Growing up, Christmas was not the best time of the year for me, but it was my focus when I had my own family, was to make it the best part of the year. Noel would bake the ham and turkey and I would get all sorts of things from friends and family, punch de crème, black cake, pastelles, home-made bread, the works. I wasn’t big on changing curtains and all the extra stuff but it was all about the children. The not-so-important gifts would be under the tree from before and we would hear the wrapping paper being torn so they could peep. When we asked “What’s going on out there?”, there was laughter and the scampering of feet and then the blame game. “Not me mom, is RaVen” and “oh no! JB did it!” Christmas morning brought such joy hearing the squeals of delight, and loud voices saying “let me see what you got,” while Santa got all the praises. “It's Christmas, C'est Noël” was always blasting on the radio, the kids loved it, because that song was about Daddy.
All that changed in November 2006 when JB’s scans showed major spread and it reality hit that things weren’t too good. We did not give up hope, but for the first time since his diagnosis I became scared. Dr. Bodkyn’s statement: “make sure this is his best Christmas, it may be his last” left me winded. I lunged at him and I had to be restrained. How could he make such a statement? That was basically a death sentence. I ran out of the room, down the corridors, burst through the doors that led to an outdoor area and was leaning up against a tree when Noel caught up to me. “We will pray this through…” he said. “JB will live.” I was comforted. I gathered my composure as if it was leaves scattered under the tree, fixed my clothes and walked back into the consultation room. I could see that Dr. Bodkyn was distressed and probably scared, but I was calm because “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” and “by His stripes JB will be healed.”
Christmas 2006 was the best. JB was visibly thinner but his smile, bright eyes and beautiful spirit were the same. His wish-list to Santa was a mile long and we made sure we got everything on it. RaVen had a her ‘wants’ which were also fulfilled. Honestly, I can’t say if I focused on it being his ‘last Christmas’ but I was excited about it being his best Christmas. JB wanted to be a musician so one of his wishes was for a keyboard. So he sat and “played” and played and played. RaVen was in her own world enjoying her spoils knowing fully well it was from mom and dad and not Santa.
Unfortunately Dr. Bodkyn was right and it was JB’s last Christmas. JB died in March of 2007. My faith and understanding that this was God’s will enabled me to continue to breathe after he took his last breath. For months I would walk by his bedroom door and pretend he was in another room or at school. Some may call that denial but to me it was easier to process. When your child dies, faith or no faith, at some point along the way it’s a thin perforated line between sanity and insanity. Launching the Just Because Foundation gave JB’s death a reason, and my life purpose. Having RaVen helped me push past the pain and forced me to be ‘normal.’
The First Christmas
Eight months after JB’s death, I was fine. At least I thought I was. In retrospect, life appears normal. Your being goes into autopilot- you live, you function, you survive and then there’s Christmas. I decided I could not be at home for Christmas, I could not bear the thought of being at home, our family home, with a family that did not include JB. My JB. My son-son. My sweet son. So we planned a vacation. It was still not right. JB was missing. I remember unconsciously making dinner reservations for four persons but we were now a family of three. We would be walking together and I would extend my hand to my side to hold JB’s. RaVen was there but JB wasn’t. I soon realised there was no quick fix to not physically having our child with us. The pain follows you. The absence is there no matter where you are. We tried to keep ourselves occupied with the fun activities at the resort. RaVen was eager to go to bed early on Christmas Eve and I was happy about that because it meant I did not have to keep up the facade. I could be sad and reflective without affecting anyone.
Bright and early Christmas morning RaVen woke us. I watched her excitedly opening her gifts under the make-shift Christmas tree. I felt a lump in my throat that restricted my breathing. It got larger as I forced myself to take deeper breaths. Then she said “I wonder what gifts JB get in heaven?” The straw that broken the camel’s back! I wanted to scream and let it all out. I thought I was screaming at one point. My mouth was open but no sound was coming out. I covered my head with the sheets so RaVen would not see me. She asked the question again expecting an answer. My body started to convulse and I stifled my pain and forced the lump of despair down my throat so I could breathe. Noel placed his hand on my shoulder and whispered softly, instructing me to breathe. He coached me as I took each laboured breath to gain my composure, while RaVen was unaware of the turmoil. I eventually went to the washroom and realised my eyes were bloodshot and swollen. I stayed there for a while as I listened to the muffled sounds of RaVen’s laughter through the closed door. I needed to be present for her.
It has taken me quite a few years to embrace Christmas again. Noel and RaVen kept the tradition alive- they put up a tree and all that goes with it. I don’t like Christmas carols, “It's Christmas, C'est Noël” now makes me sad and I much prefer to be alone on Christmas Day, reflecting on times past when we were a family. God has blessed me with an abundance of children who enjoy Christmas in spite of what they are going through. I am in a position to bring smiles to faces of children on the ward and to fill the air with sounds of Christmas laughter and cheer. I’m thankful for this opportunity. This Christmas season, may your sadness due to loss be replaced with memories of happier times.
Submitted by: Chevaughn Joseph
The Just Because Foundation is a non-profit pediatric cancer support organization in Trinidad & Tobago established by Noel and Chevaughn Joseph who lost their 5-and-a-half-year-old son Jabez “JB” Joseph to Alveolar Rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare form of childhood cancer, after a two-year battle. They provide emotional, practical and social support for families of children with cancer at absolutely no cost. If you're seeking advice or words of encouragement to these courageous children, please reach out to the Just Because Foundation.
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