Clockwatching

January 6, 2009

Last night, I curled up in bed with my little girl. She lay her head against my arm and gripped my fingers with her tiny hand and whispered, I want you to stay here, Mommy.

Yes, I said. I want you to stay here, too.

And then I rested my cheek against the crown of her head and closed my eyes and inhaled the sweet, soapy smell of baby shampoo, felt the silk of her hair, heard the whisper of her breath and I thought, I want you to stay here, like this, always, curled against me, warm, safe. And I thought, I want you to stay here, like this, for years and years to come, until the days when you and I no longer fit together in this wee bed, when you are grown and I am old and your arms are the stronger. When we will still find comfort in each other. When you will still be my baby, only grown.

I thought these things, and I looked up at the clock atop her dresser and watched as the minute hand took one deliberate click forward. I looked up at the clock and I wondered, how would it feel if I were counting these minutes? These hours? These days?

It is not possible to hold a child too close, or for too long.

A family lost a child this week. Maybe it was the famous family, the one that we are all reading about it and talking about. Or perhaps it was another family, a family unknown to us, a family in Burma or Kinshasa or the Gaza Strip or Oshawa, Ontario or Saguenay, Quebec. Perhaps it was many families; perhaps it was many children. We lose count; we stop paying attention. We stop paying attention, unless the child is lost to someone that we know, someone that we know of. Then we remember. Every hour of every day, somewhere, someone suffers what we fear most. What I fear most.

My family is losing a child. Our loss is not sudden; it will not be unexpected. It’s a slow loss, but an inevitable loss; the hands of the clock tick forward slowly, deliberately, inexorably. We count on those hands ticking slowly; we measure their movements carefully, reassuring ourselves that the pace holds steady, that there is no leap forward, that this particular clock never advances an unnecessary hour, that our days hold ample daylight. It’s a slow loss, but an inevitable one.

We are better off, of course, for the trickling pace of this loss. We have many days, many hours, with this child. Not near as many as we would like, but still: we have time to spend and cherish, time to postpone our goodbyes and to pretend that their place on the horizon will hold its distance. My sister can wrap her body around Tanner’s and feel the beat of his heart and the warmth of his breath; she can brush her hand across his forehead and whisper in his ear and assert her love for him in the now and know, as surely as his hand tightens around hers, that he hears her, that he knows. But the clock ticks over her head – over his – and she counts these hours, these minutes, these seconds. Every movement of the minute-hand is a movement lost, a moment lost, one minute less in a cherished life that is measured by the clock.

My mother called on Christmas Eve, a thick edge to her voice, the edge of a third glass of wine, the edge of regret seeking reassurance. I miss you so much, she said. I miss Emilia, and Jasper. I’ll bet Emilia’s so excited for Santa. She laughed, uncertainly. I wish we could be together. I wish I could be there, I would move there in a heartbeat, but I can’t be there, because I need to be here, with Tanner. A pause. He’s really gone downhill. He’s declining really quickly. He’s not going to last more than another few years, maybe. Another pause; the clink of a glass. After he’s gone…

- I know.

After he’s gone…

- I know.

After Tanner is gone, time will stop, and then it will start again, without him. I don’t like thinking about this. I was upset with my mother for reminding me of this on a night that I wanted to spend in thrall to the optimism of Christmas – fear not, for behold: I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people – and to the sweet prospect of waking up to tiny pajamaed children filled with glee. I wanted my own now, free of sadness, free of the prospect of death, free of fear of that black hole of timelessness opening up and swallowing us all. I wanted to not walk through the valley of the shadow of death. I resented my mother for pulling me alongside her in her stroll. And that was wrong.

It was wrong because I am so, so fortunate to be able live my life with my own children, free of the clock, free of the incessant clang of the tolling bell, free of the the hourglass, the blind sands – free, at least, in my ignorance of, my deafness to, the tick, the clang, the passage of the sands that mark the time that passes for each of us. It was wrong because I am so fortunate, and I need to remain mindful of, and grateful for, that fortune. I can hold my daughter or my son and not think, here passes one more moment, here we move one step closer to death, here is one less embrace that we will share. I have a life with them, a now with them, that is free of visible shadows. I am blessed. And I am insufficiently appreciative of this blessing.

