Six years today

E.U.P. February 27, 1995 — March 24, 2005.

Above: my nephew and me, a very long time ago. I’ve posted the photograph above, some explanatory text, and the poem below each year for the past three years on this date to bear witness. He was not a month into 10 years old when he died.  It was cancer (glioblastoma multiform: brain, spinal cord).

Muted backstory about him here (you have to read about half-way through to start to get to it).

I don’t write about him much (find it hard to, though I took a pass at it here a month ago). Neither do I write about the impact of his death on much of anyone else but me, out of respect for privacy. The shorthand: much is very broken; some things you’d expect to be, and some things — precious things — you would never have guessed.  This sort of pain has a tendency toward metastasis.

I have, however, attempted to describe the mark his joie de vivre, coupled with his illness and death, has left on my parenthood.  About which, some here, and here.

Really, this whole blog is a paean to him (said so in the very first post back in 2005), insofar as it is an extended sign of my attempt to live my life and my parenthood with eyes and heart as wide open as possible, and to grab as many people by the lapels as I can, and urge them to do the same.   For this enduring parting gift, my gratitude to him continues to be oceanic.


“When Death Comes”
by Mary Oliver
from New and Selected Poems

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse
to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measles-pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it is over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

This year, I add this coda:

15 thoughts on “Six years today”

  1. Peace to you and everyone who keeps him in their heart. I think that there is no greater tribute to a child then a pledge to, as you said, live and parent with eyes and heart wide open. And with “a blessing in my soul.” Sending so much love your way.

  2. And every year, I look at this photo and poem, and celebrate the love the is so very visible here–and shake my fist at the unfairness of the universe. I wish you had all had more time together.

  3. I missed the coda the first time I read this post: it’s lovely. And makes realize that all those family photos I have not gotten around to hanging up since we moved, two and a half years ago, really need to get up on the wall.

    I spent some time at lunch browsing some of the older posts you linked to, re-reading those. I was struck by this: “I have felt nothing short of evangelical in my zeal to transform my nephew’s short, bright life into a resounding message that touches as many others as possible.” You have done that; you do it. Small comfort, perhaps, but your beautiful nephew springs to my mind, poignant, happy, bittersweetness, at odd times as I’m moving through the world. And your message of fierce love and gratitude is one that always moves and inspires me. And for that, I’m grateful, even as I wish that your nephew were here today, playing with his cousins.

  4. A hell of a thing, most certainly. I was hoping to see this poem and photo up here today. Beautiful, beautiful video. The photos make my throat close up.

  5. You know, susan, I just had a small link to the post this clip originally appeared at in early December, and that in gray, a bit down. Then after watching it again, I realized that it should be here. It makes a very big difference to know the impact his story could have on others. It would be such a different world if my sister’s son were here today, playing with his cousins. As impossible to picture as it would be a godsend.

    I so appreciate it, mlthom your company in this grief journey, and that you note this day too. The first family photo was of my dad and my beloved, when we got legally hitched in SF City Hall. Then Erik, with his probing eyes, pushing his own stroller between my legs, at two or thereabouts. Then a series of my mom, as a young woman. Then my sister, laughing as Erik peed against a fence in a park, her younger son asleep on her back. Then my own family of origin, in early 1960s Kodachrome brilliance, unmarred yet by deaths. Then my sister’s last intact family portrait.

    At this point the pictures are most of what I have. More memories than hope. And gratitude for the lessons therein.

    Thanks again for the company.

  6. In a somewhat tangential thought, I was on a blog called Sartorial Butch the other day, and she’s dealing with impending genderqueer parenthood, and what to call herself, and how to deal with a possible girlygirl daughter. You know. All the usual. And your blog was recommended multiple times. It’s probably impossible for you to know the imprint you’ve made in so, so many places, and so, so many lives. You, your blog, your insightful and open and vulnerable musings on your journey in life – they are a regular touchstone for many of us. Having never met you, I stop by regularly for grounding, centering. Which – and I just made this connection today (I’m slow, forgive me) – means that your nephew’s memory is alive and well. His essence, his message, are in all of us who connect to you. If he inspired you, and you inspire us – well, that is meaning out of chaos if I’ve ever experienced it.

  7. I stumbled upon this blog years ago while my partner and I were just beginning the process of trying to expand our family and was not fully prepared for what it would bring to my life. I have loosely followed it ever since and on occasion am moved by a post or comment enough to reply with one of my own. Given the gravity of events in my own life currently, it seems so fitting that today, that this post in particular be one that I happen to find today when perusing through old links I haven’t checked in a while.

    The lesson of love and living life for all it’s worth is one we tend to lose in our daily activities, that is until something smacks us across the face and forces us to realize just how short life can be. Take solace in the knowledge that you have in fact brought this point home in your photos and writings and I for one, along with many if not all of your readers I’m sure, have not missed this point along the way. I thank you for your willingness to share, to write, and to express your thoughts and lessons learned so clearly here.

    As a side note: I sent a message via the blog link but am not certain it really went anywhere. I have a shiny new copy of my book Unconditional I would love to ship out for your reading pleasure, whenever you may find the time to read for pleasure of course. All I require is an address to which I can ship it to.

  8. The coda is perfect. Erik, and all of you, were much on my mind this week, in the midst of everything else.

    As someone commented in one of your posts about Nancy, “life is, among other things, cruel, precious and mystifying.”

    Here’s my offering to you, in gratitude for your companionship on the journey – another by Mary Oliver:

    “Love Sorrow”

    Love sorrow. She is yours now, and you must
    take care of what has been
    Brush her hair, help her
    into her little coat, hold her hand,
    especially when crossing a street. For, think,

    what if you should lose her? Then you would be
    sorrow yourself; her drawn face, her sleeplessness
    would be yours. Take care, touch
    her forehead that she feel herself not so
    utterly alone. And smile, that she does not

    altogether forget the world before the lesson.
    Have patience in abundance. And do not ever lie or ever
    leave her even for a moment

    by herself, which is to say, possibly, again,
    abandoned. She is strange, mute, difficult,
    sometimes unmanageable but, remember, she is a child.
    And amazing things can happen. And you may see,

    as the two of you go
    walking together in the morning light, how
    little by little she relaxes; she looks about her;
    she begins to grow.

  9. Thinking of you all, sending you so many hugs.

    And echoing what Shereen said about your impact in this virtual universe – an impact that is not, itself, virtual, but very real.

  10. Ah, friend Polly, as always when you talk about your nephew, your love and commitment shine so strongly through your grief. I wish he were there, growing up with your beautiful children, a young man I could know through you. I know he must have known how much he was loved, or at least that he was loved loved loved loved loved. And if there is any part still able to know, then he knows it still.

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