When my boys were young, they loved to climb up and down each other…isn’t that just like boys? If they weren’t climbing, they were balancing or just rolling on the floor. With four of them, there was no shortage of playmates, and my husband and I enjoyed countless hours of watching (and participating in) their playfulness. It created a bond that could never be broken.
On January 11, 2014, that bond was tested. After 3 battles with cancer in 3 years, Malcolm received his wings at 21 years old. But they came at a cost to their bond, they came at the cost of trust. When Malcolm received confirmation that his cancer had returned and was inoperable, we began to brace ourselves for the worst. He had made it clear after his first bout with the deadly disease that he would never agree to chemotherapy again; so that left surgery. This saved his life when the cancer returned and was just centimeters from his heart, but when it came back “with a vengeance” in the fall of 2013, there was no knife made to stop it.
So we begged him to consider chemo. He refused for months, scouring the internet insisting there must be other options, but he knew there were none. Time went on and we felt the sands of time escaping every day, but we had to honor his wishes. My husband locked hands with me and prayed out to God, asking Him to comfort us, because as he said to the Father, “He was yours before he was ours”. Those words gave us both peace as we entered the holidays full of uncertainty but filled with faith.
In a sudden change of heart, Malcolm agreed to have chemo. But it was December, and the aggressive cancer that had been detected 3 months prior had been filling his lungs. We jumped into chemo mode, making schedules and getting him fed. But his doctors were clear, the chemo would just “buy him some time”, he was now considered terminal. He signed a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) and we prepared ourselves to prepare ourselves…one step at a time. We could barely process the information ourselves, and Malcolm didn’t want his little brothers to know, so we had to honor his wishes.
As Christmas neared, Malcolm began to experience even more discomfort (both from the cancer and the effects of the chemo). So to our surprise and amazement, he spent Christmas with his Dad, me, and his youngest brother, Matthew (while our 2 other boys went out of town with his mom…blended, remember!). He wanted to sleep on our sofa, because he said it was the most comfortable place to lay, and after losing so much weight again, he needed the extra padding. He was too weak to leave the sofa, so we had family over for Christmas Eve and played games while cousins and aunts took turns curling up with him. But we never said it was his last Christmas, because we didn’t know for sure, and we had to honor his wishes. Being bound to the sofa wasn’t terrible because it kept him close to the kitchen, and I cooked all day, keeping his appetite stimulated by the smell of food. He began to regain some strength, and he eagerly awaited Christmas morning because he couldn’t wait to see the look on Matthew’s face. I have to imagine he thought it would look a lot like this picture, because Malcolm was surprising him with a new PlayStation! He was so excited, he could hardly sleep! That morning, he got the bright eyed screaming “Thank You!” he was hoping for, and Matthew spent the day playing his new game. Malcolm was too weak to leave the sofa, so I went to visit family that live a few blocks away to continue the Christmas tradition we had. When I got back home, I started to clean up, but he patted the sofa next to him, signaling for me to sit next to him and snuggle under the blanket, which I did because, despite a dirty kitchen, I had to honor his wishes.
He stayed at our house for a few more days and I cooked, cleaned, snuggled and laughed with him. He left our house the day after New Year’s (after spending NYE “babysitting” his youngest brothers). He was getting weaker and even needed a walker to get around the house. He went back to his mom’s house and we spoke with him daily. When we visited him after church the following Sunday, he was emaciated and frail. My heart shattered when I saw him, but I convinced myself that he would swing back from the chemo. Two days later, he had difficulty breathing and was rushed to the hospital (his only remaining lung had collapsed and he couldn’t breathe). He was in the ICU, clearly in pulmonary distress on Tuesday, but the next day he was up and laughing with the nurses. He took a turn for the worse and we gathered the boys to say good-bye, but none of us could use those words. While there was still a chance, we had to remain positive, leaving the hospital cheering for him and hoping for a turn-around. By late Friday, it didn’t look like he would return to us, and we braced ourselves to gather again and say good-bye for real. But Saturday morning came and he breathed his last breathe before we could get to him. We weren’t ready… his brothers were caught off guard… and our hearts were broken in pieces. Instead of having a “peaceful transition”, we were all kicked in the gut as if he’d died suddenly in a car accident. Years later, I’m still tormented by the thought of having just one more day. I still hear the words of a tiny 10-year old boy in shock shouting “but I didn’t get to say good-bye!” Malcolm didn’t want us mourning until he was gone, and he certainly didn’t want his baby brother to know so close to Christmas. So as hard as that was to do, we had to honor his wishes.