April 13, 2015 by mamacravings
With tenderness he asked, “Do you need a dwrink?”. She responded that she did not. “How ’bout sthome food? Is you hungwry?” She smiled that she was fine. He patted her hand and walked away. I assumed it was to escape back to his play, but just a moment later the bedroom door rushed back open. He pushed and then pulled and then pushed again until a chair was squarely set against the bed. He clamored onto the chair and then sat very still. He reached for her hand and sung to her, gently and carefully.
He knew she had cancer.
The day I told him I felt nervous and unsure. I didn’t want to scare him. So, I began simply: “Your Grancie has cancer.” I exhaled deeply. The words had been heavy, and I had carried them for days. I had mulled over what I would say and had practiced the wording, tone and even emphasis. Now that I had said the words, they were no less heavy.
His brow furrowed. He was just 4. This was the first bit of bad news he ever heard. Before this his worst bit of news had been the refusal to buy a certain coveted toy. On that day he learned a dreadfully distressing word. He learned the word “cancer”, and he learned that his grandmother was battling it.
As I expected, he asked me several questions about cancer, including what the word meant and what that would mean for his Grancie. I answered simply and truthfully. Children are such curious, imaginative creatures. I was more afraid of him trying to fill in the blanks of his curiosities with wild imaginings than I was of the actual truth, awful as it may be.
I knew telling my little boy would be difficult. I knew that his questions would be uncomfortable. I knew that I would not be able to generate satisfactory answers for any of his questions. And It turned out to be all of those things. He was patient as I stammered over explanations. He didn’t balk at how many times I confessed that I didn’t have a reasonable solution to his questions. He held my hand as we both searched for understanding in the words: Your Grancie has cancer.
It had been a couple of weeks since that monumental conversation. Since then my mama had a double mastectomy. We traveled back home to be with her during spring break. Now he sat as still as he ever had before, gently stroking my mama’s hand while she smiled, tired and content.
“Did it huwrt when ‘dey did ‘da suwrgewry?” he whispered curiously but with caution.
She assured him that it did not.
“Be’tause ‘dey give you ‘da med’cthine to make you s’weepy? It smawrt of ‘dem to do ‘dat. It huwrtsth now though, huh?”
She confessed that she was sore but that it was bearable. She winced as she said it.
He continued to ask his questions gently both in word and in touch. I was struck by how discerning he was to her needs, how sensitive he was as he carefully picked the words to his questions. This 4 year-old boy with mismatch socked feet dangling from the seat of the chair didn’t seem quite as small as he did just a couple of weeks ago, not quite as carefree. He was serious. His brow was wrinkled with concern. He was now aware of the hurt of this world. He was now practicing the comfort he can bring even in the hurt.
Telling my little boy that his Grancie has cancer was one of the most difficult conversations I’ve ever had. I certainly wasn’t ready to tell him that there are bad, unexplained, unfair things that happen in this world. Watching my little boy comfort his grandmother was one of the most touching scenes I’ve even seen. He saw her pain, and he cared for her with a sensitivity beyond his years. That day I watched my mama become the cared-for, and my little boy become the care-giver. It was a beautifully tragic sight. My little boy learned about the hurt in this world, and he reacted with love.