Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Have no fear.

I will remember you.
Will you remember me?
Don't let your life pass you by
Weep not for the memories.

from Sarah McLachlan's "I Will Remember You."


I sat next to a patient yesterday who was dying. I held his hand and stroked his face as he took laborious breaths. His family clung lovingly by his bedside. They understood that things were not likely to be reversed, and had asked that we do nothing heroic. The patient had made peace with every member of his family and according to his family, was at spiritual peace, too. There was no unfinished business.

I was glad to know that my patient would have death with dignity.

And a few hours later, that's exactly what happened. He made a loving transition surrounded by the ones who cherished him the most.

I asked his loved ones what their favorite things about him were. It was wonderful to hear them conjuring up their favorite moments, and to see them smiling. It somehow felt better than the "sorry" I'd offered earlier.

Death is, unfortunately, a big part of my job. It's something I see regularly. Something I discuss often. Sometimes multiple times daily. Instead of being horrified by it, I believe that it's an honor to be there as a human being nears the end of this life. Because of that, I try hard to respect the family, and to honor the patient. In life and in death.

So I guess after more than ten years of working in the hospital, I thought I knew a lot about what to say and not to say in times like this. I considered myself savvy in dealing with death's aftermath; even if sometimes it meant flat out crying in front of a family at times or in my car on the way home.

But it wasn't until recently that I really learned some of the most valuable lessons I could ever learn about death and life. These lessons could not be taught in a medical school classroom, a journal or a textbook. They had to be learned through an experience that hit close to home.



Two years ago today, God decided He needed another angel. He decided it swiftly and without much warning. Just like the way He blesses people out of the blue, yet we somehow don't think of it that way. On November 23, 2008, a three year and 11 month old cherub joined the heavens.

His name was C.J.

Celebrating the return of daddy from the Gulf

C.J. was the beloved son and namesake of Harry's dear friend, Cedric and his wife Davina. He was the cherished sunshine of his parent's lives and an absolute joy in every way. But. . . .the same God who gave C.J. to Ced and Davina decided that He wanted to bring him back home.

The moment I entered their home on the day before C.J.'s memorial service remains one of the single most pivotal, painful, and riveting moments of my life.


On that day, Davina and I somehow connected on a level that continues to feel otherworldly even two years later.  She has taught me so much that I didn't know. And ever since, I have never seen grief the same.

I recently read something a wise person wrote that said:

A man who has lost his wife is called a "widower." A child without parents is an “orphan.” Yet there is no single English word to describe a parent who has lost a child. A heartbreaking lexical gap.


Davina calls it "Mommy of an Angel." It's not a single English word, but it is still beautifully descriptive.

I am so thankful to the "Mommy of an Angel" for trusting me and so many others with her feelings during this painful walk. She has made me a better doctor, a better mother, a better wife, a better writer, a better sister, a better daughter, a better friend, and a better believer.

Today I am reflecting on some of the things I learned from Davina about loss, about unspeakable grief and about life. These are things we could all take pause on. . . .I know I have.

Thanks to Davina, I now know that:
  • A mother who has lost her child is still a mother.
  • Mothers love to talk about their children. Even when they aren't alive any more. Especially when they aren't alive any more.
  • "Time" doesn't necessarily heal all wounds.
  • Some things are just as awful and painful as they seem.
  • "Good morning. . . I love you" is an acceptable thing to say when you don't know what to say.
  • So is "Hey. . . "over a text message.
  • Another baby, though a blessing, can't replace the one you lost.
  • Saying "I know another baby isn't a replacement, but. . ." might be better left unsaid.
  • Understanding when you don't get called back/emailed back immediately is deeply appreciated.
  • There's not a good answer to, "No . . .how are you really?"
  • Pretending like you no longer have children of your own when talking to a mom who lost hers is alienating. Because, even though it's hard sometimes, mommies not only like talking about their own children, they like hearing about yours, too.
  • Fear is alienating, too.
  • Not being afraid to speak her child's name is so much better than cryptic references and awkward silences. Even when you mean well.
  • We shouldn't allow gripping pain and tragedy to permanently redefine who a person is. It's like making a person relive a funeral for the rest of their life.
  • Joy and pain really are like sunshine and rain.
  • Loving like you mean it is a good way to live without regret.
  • Remembering is not a passive thing. It is active.
  • So is love.
There is not a day that goes by that I don't actively think about C.J. Despite all the requests God gets constantly, it still amazes me that He heard my whisper of a prayer. . . to not be afraid. He took all the fear and trepidation away and allowed Davina and I to forge an authentic bond as mothers in the mommy-army.