I pay little mind to the time that passes with my own children, apart from vague reflections upon the pace of their growth and the fleeting beauty of their babyhood. I mark Tanner’s time, I count it on my fingers and toes, I spend hours, awake at night, calculating how many more visits we have, how we shall spend those visits, how best we might use our time, how we might take time and wrest timelessness from it, in the form of memory. But I forget to mark the rest of time; I forget that I do not have infinite stores of time to spend with my children; I forget that the bell tolls as much for us as it does for Tanner, the only difference being that we do not know when its tolling will stop.

I do not pause often enough; I do not often enough stop and hold my children, just for the sake of holding on. I do not take as much time as I should to just hold them and listen to their hearts beat and feel their breath upon my cheek and their hands warm within my own and hear the tick of the clock – feel the tick of the clock – and be grateful for every. single. second. In ignoring time, I am doomed to lose it. I need to take time, take measure of time, give thanks for time, for whatever stocks of time that I am blessed to have. With Tanner, with Jasper, with Emilia, with all whom I love and with whom I wish to have more time, always more time.

Hug your children today; hug them, and let time stop, and then, when it starts again? Thank the heavens for it.

*******

My sister, Chrissie, will be running, this weekend, in a marathon to raise money for Duchenne’s research. There’s no cure for Duchenne’s, but there’s always hope, and Chrissie is running, as always, for this hope. With my words, I can cheer her on, and I can ask others to cheer, and to help by cheering and to cheer by helping.

You can donate in Tanner’s name HERE. It probably won’t change the ending to this story, but it will help the narrative maintain a recurring theme of hope. And that, right now, is all.

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    { 100 comments }

    Karen Sugarpants January 6, 2009 at 3:41 pm

    Tragic, raw, beautiful writing Catherine…you have me in tears again as I think about your family. Much love to you.

    Stephanie January 6, 2009 at 3:42 pm

    Oy, you brought me to tears. I am back at work for a short time before I become a stay at home mom and this is the longest I have ever been apart from my 3mos old. I spend all day sitting at work thinking the few hours tonight with him before he goes to bed are TOO SHORT. So, you hit home with me today, your post was very sweet and I enjoyed reading, albeit through tears. :)

    Denise January 6, 2009 at 3:42 pm

    Wow. That was very powerful and inspiring. Makes me want to go hold my kids and never let go.

    anniemom January 6, 2009 at 3:43 pm

    Oh God. Thank you, Catherine. Just when I thought I couldn’t do another night of constant nursing, another morning of a rainy day with my 2 year old and my 3 month old, just then… I feel the powerful boost of gratitude. Yes, I will hold them.

    She Likes Purple January 6, 2009 at 3:44 pm

    This is one of the most beautiful things I’ve read in ages. I’m a month out from my due date, and I thank you for this reminder before my son has even gotten here. Just … thank you.

    Mr Lady January 6, 2009 at 3:50 pm

    I won’t say this didn’t hurt to read. I am so sorry for what you and your family are facing. I just hope that you’ll all find the strength around you when the time comes. We’re all here for you.

    Kara January 6, 2009 at 3:51 pm

    I think I will snuggle a little longer and hold her a little tighter tonight…thanks for the gentle reminder. :)

    K January 6, 2009 at 4:01 pm

    That was really beautiful and gutwrenching and true. Huge hugs…huge hugs…

    Don Mills Diva January 6, 2009 at 4:09 pm

    I will Catherine.

    Thank you for making sure that I will.

    Niksmom January 6, 2009 at 4:16 pm

    I ache for the impending change in your family’s life —whenever it happens. Your post is raw, poignant, beautiful. Having lived the in that surreal hell of not knowing how long my child would live (IF he would live) after he was born, I am so grateful for the five years we have had together so far —regardless of the struggles and needs. I try not to take a day for granted but it’s easy to get complacent. To think “My God, boy, would you please just play by yourself a while so I can get (insert mundane task here) done?”

    I’m getting offline now and going to spend the afternoon building block towers with Nik. xo

    the slackmistress January 6, 2009 at 4:21 pm

    This is one of those blog posts that is both incredibly moving and yet no one should have to write.

