Introduction - October 4
REFLECTIONS ON THE LIFE AND LOSS OF A CHILD
Catie’s fourth birthday was a blur.
Her new sister, Haley, arrived a few weeks earlier and, like all newborns, required incessant attention. As the days became weeks, we scheduled the girls’ four-year and one-month doctors’ check-ups for Halloween – October 31, 1985.
The office was decorated, the nurses were in full costume. Catie was dressed like Wonder Woman, and Haley was in a flannel pumpkin that Cay had made for the occasion. The doctors were all in; one was a dressed like a friendly dinosaur and the other like Pinocchio.
That visit changed our lives.
Catie was diagnosed with leukemia. That day began a five-year journey that took us through hospitals in Tyler, Dallas, and Fort Worth, with endless appointments that included radiation, chemotherapy, a bone marrow transplant, and multiple rounds of remissions and relapses. The journey ended exactly five years after it began, on Halloween Day, 1990.
Along the way we had incredible support. Family and friends came alongside to carry the load and encourage our hearts. Strangers offered a vacation home in Colorado for a much-needed week in the mountains. The Dallas Mavericks provided front-row seats to several games, autographs, encouraging conversations, and bags of memorabilia to Catie, one of their biggest fans. Hospital administrators followed through to ensure that Catie’s every need was met. Waitresses made sure her take-out meals were prepared exactly the way she liked them.
The worst time was also the best time. Pain and fear mingled with intensity and a keen awareness of life, creating both an oddly excruciating and wonderful experience. Even today, 35 years past diagnosis and 30 year after her death, the memories of those days still evoke the best and worst within me.
October is always a tough month. Every year between Catie’s birthday (October 4) and Halloween, I go into some sort of funk. Sometimes mild, sometimes more intense. Often during those four weeks, I have a few tough days. I try to anticipate the dark cloud brewing and ready myself, but that anticipation becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I tend to be more aware of God’s presence during October than the other 11 months. Somehow during the four weeks in October – between the joyful memories of her birth and life and the intense pain of her departure – He feels more present and vivid.
Eventually November arrives, and I am happy for the return to a sense of normalcy. But I also miss the powerful awareness of God’s grace and strength.
When each of my parents died, they were at the end of well-lived, long lives; we grieved, but not the same as with someone who dies ‘out of turn.’ When a person dies young, we grieve their absence from our lives, but we also grieve the loss of the life ahead of them. Gone are so many expectations, so much still to do and experiences left unfulfilled. Our pain is not just for them but for the dreams that die with them.
Over the years, things have gotten more comfortable – but not necessarily easier. I know what is coming; God has gotten me through before, and He will again. St. Aquinas said, “Expectation is the greater joy.” My corollary is expectation is the greater dread. Looking ahead to a painful anniversary date is usually worse than the day itself.
I’m writing The Eye of the Storm to help me and I hope help others as well. Between October 4 and October 31, I’ll provide some daily reflections and a few perspectives that have fortified me through the years. I’m not sure if they will be of benefit to anyone, but if your path has meandered through the valley of the shadow, you may find comfort, strength, caution, or affirmation from my journey.