To talk about our children. To talk about our husbands. To talk about nothing. To laugh. To cry. To remember. Without fear. Without facades.

Roomies: Ced and Harry, July 2010

Ced came to see us over the summer while passing through Fort Benning. It was our first time seeing him since C.J.'s memorial service, and the heaviness in the room was suffocating. I was industrious in the kitchen while Harry sat with Ced in the sun room and, for the first time, seemed at a loss for words with one of his very best friends. It hurt to watch . . . .

But then something happened.

Isaiah skipped into the room and completely out of nowhere plopped a framed picture of C.J. right on Ced's lap. Ced looked at the picture. . .this beautiful picture with C.J. beaming straight into the camera. . . .and looked like the air had been knocked straight from his chest. I cannot even begin to describe his expression. It was. . . .so. . .so . . . .yeah.

"Where'd this come from, man?" Ced asked him while staring incredulously at Isaiah.

Harry mouthed to me in the kitchen, Did you tell him to do that??

I mouthed back, Hell no, I didn't tell him to do that!

"He's our playroom angel, so duh Uncle Ced! I got it from the playroom!" Isaiah announced in the most beautifully innocent way ever. Ced wrapped his arms around Isaiah and drew him into his chest.

"Wow. . .man, this really means a lot to me, Isaiah," I heard him say quietly.

Isaiah seemed to recognize his grief. He peered into Ced's haunting eyes and said, "It's okay. Everybody knows that C.J. is in heaven. It's okay."

Harry and I looked at each other, both silently shaking our heads. Neither of us ever told him to say such a thing. But even more interesting. . . .Isaiah had never met Ced in person. Remotely, he'd asked what "C.J." stood for and I'd told him it stood for "Cedric Jr. since his daddy's name is Cedric" but that was it.

It was divine. In that moment, God used a little child to do what the adults in the room could not do. Speak C.J.'s name. From that moment on, the mood lifted and the walls came down. Harry reconnected with his friend as a father. . . as C.J's father. The fear of remembering melted away. . . .

Ced (with Zachy) and Harry (with Isaiah): Ice broken between friends and daddies.

So now I get it. Sometimes a simple "I'm sorry" is perfectly suitable. And sometimes just a silent hug is amazing. But remembering? Really remembering. . . now that's special.

As I promised C.J., I will do my best to honor his memory by speaking his name and introducing him to others. . . .just has his mother had the courage to do for me. And I bet he'd want you to meet his mommy and his daddy, too. :)

May I introduce you to whom we affectionately refer to as "The Royal Family?"

  • Major Davina C. aka "Queen D." (super funny, quite sassy, a wonderfully squeaky voice, and one of the raddest mommies I know)
  • Lieutenant Colonel Cedric C., Sr. aka "King Ced" (quite possibly the sweetest man ever. . .he refers to Davina as "my bride"--gaaaahh! But don't let that sweet face fool you. Harry says their roommate days were wild and crazy! Mmm hmmm, Ced!)
  • and Heaven's Angel, Master Cedric "C.J." C, Jr. aka "Prince C.J."(scary smart, the life of all parties, lover of the arts, lover of Disney, champion booty-shaker, major flirt, mini-Harley Davidson owner, an angel on earth and in heaven.)
Dear Sunshine Girl,

I will never forget. Ever.


Your sister and fellow mommy in the mommy-army

"There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear; because fear has torment. 
He that fears is not made perfect in love."

~ 1 John 4:18


  1. What an amazing reflection! I was truly touched by your compassion and the tenderness that you share with your friends, especially during a period of their lives that words cannot begin to explain. Peace be unto all of you!

