Six years and three weeks ago (exactly), I sent out an email to friends and family informing them that Austin had been diagnosed with cancer. I was upbeat and hopeful, providing as many details as I could in that moment, all tinged with a misplaced sense of optimism for what we were about to endure.
My inbox was flooded almost immediately with replies conveying that same hope and optimism, all telling me that we would beat this, we were so strong, Austin was lucky to have us as parents to guide him through this, blah blah blah. Everyone meant well and I thoroughly appreciated their words, but after a while, the messages all blurred into one. Except for the singular and unblurrable response from my college friend in London, which read, “Fucking hell, Krissy, this fucking sucks.” And I laughed and I cried and I saved that message in cyber-eternity because it was the only one that captured what I was really feeling, what my heart knew but my mind couldn’t yet accept: this fucking sucked.
I have used those words many times over the past six years and three weeks . . . too many times, in fact. I have handed them over with as much kindness and comfort as I could muster to a friend whose mother was diagnosed with cancer too young. And another whose daughter was diagnosed with cancer too young. And to the friend who deserved the words most of all after her daughter was killed in a freak accident. And the woman whose husband died of a heart attack after an evening bike ride, leaving her a widow with three young children.
And then I used them yet again, just a few days ago, in a message to a woman I’ve known since Braedan was just a few months old, whose five-year-old daughter, about to start kindergarten at Fairfax, was diagnosed with a brain tumor instead.
Because, fucking hell, what else can you say to that?
I’m not going to tell you their whole story because the husband/father is doing that himself here, so eloquently I’m almost embarrassed by my own blabbering vulgarity. But not so embarrassed that I’ll stop, because if you think I’ve used harsh words before, they’re about to get harsher. I’ve been following their story pretty closely over the past week and have read through all the comments that appear on both parents’ Facebook pages. And they’re filled with hope and love and fervent fervent wishes for the best possible outcome. They are lovely and moving and raw and I’m sure bring some small but necessary bit of strength to the parents. But they are also filled with a falsehood, with a piece of conventional wisdom about illness that gets bandied about as if it’s undeniable truth and it is not.
It is this: that love will conquer all. Time and again, I have seen well-meaning people tell their downtrodden friends that their sick family members will survive because they are loved. Love will save them. Love is more powerful than anything, even, say, cancerous tumors.
I used to like this idea. I believed it and lived it myself the first time through. This was something I could do. I could love Austin back to health, that was one thing I could control. I distinctly remember strolling him outside the hospital one October night, mere weeks into our years-long journey, and thinking that my pure longing could actually save him, that my intense wanting, my unbreakable desire to keep him alive would do just that. And then I realized, with a jolt to my heart, how wrong I was.
Because they fell like dominoes around me. Those children who were nothing if not loved. Ashlie, Ariana, Emily, Seamus, Dylan, Olivia. Did I really think that if their mothers had wished a little harder, if their fathers had loved with greater intensity, if their circles of friends had prayed more frequently or more fervently, that those children would have somehow survived? That is not how it works. Love isn’t enough. It helps; it makes the long days and weeks and months more bearable and much more pleasant. But it doesn’t save lives. It would take you mere minutes with Ariana’s mother to know that her love should have saved a small country’s worth of children. She loved her daughter beyond measure. And Seamus’ parents . . . are you kidding me? There could be no bigger love for a child.
But it didn’t matter. Because it’s not love that saves. And goodness knows, it’s not lack of love that kills (nice message to send to those parents, huh: if only you’d. . . ?). It’s not a question of worth or value or who deserves what. Because every parent deserves to send her sweet child off to kindergarten healthy and whole. And every five-year-old deserves to go.
So, no, it’s way more random than love. It’s just luck. Plain old luck, good or bad. Which is way out of our control.