David and I have been doing projects around the house, so far mostly surrounding the garage. We have needed to clean for quite some time and over the holiday break seemed a good time to get started. As we opened boxes, which mostly held the remains of my home in Kansas, we laughed at old memories, pondered how far we have come, and encountered mementos of Nathan's fight with cancer.
There were two of those mementos that have stayed within my mind during the time since we did the cleaning. One, I will save for another post, but the other haunted me on my drive home from work yesterday and I feel compelled to tell a story.
The story begins in a big white hospital in Wichita, Kansas. St. Francis is a complex of big, white buildings, and there is a wing in the main hospital that is very special. It originally was built to be the birthing wing, full of large rooms equipped with televisions and VCRs, rocking chairs, recliners, and enough room to roll a second bed into. When St. Francis built a new, free-standing birthing unit, this wing became pediatric oncology.
I spent a lot of time in that wing. Whenever we would arrive there, if Nathan was feeling up to it, he would walk the halls, looking for "his" fire truck. It was a pedal-powered fire truck, complete with lights and sirens. Often, he would encounter another vehicle on his quest. It was a pedal-powered John Deere tractor. This tractor was most often being driven by a boy just a few months older than Nathan. The boy was from a Mennonite family who lived on a farm and he was drawn to the tractor as a reminder of home.
The first time I saw the boy, he had blonde, curly hair. He was riding the tractor and his mother, in cap, and father, in beard, were walking along beside him. As the months went on, I watched as he became bald, just like Nathan, and rode the halls on his tractor alone, just like Nathan. The ride-ons in this wing are equipped with a pole on which the IV bag can be hung and this means freedom from having to follow youngsters through the hall, pushing a clunky IV pole.
The two of them riding together and laughing down the halls while the parents got a rest from the constant supervision is forever in my mind. I distinctly remember, for some reason, the last time I saw the boy. I was standing in the doorway of Nathan's room, looking for him and I saw the boy at the end of the hall, turning the corner and riding away on his green John Deere.
The last time I saw his mother was six months after Nathan's last chemotherapy treatment. Every three months, we had to return to have Nathan sedated while he went through a new C-scan and bone scan to be sure nothing new was showing up. While I sat in the prep room, watching Nathan receive the IV, the boys mother, whose name I never knew, walked in. She handed me a soft, plush Winnie the Pooh blanket. Without tears, she told me of her son's passing on the 2 year anniversary of his diagnosis, just a few days before he was scheduled to receive a bone marrow transplant. She had purchased the blanket as a present to give to him once they arrived at the strange, new hospital in Houston, and had never had the opportunity to do so. She wanted my son to have the blanket because she remembered him the same way I remembered her son - riding along those halls, celebrating freedom.
She had held on to the blanket for a few months after his death, holding it as she would have held him, and had decided that the Lord would prefer that she let it go so that another boy could get comfort from it as she had intended hers would. She chose Nathan to receive this beautiful gift.
12 years later, we came across that blanket - too small now to cover my boy but lovingly and safely stored away with favored mementos of his childhood. Last night, Nathan sat watching TV with it covering his lap. The gift served its purpose then as a comfort to him as he recovered and it continues to remind us of the beautiful gift of life.
It also ensures that I will never forget the back of that little boy's bald head turning the corner as he rode his tractor out of view, nor will I ever forget his sweet mother's pain and compassion as she processed her own loss.
Hug your children. They are precious gifts for however long we have them.