  2. I lost my daughter Nicole to multiple organ failure on June 10, 2009. She was only 34. Her brother, grandmother and I saw her take her last breath after 10 days in ICU.

    Yes we like to talk about our children, they were part of our history. And no I'm not contagious...your child won't die because mine did.

  3. What a wonderful reflection on the Royal Family. God bless you for writing this blog Yes, C.J. was such a smart little poo bear! I love my dear Soror Davina, her dear Ced and their strength through the unthinkable. God bless the Carrington's

  4. To read this article was truly a blessing to me. Everything you said about them speaks the truth and I am so honored to know them and to have known CJ. He will forever be missed.

  5. I cried twice in the past 24 hours - first when reading your earlier post about C.J., linked in the "O Tannenbaum" post, which left me without words for expressing my sadness, and then again reading this post.

    The magnitude of that grief is beyond comprehension, especially for a fellow mommy of sweet boys. No mother should have to reach for her child and find only air to hug. My thoughts are with your friends tonight (as they were last night) for they have lost a truly priceless treasure. Even a stranger wants to hug C.J., with his bright and inquisitive eyes, perfect face (really his features are stunningly proportionate, as if drawn by a great artist), and that sweet smile with a little twinkle of playful mischief.

  6. Thank you Davina and Ced for giving Cayla her first "BFF". She really loved "CJ". I will never forget the time when there was only one piece of candy, and he gave it to her. He had a heart of gold. We love you and Ced, and "CJ" will always have a special place in our heart.

  7. What a beautiful reflection! I am sorry that I did not meet CJ personally. Honestly I felt as though I knew him by all of the wonderful things that I heard about him. As my grandmother would say, "He has been here before." I admire the strength of you and Cedric during this difficult time. Psalm 34:8 says, O taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him.

    Evangelist Arlene M. Dameron

  8. All. . .wow. . .thanks so much on behalf of my friend, Davina for rejoicing in the memory of such a special soul!

    Anush, his face is perfect, right?

    Myelin, not contagious. Wow, that's real talk.

    Sandstone, thanks for the kind words.

    Kim and The Morgans, thank you for sharing your experiences, too.

    Evangelist, such kind words. . .I, too, admire Davina and Cedric's strength and faith. Your grandmother was right. So glad you had the chance to be introduced to Master C.J.!

  9. Kim...thanks for keeping CJ alive in your heart and soul. I appreciate you telling his story via your blog. You and Harry are forever a part of our family. We love you both.


  10. A mother's love transcends space, time, and boundaries. God Bless this family and thank you for sharing their story.

  11. I love your blog, I'm so glad I found it. You have a wonderful way of expressing yourself. Thank you for sharing such a personal story in such a meaningful way.

  12. Beautifully expressed. Thank you for sharing.

  13. Davina, no greater loss than the loss of a child. My heart pours out to you for the void it leaves in your life. But God knows all about your pain and all about your sorrow and He promises to provide a comforter to you through the holy spirit. May your heart continue to find peace and may your angel forever keep watch over you and embrace you. We will forever remember little CJ and his adoring smile.

    Sherinne Anderson

  14. To the Carrington’s,

    My heart continues to pour out for the loss of your beautiful and courageous Prince. This article was a wonderful representation of the power of Words. Beautifully written. I LOVE YOU and may God continue to bless you.

    Shayla Watson

  15. What a beautiful way to honor our little cousin! We thank you!

    The Texas McDowney's

  16. Beautiful perspective and a great lesson for all of us.
    Miss you at Body Pump....Kristen O.

  17. Dear GradyDoc, Doc Kimberly, Doc Manning,
    (I'll trust you'll forgive my informality--your writing is so beautiful and personal and wise that I feel as if you are my friend.)
    Thank you for this post--which you noted in your T-Day post, 2014. So much here to take with me, especially CJ's sweet, angelic life, especially Isaiah's amazing love and perfection of sensitivity, and especially the need to actively remember.
    My sweet dad died last May, and my instinct has been to let/help my mom remember her love of 68 years. Cry with her when she/we need to.
    Your post reminds me that doing such is probably just the right thing.
    I think I'll call her right now.
    Thanks, Doctor Friend.


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