There are some places that embody an almost tangible sadness. Places where the atmosphere is saturated in heaviness. Where it feels like every day is a rainy day with no sign of the clouds clearing.
One of these places is a Pediatric Oncology Unit. From the inpatient floor to the clinic for labs and chemo, the atmosphere is the same. Some of the children look sick. Some of them don’t. Some of them are smiling and laughing, some of them are dry heaving into basins. But the atmosphere isn’t just heavy because of the children. Behind every child fighting is a parent dying inside. A parent who has been told things they can never forget, has seen things they can never unsee. In the eyes of these parents, through quiet strength, you will find a deep sadness. One that is so overwhelming it cannot stay contained within. It seeps out through their pores and fills the air of these sad, quiet places.
One mother sits in the lobby typing away on her laptop, her daughter waiting for chemotherapy. The mother, middle-aged and plain is wearing a rubber bracelet with her daughter’s name on it. It bounces on her wrist as her fingers peck away at the computer. She wears the bracelet to show she’s fighting too. She wears it because somehow it helps her find hope. Hope that her daughter will be one of the few to overcome.
A young couple walks in with a stroller, checking their infant in for radiation. They do not speak to one another but wear matching shirts with their child’s name on it. Silently, they stand in agreement that they are “Fighting For XXXX.’
Then there’s the mother that sits in the consultation room crying. The doctor has just left and after some time alone she makes a call from her cell phone. Her words cannot be heard through the glass but they don’t need to be. Everyone on the other side of the glass has made one of those calls. Each one of us has had a similar talk with a doctor and then sat alone afterwards in disbelief that this was happening to us. That our baby, our child, was sick. Through the glass we grieve with her and through the glass we understand.
All of us are praying the same prayers. Most of us are even praying them to the same God. All of us are gathering those in our communities around us to join in, we are desperate for others to believe with us that our children will pull through.
We sit in these clinics, these lobbys, these parent lounges, alone but we are united. But as we sit in silent camaraderie we wonder: will it be yours or mine? Because we know it can’t be both. That’s perhaps the thing that makes these quiet places so horribly sad. It’s not the things that those who fill them don’t know, it’s the things that those who fill them DO know: some of our children will not make it.
As much as we hate sitting in these clinics, we realize it is a privilege to continue doing so. As much as we hate sitting in these clinics, we realize the only thing we would hate more is not being able to. There are so many parents I have met along this journey that no longer get to fight because the fight is over for their child. There is now a permanent hole in their home and in their soul. And as much as I hate being here, those parents would give ANYTHING to be sitting in the empty chair next to me.
It’s not the children or the parents in these clinics that break my heart the most – it’s the empty chairs. Each empty chair tells a story. Some tell stories of healing and a cure but many tell stories of a disease that won. And if you’re a parent whose child is fighting this disease for the fourth time, the stories of healing and a cure seem far beyond your grasp.
On days that are just too much and nights that bring pain beyond comprehension I often think of the empty chairs. I am reminded of the privilege it is to still be sitting in one and I make the conscious decision to be grateful for it. I am not willing to give up my seat without a fight. Not now, not ever.
Blessings on you today, LIFE for Izzy – and may we never forget those families represented by the empty chairs.