As I stood at my son’s bedside, watching him struggle to breathe, a feeling of helplessness overcame me in a sudden way. Cameron was dying.
Several hours before, his mother and I made the decision that no parent ever dreams they would have to make. We knew in our hearts that having him removed from life support was the only option that he would have wanted. It wasn’t necessarily what we wanted but this wasn’t about us, it was about him and his wishes.
As he lay, fighting for air that a few hours before had been provided for him by a ventilator, I watched him and my mind started racing back to a happier time and place. I remembered the joy he experienced when he stopped his first goal as a goalkeeper on his soccer team. I thought back to our Indian Guides meetings, learning how to drive and reading to him at night before he went to sleep.
I remembered the feeling of joy that I used to experience when my, then very young, son would fall asleep on my shoulder as we sit together in the family room. That sweet, innocent face resting next to mine formed a bond that has lasted for 26 years. As he lay sleeping I recall watching and listening to him breathe. This was my son. The fruit of my loins. My pride and joy. My contribution to the betterment of mankind. Now he was slipping away and fighting for air and there was nothing that I, or anyone, could do to help.
“It’s okay son,” I said as I stroke his arm and brushed my fingers through his hair. “It’ll be alright. Just let go.”
He relaxed as if I had given him permission to die and his breathing became less forced. I could feel him yield to a power greater than himself and a few moments later he was gone.
When someone dies, they take a final breath of air into their lungs and then it is exhaled. As that happened, I waited and hoped that he would suddenly “jump start” his breathing again, wake up and say “hey dad.” It wasn’t long, perhaps a few seconds, when the reality of the situation settled in and I encountered a feeling of loneliness and emptiness that cannot be explained, only experienced.
When Cameron was taken to the emergency room on July 19th, he was in trouble. His kidneys were in failure and unbeknownst to us, he suffered a stroke while waiting on a bed to become available so that he could be admitted to the hospital. When he was finally taken to a room shortly after midnight on the 20th, he was somewhat disoriented but knew who he was and where he was. To the nurses and myself, he seemed tired but alert.
As I left him around 1:00am, I said “love ‘ya son,” and he replied with his usual “love ‘ya too dad.” As far as I know, those were the last words that he ever spoke. At some point between that time and 7:00am he experienced seizures and was taken for a CT scan which revealed bleeding in the brain. He was taken to ICU, placed on a ventilator and the hospital called me with the news shortly thereafter. During the next week we hoped and prayed that he would overcome this “setback” but his kidneys had completely shut down, the stroke had taken his vision, paralysis has settled into his right side and he had bleeding in his lungs. He was also an insulin dependant diabetic. For all intents and purposes it was a perfect storm of events that took my young, reasonably healthy son.
I was with him when he came into this world and with him when he departed but my most cherished memory of my son Cameron will be his final words to me, “love ‘ya too dad.”
It has been said that somewhere between hope and despair lies redemption. Without question the hope was his short but wonderful life. Despair was his death but redemption, at least for me, will be to remember and to celebrate his life.
I will love you forever son.