When Ben was an infant, my mom and I would take him on outings around the Columbus area. When he was cranky, we’d drive the 270 outer belt like the Indy 500, incessantly looping and looping (and looping) around the city. It gave us the opportunity to chat or fight – or both – depending on Ben’s level of backseat activity. Of course, we’d make pitstops along the way. My mom loved Sam’s Club despite the fact that her household consisted of just her and my dad. She’d cram the back of her wagon full of toilet paper, boxes of V-8 Fusion, and bricks of cheese. Unfortunately, her supply of toilet paper far outlasted her. I’m sure my dad is set with 2-ply for the rest of his life.

Anyway, on one visit to Sam’s, I was wandering the aisles with Ben, who was comfortably confined to his baby seat. He was diverting his gaze between the goofy faces I was shamelessly making and the bright toys dangling from his car seat handle. He was probably about four months old. Now, I was not a fan of random people wanting to touch my baby because he was MY baby and you should keep your germy hands to yourself. Plus, for whatever reason, I tend to attract people who have absolutely no verbal filter. For instance, shortly after the September 11 attacks, I was carrying my infant out to the car from WalMart. A little old lady approached me and tried to touch Ben. I smiled at her as I slowly tilted Ben just out of her reach. She looked at me and said, “That’s an adorable baby. You sure picked a rotten time to bring another person into the world.” While I wanted to say, “Well, I really wasn’t thinking about that while I was in the backseat of that car,” I just smiled and backed over her as I exited my parking spot. I’m just kidding. I think I quoted Bob Dylan or something like that. Then I kicked her. Just kidding again. Actually, I didn’t have anything to say. I loaded up my son and left with her words permanently burned into my brain.

Back to that day at Sam’s Club. We were rolling through the aisles as mom loaded her own cart full of goodies. I stopped at an intersection to let other carts pass by when I caught the eye of an elderly gentleman who worked there. He smiled at me and asked, in a thick Eastern European accent, if he could help me locate anything in the store. I told him no, that I was entertaining my son as my mom shopped. He raised his hand to point at me and said “I’ve been watching you and that baby for sometime now. You are clearly dedicated to that child.” He came over to look in the car seat at my cooing son. Surprisingly, I moved aside so he could get a better look. His weathered finger slid along Ben’s face. He said something that I didn’t quite understand, perhaps it was something in his native tongue? As he continued to touch Ben I caught sight of something on the old man’s arm. Numbers. Tattooed. A permanent reminder of a horrible hell. And here he was, surviving all these years, and making a connection with my son.

He kept talking to Ben in a language I didn’t understand. It didn’t matter. I’d love to know now what he said to my Ben, but at the time I couldn’t bring myself to ask. My eyes welled with tears and the lump in my throat rendered me speechless. I just watched. He turned to me and said, “He’s special, this one.” I shook my head in agreement, unable to speak. I knew Ben was special way back then. I didn’t fully understand just how much. The man winked at me and walked away, ready to care for his next customer. How could I make this man understand what just happened? How could I explain it myself? How could I communicate the intensity of this event to my son when he was old enough to understand? It was one of those moments you walk away from completely changed.

How did that kind old man get to this place in his life? To fight for survival in a concentration camp only to end up at a Sam’s Club in Ohio? What did he lose along the way? Who did he lose? Did anyone tell his mother that she chose a rotten time to bring another person into this world? Did she, herself, think that as she watched her child be tortured for doing absolutely nothing wrong? Did she ever blame herself for the hell she had no control over? I know I did that myself during Ben’s battle with cancer.

So, I brought my son into the world at a rotten time. But he’s changing this world for the better. I see that every day. And, as his mother, I am dedicated to fostering his great talent. To building him up. To helping him understand that he is amazing. And if I could go back in time and meet someone, I’d like to meet that man’s mother. I’d like to know what happened to her. I’d like to hold her hand as she cried. Perhaps she saw her son carried off by the Nazi’s? Perhaps she had to make some horrible choices regarding her children? But I want her to know that her son survived hell long enough to encourage me to continue my dedication. I would have continued that without his encouragement, but thanks to his beautiful spirit, he reinforced it for all eternity.


