Celebration for Hunter

Saturday was a celebration for Hunter. When Hunter passed away last month, I couldn’t write about it. I was too upset. And it’s not my story to tell. His mother Lenore has written about their saga so well on her blog, www.healinghunter.com where she continues to post about their life since Hunter was taken by cancer.

I was really touched to be one of the people asked to help put together something to celebrate Hunter’s life. He was a gutsy little kid. His mom didn’t want it to be a memorial, but like the Dr Seuss quote on the program, to “be happy that it happened.” Fortunately she is good friends with a couple of party planners who really did the heavy lifting. You understand, that because of Hunter’s protracted illness his parents are financially wiped. So, their friends needed to pull together to make this all happen. And we were happy to do so. It’s such a little thing compared to what they have gone through and continue to go through. Mark and I contributed food for 50 from The Point, and I brought two dozen balloons in red and silver. Colors of Lightning McQueen, Hunter’s favorite.

I won’t lie. I was dreading it. I was worn down by a week where I worked more than usual. I was pooped, and Rex has been waking up more than usual. Then my dad went into the hospital. So, I felt emotionally and physically fried.

It may sound strange, but the gathering energized me. Hunter’s spirit was there and embraced by all. I arrived at a lovely private home where a dear couple who didn’t even know Lenore and Zen (they are friends of friends) had offered to host the event. The worst had already happened; Hunter died. To see that his parents were even able to function is a cause for celebration as far as I’m concerned. The home was lovely;, it was a breezy, sunny day. I wore my Iron Hunter shirt and approached this as a house party, not a memorial, which is what Lenore wanted. Her friends, most of whom I didn’t know, were all getting things ready, and they helped me lay out the food. A couple of people came up to me and said they had read my posts or seen the Momversation I had done with Heather about what to say to a grieving parent and that they appreciated them. That was very nice. I recognized them by posts of theirs on Lenore’s facebook page. We all had in common that we had been cheering Hunter on, and now wanted to do that for his parents.

My friend Molly showed up and helped me tie the balloons to the white folding chairs in the backyard.  I wasn’t sure where they were suppose to go, and I didn’t want to mess up. I was a little nervous to do the wrong thing. There were big beautiful pictures of Hunter. And videos of Hunter played in one room. People would silently walk in and gaze at him for while thinking of him and what might have been.

Molly, her husband, and I sat down as we were told things were going to begin. She and I decided we needed a drink. I ran to the table and poured us some red wine. I’m not going to lie. I drank about three glasses of red wine while I was there and didn’t feel it at all.

There was a makeshift stage, and the program alternated between songs (two incredible gals took turns singing lovely songs) and eulogies. Some very sweet words by friends. Because we sensed how hard it was for them to speak, we applauded for everyone, and the applause was for Hunter. A balloon kept being blown down by the wind and landing in Lenore’s hair in front of us, I froze, “yikes. ”  Molly’s husband held it back. Lenore had wanted me to bring the balloons, but I think I placed them badly.

Then his parents got up. Zen said, “You can pop the balloons.” I guess they had been getting other people’s hair as well. Oh crap, well, at least it punctured the sadness for a second.

Lenore cried and talked about how much she missed him.  What more she said, I can’t even say with detail, partly because I think anyone can imagine what a mother who has lost her child would say and how she would act. And partly because I was crying myself… as was everyone. At one point I realized if I was alone I would have been heaving, crying the way you do when you are child. I thought, “I’m looking at a woman who has lost her child.” Unreal.  She said that every one’s support had helped them.

Then Hunter’s dad, Zen, spoke. He was calmer and thanked the doctors and nurses who had tried to help. He thanked all who had given their “hard-earned money” because they really needed it in order to help Hunter. Family and friends who had been at the hospital.  As they stood up speaking of their grief and their gratitude, I thought how incredibly brave they are. And lastly, as his voice cracked, he thanked Hunter for being his son. Then they took a few balloons (not the troublesome ones I had brought) that said Hunter on them and had pictures of cars. Lenore said she wanted Hunter to have them. She kissed them, and they released them into the air. We applauded again for Hunter as his mother wept.

Zen talked about what people learned from Hunter, “Even it’s just to hug your kid a little tighter.” That is very true. I have learned from the three of them. Hunter’s calmness and bravery going through so much in such a short life. And the humility and graciousness his parents showed. I was struck today thinking, “They’ve handled this with class.”

Molly said to her husband afterward, “I know I would have tried to make this your fault.” We marveled at their equanimity because we know our own shortcomings that would lead us to lash out at our spouses in times of duress and feel justified because it’s a difficult time. Now, I’m not a fly on the wall, but when I visited them in the hospital, Lenore and Zen were always so kind to each other. It struck me as not the norm. And today Zen said that he was more in love with her than ever and that most people would have “gone crazy,” but his wife was strong.

Now, here is the good news. Lenore is pregnant. She is 6 months pregnant with a boy. And there is no replacing Hunter, and the loss will always be felt, but I’m glad they will have a place to put their considerable love. I pray that this child is healthy. They can’t be asked to go through that again.

One of the people who spoke so well at the gathering was their friend Matt Nolan, and this one line stayed with me. I was quoting it to my mom and Mark when I got home. “They say when two people that love each other have a baby, they are, in fact, reborn themselves. May the imminent arrival of Hunter’s baby brother be another rebirth, and may Hunter’s fighting, loving, generous spirit fill the heart of his little brother to set Lenore and Zen’s spirit on the path to healing.” Amen to that.

And isn’t that what makes parenthood so special? That we are reborn with our children. Seeing life in a new way or in a way long buried by years and the hardness of life. A rekindling. Our hearts open wider than they’ve ever been.

Send them good thoughts.

Momversation:What to Say to Parents who Have Lost a Child

Monday night at 11:25pm Hunter Zen Thawley passed away in the loving arms of his parents. If there is a super something that makes these calls, I can tell it that a mistake has been made. His parents wanted him to stay. This was a strong boy who endured so much and still had the most adorable giggle a little boy could have. He was days away from being 3 and half.

This is the edited version of the long video that I accidentally posted the other day. Heather Spohr was a real champ here. She was candid and honest about her own experiences as a mother who lost a child. I so appreciate her doing that. When I asked this question of Heather, Hunter was still alive. And even though his parents were told he would not survive I still had some magical thinking that there would be an 11th hour save.

The deep pain that my friends, Hunter’s parent’s, are now going through is beyond measure. I wish that I could lift some of that pain off of them. I’m glad they know that in his short life Hunter did not live, laugh, and suffer in obscurity. His tenacity, and the love of his parents, has inspired  a lot of people. He was braver than I would have been, than most would be. By talking to Heather I hoped to maybe figure out someway to offer comfort to my friends and others who have lost a child or at the very least not to make their suffering any greater by doing or saying the wrong thing.

I will never forget you Iron Hunter.  I promise.