By Janelle Hey
This new ‘normal’ that was thrust on us had us reeling. It seemed incomprehensible that we had become that family. All that we thought was safe and predictable was rocked and shaken. One day our 14-year-old son was healthy and being a normal teenage boy, active and cheeky, and the next we were in the hospital being told our son had metastatic cancer. Cancer. That doesn’t happen to us, or people close to us. Doesn’t that happen to other people, ones we don’t know?
The mat we were standing on was ripped from under our feet and we were sucked into the oncology vortex, our world spinning out of control. As Jordan got sicker and sicker, our world spun faster and faster, culminating a mere five and a half months later with the excruciating pain that arrived in our lives on the day that we held our precious boy in our arms as he took his last breath. Chaos, confusion, questions. And while we have the comfort of a promise to be reunited in Heaven, the pain of the here and now is what we are left to feel and face.
It’s remarkable how something like losing a child changes you. Of course, it does. I mean, how can anything be the same after such a massive loss, including who we are deep down in our core? We have seen things and experienced things that will forever leave their mark on our hearts and minds. No matter how much ‘better’ we seem to others, we will always carry these scars. This is the new us. This is what we are now, through no choice of our own. A death of who we were, yet somehow we needed to discover a way to continue living, not merely surviving. A way to truly live, to redefine who we are; changed and molded by the heat of the fire we have been through. Find a way to live life big, just the way he would have done had he have stayed.
In that journey of discovering how to continue living, there were so many choices to make. Every day we have to choose. We have to choose simple things like getting out of bed when all we feel like doing is crying. We have to choose to stay connected with people, to smile and laugh despite our broken hearts, to share the grief that we could easily give in to and drown under.
Our Jordan was such a trooper. Through all of the suffering in his last five and half months, the one thing he never lost was his sense of humour, his cheeky smile, and the twinkle in his eye. He lived life with such passion. He was inquisitive and so very clever. He was polite and so very caring. His spirit was one of true joy. So beside a framed photo of our son who now lives in Heaven is another frame that contains a print that simply reads ‘JOY’. Because that is what we have to choose every single day.
As much as we are hurting, as much as we are bumbling our way through the dust of these ashes, we choose, just like Jordan did, to also acknowledge there is joy along the way. We have chosen to sift through these ashes to find the specks of gold. Because if we didn’t let the light of joy shine in our days, the darkness would surely swallow us. So to honor Jordan, we choose joy. We choose to rise from these ashes more refined, more sparkly and more beautiful than before.
We have made choices that push us to not give into the desire to shut off and shut down. And we have clung to a peace that surpasses our earthly understanding. This peace is like a cool salve on a burn. It’s feeling like you’re drowning but then feeling arms around you, lifting your head above the waves and a reassuring whisper saying, “I’ve got you. You’re going to be ok.” Like being blindfolded, crossing a busy street, but a strong hand reaching out to guide you across one step at a time. It’s a still small voice that speaks over the chaos in your mind, “just breathe.”
We will never be the same people we were before Jordan’s diagnosis. These things irrevocably change you. The scars of a journey such as ours will always be there, some remaining inflamed, others healing a little better. But I believe there can be beauty in scars, that they are a permanent symbol of the depth of eternal love that was born in our hearts the moment Jordan was born.
Now we come with baggage. With ashes around our feet. We are marked and scarred. But we are living. We are picking up those bags, dusting off that ash, breathing in, and taking another step forward. In this process of learning to live this new normal, I’ve taken time to sit down and unpack every suitcase of baggage; to feel every item in every bag. Each memory, each photo, each and every moment of each and every day since that fateful diagnosis. Taking the time to inhale deeply, letting every emotion that floods back with the thoughts, smells and pictures, be felt.
And oh how that hurts. It’s uncomfortable. My first instinct is to run from it. But if that bag is left how it is, it will inevitably trip me up again and again with no warning, with dire consequences.
This way I can repack it the way I need it, sometimes more than once. Each item, feeling, thought, just a little neater. The aim is not to throw out that baggage, it is simply to carry it a little more gracefully. This way, the next time one of my bags unexpectedly gets under my feet, I can shift slightly, adjust my load a little, maybe lurch a bit to one side, possibly even have a minor stumble, but it is no longer big enough and bulky enough to cause me to fall flat on my face.
Each birthday, Christmas, angelversary, they’ll all require me to rest from my bags a while, and there will be other times too. Times like when the rest of his school mates graduate and when his brother reaches the age Jordan was when he went to Heaven. Big occasions like that, and sometimes other days for no reason other than I’m tired from carrying bags. It just means that after I do take a short timeout, I will hitch my big girl panties back up, adjust my tiara, turn my face to the sun, and continue on… continue to come alive.
Janelle Hey lives near Ipswich in QLD, Australia. She is a wife to Jason, a mum to Jordan (in heaven) and Jamieson (13), and a foster carer. For now, she works each day to continue on through the aftermath of losing our precious son. Find her on Facebook.