I asked Annmarie Conrad-Croswell to give me a word and this is the amazing word she gave me. I often cry over this memory. Looking back on how far Ben has come in his short 11 years, and understanding what that beautiful old man went through. His dedication to his own life encourages me to quit my bitching. Anyway, Ann is a dear friend from high school. She’s one of the most beautiful people I’ve ever known. Not just physically, but a whole beautiful package. I appreciate the encouragement you’ve offered, the friendship you are so frivolous with, and the warmth I feel whenever you cross my mind. I’m happy to say that you are in my thoughts often. You are a wonderful woman, dedicated to your family, and someone I greatly admire. 🙂


Wish you were here

For the past several years I’ve kept a small Christmas tree reserved for the names of children who have passed away from cancer. Most of these kids died from neuroblastoma but there were some children who died from other cancers – children who became a part of my family in the halls of J-5 in Columbus, Ohio. I got to know these mothers as we wandered the halls at night, wondering how we found ourselves here, trying to figure out what to do with this beast named cancer. We’d stand in the hall in our slippers and pj’s, giving updates on how our children had fared the prior day. We’d cry, celebrate, mourn, and laugh together. We probably wouldn’t have known each other in the “normal world,” but here we were, forced together. Some of these ladies became my dearest friends.

And as some of the battles were lost, I’d watch my friends move on. Emptying their rooms of the balloons and stuffed animals and whatever comforts got their dying child through a day of treatment. We’d say we’d keep in touch. Sometimes we would. Sometimes we didn’t. But as each child was lost I’d write about it. Mostly for myself because I didn’t make a lot of sense. The anger. The heartbreak. And, yes, the guilt. I’m so grateful that my son is not only surviving, but thriving. And not that it’s a competition, but, well, I just don’t understand any of it.

I’m just now getting around to taking down my Christmas decorations because I’ve been sick since Christmas. It’s true that I am a procrastinator by nature but I normally get my decorations down in between Christmas and New Year’s. So, with my classic rock station blaring I got in clean-up mode. My Gold Ribbon tree was on a small table near my entryway, where I could see it every day and remember the sweet children I’d loved and lost. I kneeled before the tree and took each name off, remembering their faces and how their hands felt in mine. I remembered the laughter and tears I shared with their moms. I relived watching my friends walk down the hall of the hospital, hands filled with their children’s belongings but their hearts empty of their child’s presence.

I’ve never had to know that pain. The closest I get is this tree. As I sat with my hands full of names, “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd came on the radio. A freezing breeze flowed under my door and mixed with the warmth of my tears. The sun shone through my window and I had an amazing feeling that all of these children were being taken care of. They didn’t need me to cry for them. They don’t need anything this earth has to offer. I got the feeling that they’re happy to not be here anymore. Most of them only knew cancer in the few short years they were here. Why would they miss that?

It doesn’t mean that I don’t miss them, though. But I think I learned today that it’s okay to let them go. I will always hold their memory dear, but I think I’m going to stop living in fear of what might be coming my way. The fact is we never know when our time will be up. Ben might develop a secondary cancer. I might get hit by a bus (although I tend to think I’m going to die trapped under ice). But I think I’ve been hanging on to things for the wrong reasons. There’s nothing wrong with honoring memories, but I’m going to quit wishing for things to be different. They aren’t. It is what it is. Being sad can be useful at times but I think I’m done swimming in it until I get pruny.

Cross my mind when you want to, sweet children. I miss you but am so glad you’re no longer suffering. I’m going to remember your sweet smiles. Your bald heads. Your laughter. And how your mommies looked at you as they were trying to burn your every feature into their memories.

I’m forever changed for the better thanks to all of you. <3