smashed pieces of it slice through your soul like a butcher knife. I know what it’s like to not sleep for two weeks straight, staring at the world spinning around you, feeling completely disconnected from it. I know that you walk around feeling like you are living in a nightmare but unable to wake up from it, no matter how hard you pinch yourself. I know you are trying to be positive and strong in front of your child, but you really want to grab them with all your strength, pull him into you and scream “No” over and over again until it isn’t true anymore.
I saw you guys at the grocery store yesterday. I saw your son in his wheelchair, pale and skinny, his eyes looking extra bright under the fluorescent lights of Sobey’s. I saw you with your head down, pushing his wheelchair. I recognized instantly the agony in each step you took. I saw you standing there, trying to act normally, just picking out apples from a bin, but I know you are aware that no matter how carefully you choose the bright red fruit, each bite will be tasteless because nothing matters other than the fact your child is going to die and that is what plays in your head day after day. I wanted to reach out to you to tell you that I understand, but I couldn’t. So, I just pretended not to see you, and stood in front of the Deli counter watching you from the corner of my eye.
I imagine what it is like for you to see other 17-year old boys walking to school with their friends, listening to their iPods, laughing and carrying hockey sticks through the streets, starting to think about what University they want to go to next year. For me it’s a bit different because Stella is only 3, so I get sad when I see kids with their backpacks on headed to school, riding their bikes, running into their parents arms. But I know our bitterness about it all is the same.
I know how exhausting it is to get out of bed every morning and try to live in a world that you don’t fit into anymore. I will tell you that the agony you feel as you watch your sons friends get bigger and stronger and live their lives probably won’t go away, but you will likely just learn how to live through the pain the way I have. It never stops hurting to hear your child’s peers talk about their soccer games, field trips, playdates, etc. but eventually you just smile through it all and it doesn’t feel as acute anymore. You get used to being sad. But I do know the pain and anger you feel when you look at other kids his age, wondering why it had to be your child, your life, your heart. I understand how hard it is to try to forget about all the dreams you once had because the reality is too hard to understand most days. I know what it’s like to have days where you can’t stop crying, and days where the grief is so intense that you are in too much pain to even cry. And people will tell you to focus on the good memories you have with your child, before they got sick, but the good memories hurt just as much as the bad ones. I understand how it feels to watch your child lose their physical abilities one at a time and to scream at the universe that your child has suffered enough and to just STOP it already.
I wonder if you’ve learned some of the lessons that we have about smiling through the pain, taking it one day at a time, and making as many memories as you can.
I wonder if you’ve learned to compartmentalize the pain, joy, fear and hope that come with each breath in order to make it through the day.
I wonder if you’ve learned that every single time your child smiles, it tattoos itself on your soul.
I wonder if you ever think about me the way I think about you.
I wish I was brave enough to knock on the door of your house and give you a great big hug.
I wish I was confident enough to be able to tell you that we’ll get through this somehow.
I wish I could talk to your son and ask him how it feels, because then maybe he could give me some insight on what Stella is feeling.
I wish I could let you know that I care about you, even though we’ve never really spoken.
But most of all, I wish neither one of us knew how it felt to be the other one.
Stella plays at Kimbourne Drop-in Centre:
Stella and Hugo under the tree with Poppa:
Xavier and Sam are besties!