    My cousin lost a child in 1998. Elise was four. I remember sitting at the funeral thinking that this couldn’t possibly be happening. Even though we knew it was coming, there was no way to prepare. It’s truly a terrible thing to witness when you can’t do anything but try to hold up the people around you.

    My best to you and your family.

    CP January 6, 2009 at 4:21 pm

    Just beautiful. And painful but such a necessary reminder in our lives.

    Sarcomical January 6, 2009 at 4:23 pm

    very sad, but beautifully-put. and very true. you have a wonderful way of placing your feelings on the page, and i wish you and your family continued best.

    Michele January 6, 2009 at 4:30 pm

    Your writing is exquisite. Very beautiful. When’s your book deal?
    Best wishes as always! Love visiting your blog!

    Sherry January 6, 2009 at 4:32 pm

    Here in our house, we sometimes lose sight of things like time, and fret over the little tiny things rather than enjoy them. Thank you for reminding us to do that.

    I’m so, so sorry for pain and yes, I will snuggle a little longer and tighter tonight.

    Amo January 6, 2009 at 4:32 pm

    Thank you for reminding us all of the value of a minute.

    Kaitlyn January 6, 2009 at 4:35 pm

    What powerful writing, and an excellent point.

    Loralee Choate January 6, 2009 at 4:41 pm

    I have thought often of you and your family and your sister and your sweet nephew, knowing what they are about to face.

    This just rips my heart to pieces but it is also so beautiful and loving.

    You are all blessed to have such love with one another.

    My thoughts are with you.

    rebcram January 6, 2009 at 4:44 pm

    Crying. I cannot imagine. But I will hug my two closer than usual today, thinking and remembering.

    Ashley January 6, 2009 at 4:49 pm

    I will and my kids are going to look at me funny but it is so worth it. They are worth it.

    iMommy January 6, 2009 at 4:51 pm

    I am so sorry to hear about Tanner. I am so sorry for anyone who has to face losing a child.

    It’s bittersweet, because at the same time, I am thankful for the reminder to take time/

    Lara January 6, 2009 at 4:51 pm

    oh, that’s so sweet, catherine. and truly heartbreaking. yet hopeful, because we do have time, and we can do our best to enjoy it. because i lost my dad so early, i think often of the time i have left with my mom. i lie in her arms still, fully grown, and sometimes, when i say goodbye at the airport, i cry. time is so precious.

    Cat January 6, 2009 at 5:08 pm

    Time marches on.

    Angella January 6, 2009 at 5:18 pm

    Thank you for the reminder, Catherine. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    Maggie, Dammit January 6, 2009 at 5:21 pm

    Holding mine right now as she sleeps, and taking a good deep inhale of her scent…. even if it does smell like the flu. ;)

    Beautiful, as always.

    Mommy Melee January 6, 2009 at 5:22 pm

    Until I gave birth to my first son, I never TRULY stopped to think, couldn’t possibly understand the crushing fearpainpanic of even vaguely contemplating losing a child.

    It’s a very real spectre hanging over all of us.

    motherbumper January 6, 2009 at 5:23 pm

    And this is the reminder we must share and spread especially when we get caught up in the unimportant stuff. Thank you for putting it in your beautiful words.

    Elaine January 6, 2009 at 5:45 pm

    That was beautiful. Thank you for the reminder. One of my favorite quotes about time (actually about friendship, but to me it’s just as strongly about how we live) is from Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet.” “For what is your friend that you should seek him with hours to kill?/ Seek him always with hours to live.”

    Haley-O January 6, 2009 at 5:48 pm

    Thank you for this poignant reminder to appreciate the time we have with our loved ones. Two of my parents’ closest friends lost children — one suddenly and unexpected, and one of cystic fibrosis…. I’m so sorry your family is going through this. I wish there were words to comfort. There just aren’t — except, as you remind us, to appreciate every day, and to pray.

    ewe are here January 6, 2009 at 5:48 pm

    A beautiful reminder.

