Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Remembering to never forget.

"Why would God take a child?"

This was what my son Isaiah asked me three years ago when he saw me crying into the crook of my arm. I was staring into the perfect face of my friend Davina's baby C.J. on a photograph in my hand. Eyes like tiny pools of light and features so symmetric that you wonder if they'd been mapped out by some world class architect. That three year-old face was on an obituary.

"I don't know, son."  My voice sounded more like a croak than a voice. Just looking at Isaiah made me erupt into more tears. Here he was, asking this innocent question at three years old. The same age as C.J. Carried in my womb during the same months Davina had carried him. Both big babies. . .surprisingly big babies to be coming out of not-so-big mamas.

And they began growing up and throwing our lives into upheaval in that way that only kids can. Requiring things to be kiddie-proofed and giving us reasons to linger in the kid section at Barnes and Noble. Making us change our choices of music on the radio and even the kinds of cars we drove. Because now? We were mamas. This was a new part of our identity and as thirty-somethings it was a welcome addition.

And so on this day, three years ago C.J. didn't feel good. Mamas know that sometimes their babies just don't feel good, especially at three years old. So even with that, the day was pretty ordinary. Woke up on Sunday. Went to church. Had something to eat. Came on home. Watched some cartoons. Nothing too exciting except for C.J. being under the weather a bit which, again, could be considered totally ordinary with a pre-school aged kid, right? Right.

But then C.J. kept not feeling well. So of course his perfect mama and his wonderful daddy did what good mamas and daddies do in such instances. They watched him for a bit and then took him to see a doctor. And for what? A febrile illness in November in a three year-old? Anyone reading this who has worked in a pediatric emergency center knows that this, too, is very ordinary. The bread and butter of pediatrics, especially in late November. Probably just dehydrated. Or some kind of viral infection. Or an ear infection perhaps? Or all of the above.

That fever was something more. It evolved from the mundane to the unthinkable. From "will I get a shot?" and "may I have some juice?" to  a medical emergency. Running, yelling, compressing, injecting. Not everyday things at all. And definitely not what a single person walking into that emergency department that night expected.

They signed up for Amoxicillin and, just maybe, some IV fluids. Not this. No, not this.

On November 23, 2008, my friends Davina and Cedric came home from that emergency department without their son. They walked into their house--sippy cup still on the coffee table and the Nickelodeon Channel still playing on the television. On this day, three years ago, C.J. lost his life to an overwhelming bacterial infection.

I still remember hearing that news. I was sitting in the clinic speaking to one of the residents about a patient that Monday and it came as a simple text from Harry.

"C.J. died last night."

Just like that. Like some kind of horrible mistake. And I froze in my tracks when I read it because this could not be real. No, it could not. But it was. Yes, it was.

C.J.'s father, Cedric, is one of Harry's very best friends. They were roommates in the Army and in each other's weddings. We came to the funeral and yes, it was exactly as awful as you might imagine the funeral of your close friends' three year old and only child. To this day, it is the only time I have ever seen my husband really and truly cry.

Though I knew Ced's wife, Davina, I'd never really knew her well before this happened. But somehow in all of this awful, Davina and I grew closer. It started with text messages and then became phone calls.  And eventually we developed a tight bond of our own. .  . . as women, as wives, as mothers.

Yesterday I was sitting on my deck watching the boys riding their bikes in the backyard. I savored that image. Them now big enough to play out back without me standing right there. Screaming. Yelling. Growing. Living. I thought about those early morning moments of happy anticipation I feel right before they awaken and how their little bodies feel when pressed against mine in a hug. And then I listened to their laughter and watched how dirty they were getting. . . and could already imagine that little boy smell that they would surely have once they came running like gangbusters into the house. That? It was too much. I dropped my face into my hands and I wept and wept.

