Explaining the Inexplicable
By Shannon Ralph
Kids listen. Even when you don’t think they listen. Even when you are discussing things you’d rather them not hear. They appear to be focused on their video game. Or up to their elbows in Crayola crafts. Or books. Or toys. But they hear you.
All three of my kids were crammed into the back seat of our Toyota Camry. The Christmas carols were blaring on the radio. Sophie was singing along. Lucas and Nicholas were fully invested in a game of “I punch you. You punch me.” All was well in the world.
Then Lucas asked me a question.
Out of the blue, Lucas asked, “Mom, I’ve heard you talking about someone losing their mom. What is that about?”
I turned the radio down. I had just told Ruanita the evening before that we would have to tell the kids what was going on. As usual, they caught on. And in their typical modus operandi, they asked about it when Ruanita was nowhere in sight.
I paused for a moment to choose my words carefully.
“You know your friends Rex and Rory?” I asked.
“Yes,” all three kids replied in unison.
“Well, you know their mom, Lisa, too. You know she is sick, right?”
“Yea,” Lucas replied. “She has cancer.”
“That’s why she doesn’t have any hair,” Sophie chimed in.
“Right, she has cancer.” I went on to explain, “She’s really sick and her cancer has spread. She’s in the hospital right now.”
“The doctors have done everything they can to help her, but there is nothing else they can do. Her doctors say that she is going to die.”
“When?” Nicholas asked.
“Well,” I responded. “No one knows for sure, but the doctors think she only has one or two more days.”
“Before Christmas?” Lucas asked.
“Yea, honey. Before Christmas. Probably very soon.”
Ever the first-born, Lucas immediately began trying to figure out how the situation could be “fixed.” He launched into a diatribe about how cancer could be eliminated if scientists would simply employ the use of nanobots to attack the cancer cells. Yea…nanobots. He’s nine years old. He thinks science can fix everything.
Sophie was quiet for a moment. Then—in the tiniest voice I have ever heard come from her sassy little mouth—she said, “So Rex and Rory are losing their momma?” I assured her that she had nothing to worry about. I explained that neither of her mommies is sick. We are both healthy and plan on being here with her for many, many years to come. That seemed to appease her a bit, but I could see her little brain working. I could tell she was processing the fact that little kids can actually lose their mommies, a thought I am sure had not entered her mind until that day.
Nicholas said nothing. He was completely silent. Being the baby of the family—both in actual age and assigned family position—I don’t know if it was more than he could understand. Or that he didn’t know how to respond. Or perhaps, he was was just deferring to Sophie and Lucas, as is his usual custom. He’s only six years old. A friend losing his mommy is a pretty large concept for such a little boy.
My kids have known Rex and Rory for what seems like years and years. We’ve been to their birthday parties. They come to my kids’ parties. My sister, Jennifer, nannies for the boys. Their mom is one of her best friends.
And Lisa is dying. Right now. As I write this. The breast cancer she thought she had beaten came back with a vengeance and spread throughout her body.
We saw Lisa just a couple weeks ago at my nephew’s birthday party. She looked sick. She was hurting. Sophie stared at her bald head. She had probably become accustomed to the stares of little kids.
But she was still the same sassy Lisa. A smartass. With a wicked sense of humor. She curses like a sailor. The queen of the F-bomb. Even at a 10-year-old’s birthday party. And had she not been undergoing chemo, I have no doubt she would have had a cocktail in her hand. Lisa says what she thinks and is unapologetic about it. In my mind, she is the epitome of the badass momma. And I adore her.
Rex is eight years old. Rory is five. And they are losing their mom. The world is losing a phenomenal woman. Probably this week. Right before Christmas.
I am not sure I explained everything to my kids in the best possible way. The words just escaped me. I don’t want them to be scared. I don’t want them to be sad. But I am scared. And I am sad. And all I want in the world is to hold on to my babies and never let go.
I don’t have to leave my babies. At least not today. Or tomorrow.
Not all mommies are so lucky.