To the brave mother with a terminally ill child…
"From where did she gather the strength to keep living when her child took his last breath?..."
When my friend’s son was diagnosed with cancer the first time, I wonder how intense the pain she felt was. When he recovered, I can only imagine how her joy and relief must have soared.
And, when he was diagnosed with cancer for the second time – this time aggressive, fast and deadly – I don’t dare imagine how she felt.
Living every parent's worst nightmare, how did she feel knowing that he was dying this time? What agony did she feel in her heart and soul knowing that she won’t ever see him graduate, fall in love, reach for the stars? That she can’t kiss the pain away this time?
How did she cope when she saw him slipping away, not knowing if she could hold him again tomorrow?
From where did she gather the strength to keep living when her child took his last breath?
I can’t imagine. I just can't.
This is what I want to tell her, and every mother out there with a terminally ill child.
I don’t know your story. I don’t know the depths of your pain and sorrow as the mum of a terminally ill child. I feel stupid saying “I’m sorry” because no amount of sympathy or pity in the world is going to make your child better. Or bring them back.
But as a mother, I know how you are hurting badly, because this is one thing all mothers share: we bleed emotionally when our kids hurt.
When my older son once split his head on the edge of a sharp-tiled step, I thought my heart would crack open too. Another time when my younger boy hit his head against the table leaving a gaping gash on his forehead, I swear I could physically feel his pain.
I’m not trying to compare these expected hazards of childhood to the experience of having a terminally ill child. Because both times, my emotional bleeding scabbed over fast, even though it was intense at the time. I knew my boys would recover. They have only faint, silvery scars left now to remind me of their injuries.
So, how do you go on when you have a terminally ill child, knowing that they won't? How does your heart continue to beat?
After my friend’s son passed away, I tentatively asked her how she was coping. She gave me a small smile and told me:
It’s memories of him that keep me going. I celebrate his days of health, his beauty, his laugh, how he cared for his younger brother and sister. I go back to the time when he was a tiny newborn, a chubby baby, a cheeky toddler, a laughing preschooler. He only brought me joy so I refuse to give in to sorrow.
I know he would want me to be happy and strong to care for his brother, sister and dad whom he loved with his whole heart. I know he would want me to live my life with no regrets. The memories I have of him are pure happiness and it’s how I will remember him forever. It’s how I want him to be remembered. Not with sadness. Not with pain. Not with suffering.
She also told me the worst thing to ask a mother of a terminally ill child is about the disease. By doing this, you’re letting the disease win in yet another way. Instead, ask about the child. Put the child ahead of the condition. Give the child importance.
It's been five years since cancer took her boy. Yet, she remains one of the most positive, cheerful people I know. I will always be in awe of her.
I am in awe of all you mums with a terminally ill child. As a mother, I empathise with you and respect you. Your courage and strength, your love – nothing can match these qualities that have intensified in you a thousand-fold.
And on the days you're feeling not so strong, perhaps this will give you hope: They say when a woman is pregnant, her unborn child’s cells migrate to various spots in her body and settle there. After the child is born, these cells are forever carried in you. This is the secret behind that beautiful, mysterious mother-child bond that never dies, regardless of the passing of time.
Mums, your child is forever immortal within you.