Touched by loss. Empowered through community.

Family Circumstance

Monday, March 19, 2012
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While on a cleaning binge this weekend, I tackled the overflowing basket in my office where every stray paper lands until filed.  I came upon a copy of Claire’s medical records that I had received when we switched pediatricians over the summer.  The packet was about two inches thick and didn’t seem very interesting at first. But something soon caught my eye.  It was the words, “father died of brain cancer.” They were splashed on more than a few of the pages and compelled made me to keep reading.  It has been a long time since I allowed myself to mentally travel back to the days when birth and death unflappably worked together to transform my life.  But I read on to see if anything else was mentioned about Chris’s death.

I skimmed over the concise notes from the day Claire was born: delivered via C-section, 7 lb. 7 oz., breast fed, bonding well with mom, no jaundice, etc.  I flipped to day 3 of our hospital stay and saw an assessment offered by the hospital social worker after visiting me.  I’m confident I was number one on her “at high risk for post-partum depression” list. Yet, all I wanted during my hospital stay was to be left alone with my baby and pretend like I was just like any other mother of a newborn.  I needed those few days of escape from my nightmare.  The social worker, finally understanding my position, indicated in the notes that I didn’t want to talk about the “very stressful and worrisome situation” with my husband.

The doctor’s visit after our release from the hospital was the first time I saw the phrase, “father died of brain cancer.”  Later weeks and months in the record discuss Claire’s growth, eating habits, developmental milestones and, always this same comment, “father died of brain cancer.”  Then at the time of Claire’s 18 month check-up, the words, “father died of brain cancer” suddenly became, “family circumstance.”  This unceremonious change in description took me by surprise and seemed to diminish the significance of what happened. 

Why change the explanation after 18 months?  Were those few extra words taking up too much space?  The more I pondered this, the angrier I got. Is the fact that Claire was just entering this life as her precious father was exiting it—literally being baptized in his hospital room as he was being anointed for death-- merely a family circumstance?

When she has no one to attend all those daddy/daughter dances with, will it be because of a family circumstance? 

When she is walking down the aisle on her wedding day without her father, will it be a family circumstance that will make the day bittersweet? 

When she becomes a mother and understands the loss of her father from a whole new perspective, will she be thinking about a family circumstance?

Heck, no!  It is much bigger, much more profound, and more permanent than a family circumstance-- something that sounds like the dog ran away or mom lost her job.  “Her father died, people!,” I shouted at the lifeless documents in my hands. 

It happened!  It is a big deal!  It will forever shape her life!  I, in no way, want it to be what defines her but it should be more than a footnote.   Just as I don’t want Chris’s life to be forgotten; I don’t want his death to be neatly summed up in two innocuous words.  There should be no expiration date on this significance.

My daughter, Claire, is 3 years old and her father died of brain cancer.



Dearest Wendy, I read your blog and had to take a deep breath - how profound you are! Let it be known to the world now and forever that Chris, Claire's daddy died of brain cancer. This fact is nothing to be ashamed of - it is fact - and should be known. I love you for what you have become, a truly wonderful mother! We are very proud of you! Love, Sheri & Dad

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