    Heather January 6, 2009 at 5:51 pm

    I do thank the heavens and every force of nature that I have been so blessed and so lucky to have my three healthy children. My heart aches for your family.

    mom2nji January 6, 2009 at 6:02 pm

    Oh God, my heart is breaking for your family and for any family that faces such a huge loss. There are too many days when I take those minutes for granted..even days when I cant wait for those minutes to tick down to bedtime. I have 3 boys, my oldest is autistic. On those days when I feel like there are too many minutes, I have a pity party over the autism. Next time that happens I will remember… that even though its not easy, I HAVE my boys near me to snuggle and love and that is the biggest blessing I could ask for. Thank you for your beautiful reminder.

    Dana January 6, 2009 at 6:07 pm

    this post is so touching, even though it is heartbreaking. i have moments in my life when I cry because I know my son will grow up. I cry because I know someday I’ll be old and time will go quickly.

    sigh.

    I hate how the clock keeps ticking. but I just have to remember that death is not the end. it’s only the beginning. i believe that and it makes me feel calm. better.

    Sarah January 6, 2009 at 6:29 pm

    Thank you for this post – it’s beautiful.

    PDX Mama January 6, 2009 at 6:35 pm

    Thank you for that reminder. That was beautiful.

    I am so sorry for all that you and your family are going through with Tanner. It’s just so dreadfully unfair.

    Jessica January 6, 2009 at 6:55 pm

    Immediately before reading this, I had a stubborn, angry argument with my four-year-old. Our relationship is strained since the birth of her brother, her perceived displacement in the family. Thank you, dearly, for reminding me of our blessings. Thank you for putting it all in perspective. I had lost sight. When the tears pass and my vision clears, I will see these blessings as they are.

    Miss Britt January 6, 2009 at 7:30 pm

    This physically hurts my chest to read.

    Perksofbeingme January 6, 2009 at 8:11 pm

    This is beautiful and haunting at the same time. It brings the reality of mortality to life. It makes me pay attention to the fact that all my kids at MDA camp don’t have much time. It makes me realize that I need to spend that much more time with my nieces. Thank you for putting everything into perspective. This was beautiful and haunting at the same time.

    O January 6, 2009 at 8:13 pm

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

    J from Ireland January 6, 2009 at 8:44 pm

    Amazing writing. My heart breaks for you and your whole family. Best wishes.

    Stephenie January 6, 2009 at 8:50 pm

    Thank you for reminding me of something so very important. I wish your family the best that these years can bring you, time with your little nephew and lots of love.

    Meg January 6, 2009 at 9:13 pm

    Hauntingly beautiful. I really needed this slap in my face to remind me of how great I have it. I’m so sorry for what you are going through….all of you.

    Kate January 6, 2009 at 9:36 pm

    lots of tears…
    nice picture choice too.

    Jana January 6, 2009 at 9:52 pm

    Sadness can be beautiful, and you’ve proven it here.

    I wish none of us ever had to hurt again. I think we’d do OK at appreciating the good times without the bad, no?

    kittenpie January 6, 2009 at 9:57 pm

    This is actually my resolution for this year – to really make the most of this year at home, the last I’ll have for a long time, and remember to enjoy them and make some memories for all of us. I’m realizing how fast Pumpkinpie is growing and how I spent her infancy waiting for her to grow up, but I want to savour it more this time, being my last.

    Emilyjo January 6, 2009 at 10:11 pm

    Allow me to first clear the tears from my eyes long enough to type! This was so beautiful. I feel for Tanner’s parents. How my heard literally aches for them — for all of you. My son was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis when he was 3. He is now 6 and I am reminded daily of how precious life is. You are not alone. Thanks for posting this.

    Adventures In Babywearing January 6, 2009 at 10:27 pm

    Oh dear, this was painful and touching.

    Steph

    Shannon January 6, 2009 at 10:35 pm

    Phenomenal writing – yet so heartbreaking and with such a heavy heart I read it. I will have an extra round of hugs for my children tonight, and an abundance of thanks coming from my soul.

    Redneck Mommy January 6, 2009 at 10:40 pm

    I’m sorry love.

    I couldn’t get through the post.

    You know why. But please give your sister and Tanner my love.

    xo

    katherynei January 6, 2009 at 10:42 pm

    Gratitude, gratitude, gratitude. It’s something that we all need to pay a little more attention to, and your powerful post is a great reminder of that. Thank you so much for sharing such a hard subject.

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