In my previous post, Journeys Ended, Journeys Begun, I made reference to my son Joshua, who died from a brain tumor at the age of thirty. Below is a piece I wrote a year ago about my sense of loss at his passing. I decided to share it here.
I thought about Joshua today. I think about him everyday, but today was different. Today Trueda and I participated in a memorial service for those who donated their bodies to the University of Washington Medical School’s willed body program. His ashes have now joined thousands of others in a communal memorial site managed by the University.
He would have liked the service. Especially the part where two medical students talked about the anatomy courses in which they studied those donated bodies to learn about the human body from the inside. That was why he donated his body. He wanted to continue teaching even after he was gone.
Joshua was special, as is every child born into this world. Thirty-two years ago he began his travels and travails through this life. I can review the photographic record of that journey if I want to, although it is all too scanty and provides only brief glimpses into the life we brought into the world and cared for and treasured and loved and, at the end, cared for again. I don’t need the photographs. I remember it all.
I remember when he took his first breath, and I cried. I remember when the diaper got away from me and he chose that moment to unleash a torrent of pee in my face. I remember running alongside him as he mastered his first bicycle. I remember how he learned to manage his OCD and Tourette Syndrome. I remember coming home from work and finding him sprawled out on the living room floor surrounded by a half dozen open encyclopedias (he had looked something up and that led to another and another and so on; he was a knowledge omnivore). I remember his joy when he found a community college teacher who could open up the world of mathematics for him. I remember his deep sense of fulfillment when he arrived at the University of California at Davis to begin working on his PhD in theoretical mathematics. I remember how proud I was of him and how happy I was for him.
I remember when we sat with the oncology surgeon as he explained that Joshua’s brain tumor could not be entirely removed and that he had just a few years left to live, and Joshua said (characteristically), “Well, I guess I don’t have to worry about saving for retirement.” I remember the loss of speech and use of the left side of his body from the surgery, and his stubborn drive to regain both. I remember the radiation therapy and the chemo, and the slow deterioration of his mental faculties. I remember his decision to discontinue treatment, and his acceptance of hospice. I remember changing his diapers when he could no longer control his own bowel movements. I remember when he took his last breath, and I cried.
I remember the courage with which he faced his own death; the dignity and optimism he maintained to the very end. I remember his unrelenting sense of humor. I remember his intelligence and his gentle spirit and his soft heart. I remember it all.
Grief is a human thing. We mourn the passing of a loved one because they were important to us, because they touched us and made us better than we would have been without them, because we gave something of ourselves to them and they gave something of themselves to us. We grieve because we loved them.
I thought about you today, Joshua. I think about you everyday, but today was different. It has been a sad day, but it has been a good kind of sad. I miss you so much.