“Welcome to the club that no one wants to be a member of.” These were the words spoken on Saturday at the Annual Bereavement Weekend sponsored by the CURE Childhood Cancer research organization http://www.curechildhoodcancer.org/. The members of this club, The Worst Club Ever, are parents like myself that have lost a child to any form or type of cancer. It’s a time for these parents to gather together and meet other’s that have experienced the same type of loss, pain and grief. This was a day where we can be somewhere with others and not feel alone. The room was filled with broken hearts and tears. Each parent had a story to share. And, I know every single parent in that room would have given anything to have had their child back if only for a minute.
I received my invitation for this event about a month ago. When I read the words, “You are invited to the Annual Bereavement Weekend,” my heart sunk. I thought, “I cannot believe this is happening. I shouldn’t be receiving an invitation like this. Kayla should be alive, happy and healthy. We should be celebrating the fact that she is in remission and cancer free!” I put the invitation down and thought long and hard about attending. I decided to go when I realized that there would be other parents there that could understand and had been exactly where I’ve been. What did I have to lose?
Saturday arrived and I woke up feeling anxious and apprehensive about going to the event. But, I got in my car and drove straight there. Each parent was asked to bring a framed picture of their child to put on a display table. As I carried my picture of Kayla into the meeting room, I noticed many other parents carrying their child’s pictures. Everyone had the same look of sadness on their faces. There may have been 50 or more pictures…..that’s 50 or more children…….And, to see all of them displayed together was heartbreaking……I sat with Kathi and Bud (Jessi’s parents) and Christina and Casey (Ava’s parents). Kayla died in September, Ava in October and Jessi in November 2010; I, especially, share a special bond with these mothers and I am so thankful for them.
There was a guest speaker that lost her son due to bone cancer 15 years ago. I enjoyed listening to her experience and admired how she was able to find the blessings in life since her son’s death. I met several families and listened to them as they lovingly described their children to us and, at the same time, I felt the love for the child they had lost. There were many times when I felt as if each child that had passed away was right there in the room standing next to their parents. I know that I did feel Kayla’s presence there with me. She gave me the strength that I needed to make it through that sad day. And, just when I didn’t think it could get any sadder, it was time for a candle lighting ceremony…..At the front of the room, there was a large screen. Also, there was a long table lined with unlit candles. Our children’s names were printed individually on each unlit candle. Soft music began playing. In alphabetical order, each child’s name was read aloud as their pictures were viewed on the screen for everyone to see. I watched each and every parent tearfully rise up from their chairs as their child’s name was read. Each one took that very long walk to the front of the room and lit a candle with their child’s name on it. Upon returning to their seats, I saw the sadness and grief on their faces and the tears flowed heavily by every person in that room. And, then they said, “Kayla Jones.” It was like I had been kicked in the stomach or had the wind knocked out of me. As tears ran down my face, I proudly walked to her candle and lit it. However, I could not bare to look at her pictures on the screen. It was just too painful. I continued to cry as I took that long walk back to my seat. The tears kept coming and it was almost hard to breathe. I felt a hand on my shoulder and looked over and saw that it was Kathi. We hugged and we cried…………Why God? Why did it have to be our children?
I left that day feeling emotionally drained. It was like I relived Kayla’s death and funeral all over again. And, when I got home, all I wanted to do was to hug my kids.
Will I go back again next year? I don’t know. There were many parents that had been attending every year for the last 10 years. I just don’t know if this is something that I can make myself do every year. I guess I’ll make that decision when I get the next invitation…….If it was up to me, I would do this event in a different way…..a fun way…..manicures, pedicures, massages, gift baskets, door prizes, games, comedians, carnival rides……Why would I do this? Because parents that have lost a child are continuously hurting and always missing their children. Instead of having another day to grieve, why not have a weekend where they can escape the sadness for a while? Some people might think that having fun like that would be disrespectful to our children that have died. I am pretty sure that I know what Kayla would say, “Mom! I am fine and I am no longer in pain and guess what….I am cancer free! So, please don’t cry. Go have some fun.”
The parents of The Worst Club Ever have a lifetime membership that cannot be terminated or cancelled. This club was dropped into our laps on the day our children died and we can’t do anything to change it. However, I can try to make something positive out of something negative. Like the guest speaker, I can, also, begin looking for the blessings in life throughout my journey with grief. I have two beautiful blessings right here; Allison and Ashley. They are my life…my world…my everything…….And, even though I have experienced this tragedy of losing Kayla, if I continue to look hard enough I believe I will find more blessings in my life.