Could I have been a parking lot attendant?
Could I have been a millionaire in Bel Air?
Could I have been lost somewhere in Paris?
Could I have been your little brother?
Could I have been anyone other than me?
--Dave Matthews Band
The night we first met our oncologist, and got the horrible news regarding his tumor, prognosis, and impending treatment, I asked him a question.
"Is he already gone?"
"No," he answered, "He's not. Your son is still here."
I'm not sure he understood my question. I'm not sure that I fully did, or maybe that I could admit to myself what my question implied.
For many many months I've mourned Henry. Not my son, the three year old who has managed all of this horrific treatment fabulously, who makes me laugh, who has taught me so much about life. I've mourned who he was going to be, that he will no longer be. Future Henry. 8 year old Henry beating his dad at video games. 15 year old Henry breaking girls' hearts. 20 year old Henry coming home from college and eating me out of house and home, 6 foot 5 and dashingly handsome.
Ten years ago this summer my father was in a devastating car accident. He suffered severe head trauma, including a basilar skull fracture, subdural and epidural bleeds. He was unresponsive and in a coma for weeks, and rehabbed for years. He's now living independently, remarried, and quite happy. He's truly a product of the miracles of modern medicine, and had his accident not been quite close to Baltimore's Shock Trauma, he likely wouldn't have made it.
But the man who lives today, who looks and sounds like my father, isn't my father. My father is gone. Head trauma, especially to the frontal cortex, changes a person, both from a life skills and personality standpoint. He retains some preferences, some mannerisms that my father had, but he's a totally different person. Same building, new occupant. He's a nice enough guy, and I have affection for him, the way I would expect to feel about a long lost uncle, now found. But my father is gone.
I was angry for a very long time at Dad's doctors. It took me over a year to understand that he was gone. And they didn't tell us that, but they knew. The extended yet somehow unfinished mourning was difficult. It would have helped for someone to have told me.
Talked about screwed in the head. My feelings about my dad definitely were near the surface after Henry's diagnosis. And this is why I asked if he was gone. What I didn't specify to our oncologist was who I was asking about. Because Future Henry really was gone, already. And if I'd asked clearly, I think he would have told me.
Except, Future Henry had never been there. It was different than Dad, a much more static being than a three year old. How much of your child's life can you predict when they are three?
There's a saying in Buddhism: The glass is already broken. You can hold a glass, look at it, admire it, drink from it...but one day it will break, and be gone. Why be attached to something that isn't there?
I'm not mourning future Henry anymore. Maybe I will again, maybe not. I know I'll be sad at the trials he will face that he wouldn't have without cancer and treatment. But I'm more and more ready to see him for who he is. Who he always was.