Late last year, we said goodbye to Tanner. He had taken a bad turn and been medevaced to BC Children’s Hospital; his doctors said that it would be our last chance to see him, and we rushed to be there. We gathered around his hospital bed and held his hand and told him that we loved him.
He asked his mom if his time had come. She said, if you’re ready for it to be, sweetie.
He wasn’t sure if he was ready. He was tired, but he hung on. We stayed with him, around the clock, sleeping in shifts by his side. He and I talked about souls and heaven and goodness and eternity and William Blake’s The Tyger. I told him that he had a big soul, one of the biggest. I told him that his goodness and bravery were a gift to all of us, to the world. I told him that he should listen to his mother: whenever you’re ready, sweetie. You can go whenever you’re ready.
He wasn’t ready. There were two things that he wanted: to meet his nephew, due in March, and to graduate high school, a few months later.
Logan was born three months ago. Tanner’s high school graduation was last week. He was there for both.
We traveled up to Canada to be there for his graduation. I had promised him, at his bedside in the hospital, that we wouldn’t miss it for the world, and we didn’t. This was our summer vacation; this was our family adventure for the year – being present to witness Tanner hit this milestone. And of course, it didn’t disappoint: I’ve never cheered louder than I did when he ascended the stage in his wheelchair to receive his high school diploma and his award for extraordinary citizenship. I’ve never cheered louder, and I’ve never shed happier tears.
When we went through Customs at the airport in Vancouver, the agent asked us the purpose of our visit. “To see our nephew graduate,” I said. “Oh,” she replied. “That must be a university graduation. Is he getting an important degree?” Because, of course, why else would we travel so far?
“Yes,” I said. “It’s an important degree. A very important degree.”
Of course, now that he’s reached this milestone, we worry. When his system fails again – and it will – will he finally feel ready? We wish both for that, and against it. We want to him to feel ready; we want him to go gently into that good night. But we also want him for as long as possible. He’s pure joy, that kid. He’s pure goodness, the kind of good that the world needs so very badly. The world is better with him in it.
For his part, he wants to stay in it a while longer. He wants to do some more road trips, maybe come down to California. He’s never had an In-and-Out burger after all, and he’s never had a real (really good) taco. He wants to learn more about politics; he wants to spend more time in his church. He still has more to do, and he’s going to fight to do it.
And we’re going to just keep cheering him on, as long as he does.
Goodbye can wait.