I don't know why God would take a child. I don't. I am a believer but this one leaves me speechless and picking at my nails. This one makes me afraid and confused about the will of who I know is a loving God. When I do get my words again, they're nothing more than a mass of frustrated questions which fortunately, I'm sure God gets. And yes, I know that there are not-so-religious people who read this blog and that's okay because I bet you know how I feel, too. Because really? No matter what you believe, there is nothing natural about a mother burying her child. Or grandparents driving to town for Thanksgiving but coming to a funeral instead. Nothing at all.

Yes. Today is November 23, 2011 and this is the third year C.J. has been gone. Three years on earth and three years in heaven. This in itself is gut-wrenching. . . . the equality of these numbers and yet the inequality of what they represent. So I am just writing what comes to my head and my heart. And really just trying to honor C.J and his memory and a fellow mother's pain.

Look, I know someone is reading this and saying, "I thought this was a medical blog? What the. . .?" I know. And to someone else this whole post might seem macabre and morose or just too damn heavy. I know that, too. But I try to just write about life. And life is about joy and pain and sunshine and rain and dammit, a mother lost her baby three years ago today. A mother who carried that baby nine and a half months lost her perfect, angelic little son without any warning at all. A father who puts his life on the line for this country every single day lost his namesake. A soldier, a brother, a husband who spent part of those precious three years in far off lands fighting for far away people came home and then had to live through this. And. A grandparent had to receive a phone call on this day three years ago that they would never see their grandbaby alive in this life again. And I cannot and will not allow myself to ever, ever forget that. Not on any day but, especially, but not on this day. No, I will not.

So yes, I will remember. On this day, I will look at C.J.'s picture and imagine him at six years old. I will see him climbing a tree with Isaiah and Zachary or telling me the name of his first grade teacher. I will speak to Davina and tell her I love her and ask her to tell me a story about C.J. And I will listen and laugh and do my best to hold her hand. Yes, and I 'm sure that all of that will make me cry very, very hard but that's okay. Because something about that feels good and right. To me, it does.

It's okay to live our lives even after tragedy but life has this way of making us forget things and people and situations unless we decide to remember. So this is what I have decided. To remember. Yes, you were here.

Every year in November I try to think of ways to honor C.J.'s memory. Usually it comes through writing. But one thing that C.J.'s transition has given me is a much deeper and active love for my own life and those in it. My silly posts about stuffed puppies and Camp PaPa postcards are really my attempt to just live and love with more intention. Not a perfect life. . . . just one that isn't aimless, you know?

I'm rambling. I know.

Every year, Davina releases balloons into the sky on November 23 in C.J.'s memory. This year, I think me and the kids will do this, too. We will talk about being thankful and about love. We will speak of people special to our family that have passed on, too.  And we will talk about C.J. and his life. Yes. We will.

Who do you love? Do they know it? Will you participate with me in making this a day of intentional love?  Do something, some tangible act of love today. Talk about someone who isn't here. Pull out their photos and bring them to life. Release a balloon or better yet a grudge. Find something bigger and better than words. Even if it makes you cry a little. Hell, even if it makes you cry a lot. And then hug your loved ones even tighter than usual. Because you can. Do it for every mama and daddy and grandmama and granddaddy and daughter and son who would give anything in this world for something so simple.

Who's in? I hope you are. I bet that would make my friend Davina smile. And I bet it would make C.J. smile, too.

Remembering C.J. posts:

Year One: November 23, 2009
Year Two: November 23, 2010

Now playing on my mental iPod. . . my friend just reminded me of this song last week:

. . .and this is on my mental iPod, too. . .and when sang by Whitney Houston it just moves me deep in my soul.

 . . . and last but not least, C.J.'s favorite song to which he always shook his booty. This one's for you, kiddo. 


  1. I am thankful at this very moment for an empty office the day before Thanksgiving... because I am a mess!!! I should have been warned the minute I settled down at the computer with my coffee, opened your blog (my morning ritual), and saw CJ's smiling face. Yes, I will remember CJ today, even though I didn't know him... I will make this a day of intentional love.

    I love you, Kimberly Dyan Manning. More than you can even fathom. I love laughing and crying reading your blog. I love feeling like I'm sitting right next to you even though I'm 2200 miles away. And I love you for remembering CJ.


  2. I was an ER tech in a children's hospital while I was in nursing school. I watched a mother lose TWO of her children while the third tried to save them -on Mother's day. It is a terrible, horrible, unnecessary thing.

    I'm a mother now, and as I sat here bawling for Davina and her family, my 2yr old and 6 month old are literally playing inches from me. Thanks for honoring CJ and for reminding us to appreciate every day and everyone. You do this with each post you write as you reflect on daily life. You get it, and your readers appreciate it.

    Happy Thanksgiving.

  3. you honor this beautiful child and his parents with this writing, and your tears and your determination to love intentionally. and now i am weeping too, remembering not to forget CJ too.

  4. Sister-oh-sister.
    Yeah, I'm one of the un-believers and you know it and I think that the final straw in the argument againt a loving god who watches over us and to whom prayer can be addressed for me is just that- how can a child be taken? Are the prayers of one mother better than the other?
    BUT- that is neither here nor there. If belief helps after a child is gone, then I'm all for it.
    Sometimes I think it's a miracle that any of our babies survive and maybe this is hard-wired within us, because people did used to lose their babies all the time. Now we just expect that they will all outlive us- modern medicine has made that mostly true but still...
    Not always.
    This post just makes my heart hurt but it is important to remind us that the children are all miracles and we can take nothing for granted. Nothing.
    I love you, by the way. Just wanted you to know that.

  5. That was so heartfelt. Bless you and bless CJ's parents. I will take time today to forget the things that need to be done for tomorrow and instead just love on my kids and be thankful for them and all those I love. Have a great holiday and thank you for your writing and your ability to share your feelings.

  6. Your tribute to CJ is beautiful and heartbreaking. There is no sense to his loss, no answer to the why. But your sharing of his life, your imagining him as he might be now, your request in his memory is something, at least.
    Thank you for helping me to feel more Thankful this year, when I'm feeling pretty numb, and for reminding me to open my heart.
    I cried some tears for CJ this morning, and for his family, and for you, who all miss him terribly.

    I'll give you in return a few lines from Kevin Young's Redemption Song:

    Grief might be easy
    if there wasn't still
    such beauty - would be far
    simpler if the silver

    maple didn't thrust
    its leaves into flame
    trusting that spring
    would find it again.

    Love to you all.

  7. :( Big hug for CJ's whole family, including you. I didn't know him, either but thank you for remembering him.

  8. Thank you for sharing this beautiful child with us. I send prayers your way and toward his family -- there is nothing else to say or do, I think, when faced with such sorrow and tragedy.

  9. OMG! You have me doing the super ugly cry at my desk! I can't imagine how the mother must feel. Last Friday I attended a funeral for a 15 year old boy who lost his battle to acute myeloid leukemia (AML)after only being diagnosed a little under 2 years ago. At the end of the service when the family was walking out, I think it just hit the mother all at once and she literally was holding herself together in order not to fall apart. I lost it. That was the hardest sight I had witnessed it my life. My prayers are with both families at this time.

  10. Yes, I would give anything in this world to show some form of love to my momma and daddy, especially during this holiday season.

    Thanks for a wonderful blog Back Inc., it means a great deal to many of us that have experienced major loses. Your writing brings a since of relief to many even through the tears! Keep writing baby girl, keep writing....

    Love ya lots
    Front Inc./ Crystal

  11. a loving remembrance of cj - those who touch are hearts will be alive forever in our hearts....

    on one beautiful october day twenty-one years ago my baby son died - each year i plant tulips in his honor and a sign of my enduring love

    when i see a tulip i always think of tristan.

    now when i see a balloon drifting overhead - i will think is that a memory balloon? and perhaps i will think of cj a little boy i never knew but a little boy who was deeply loved every little boy and little girl ought to be....

    thanks for dropping a comment at the mouse which brought me over here.

    you have a wonderful blog - i look forward to having it become a regular.

    thank you for sharing your experiences.

    namaste, kim (aka mouse)


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