Dancing with death

The loss of a child leaves a hole in your heart that never heals.

Published May 5, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

Rose opens her eyes and he is there -- his breath soft on her face, hollow little chest, eyes lit like half-moons in the night. When he was 4, nightmares of fire would send him bursting into their bed to wedge his body between hers and his father's. Now he is whispering to her to come and see the midnight stars. They stand outside, two tiny human figures under an enormous sky. Rose is shivering in her robe and slippers. Toby's feet are on the ground but his head is floating somewhere above, her 8-year-old guide through the galaxy.

Rose opens her eyes again. He is not there. Toby, the eldest of her three sons, died eight years ago, but he comes back to her often in her dreams. A parent's worst nightmare. Now she wonders, Is that watching your child die or outliving him? For a while, it seemed that she was sentenced to live out the nightmare literally. Sleep would plunge her back into his early dreams of burning buildings and dizzying cliffs, and she would be helpless to save him. After a while, his dream-self got older. Now sometimes he is a young man, robust and healthy, as he was before cancer killed him at the age of 30. When she has these dreams, she knows it will probably be a good day.

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I met Rose when I was 24 in what now seems like another life. Nancy, a law student and dancer, had become my best friend and Toby my boyfriend when they each came out to San Francisco to start their adult lives. All of us were shedding childhood and convention, trying to figure out our places in the world; within the triangle of our friendship, I felt safe to be anything, to try out everything.

Nancy and I were friends until her death from cancer four years ago, just after her 40th birthday. I thought Toby had left my life years before, when we split up and went on to marry others. Yet as he and Nancy were linked in my life, so were their deaths -- they died four years apart to the day. Each died within weeks of my sons' births -- no sooner was I flooded with the overwhelming instinct to protect my children than I was up against the jarring impossibility of doing that. Since then, I have been unable to separate them from my children -- I often see Toby in the eyes of my older son, Joey, and hear Nancy in the laughter of my younger son, Nat.

For a long time, the lingering connection to my dead friends both fueled my love for my children and made me fearful. When my children were babies, I could avoid probing those feelings, but as they grew older and I started saving baby teeth or wisps of hair, trying to hang onto the parts of them that were slipping away, I could no longer ignore the proximity of loss. I began to think of Toby and Nancy not only as my friends, but as other mothers' children. And so this year, on the anniversary of their deaths, I found myself drawn to their mothers, and through them, back to my friends.

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Toby was my first real love. We met in the clouds, on the 24th floor of a posh Nob Hill Hotel where we both waited tables. We were both creative and ambitious and romantic -- and that drew us together for five years. When we got off work at 2 in the morning, we would sneak into the supper club where performers like Tony Bennett and Ella Fitzgerald headlined, and Toby would do a private show for me, playing Gershwin or Bach on the piano until the security guards kicked us out.

At that time, Toby was studying photography. I remember he would wind my legs around each other like taffy or sit me naked near a window to catch the light falling in halos on the curves of my body, shooting photos while a pot of spaghetti sauce bubbling on his tiny gas stove provided the apartment's only heat. He was the perfect first love -- artistic and sensitive and playful. When he was hellbent on moving in with me, he showed up at my door to woo me with a bowl of freshly made chocolate chip cookie dough; when I was angry and he didn't know what to do with me, he'd turn me upside down by my heels and shake me. He gave beautiful and quirky gifts -- a finely embroidered antique blouse, a bolt found while hiking under the Golden Gate Bridge. He pried open the French doors that had been carelessly painted shut in my tiny apartment so that I could hear the bells from Grace Cathedral on Sunday afternoons.

Toby quit school after a year; five years later, he was assistant cameraman at George Lucas' special effects studio, Industrial Light and Magic. When I think of Toby, I think of light and stars: I picture him on the roof of our building, sitting in a director's chair under an indigo sky, guiding me through the constellations before the fog wrapped around us and swept the view away.

The other person who opened up my young adult world was Nancy. We met in VISTA, the domestic Peace Corps, working at a San Francisco law office that represented children. In my eyes she was worldly -- she had worked for the defense in the San Quentin Six trial and become friends with celebrated defendant Johnny Spain; and she was chic -- she wore high heels with shorts and let her bra straps show long before it was stylish, a perfect role model for the shy woman I was then. She had a blessed sense of how to pamper herself and others -- together, we drank freshly ground coffee, with cream, in bed; took saunas; ate oysters when either of us had any money; browsed at tacky lingerie shops.

Nancy was steely determination and generosity entangled with a wry, sarcastic sense of humor. When she became a partner in a criminal defense practice, she provided her clients with more than legal help -- she gave them jobs, sometimes money and much of herself, in friendship and faith. But her first love was dancing. Even in a business suit she looked like a dancer -- I used to imagine her gliding through court, her rib cage high, hands flowing in graceful arcs as she argued her cases.

Nancy held my hand through my breakup with Toby, at my wedding to David and through my first childbirth. A few months later, when I learned of Toby's death, she was the first person I called.

It was at Toby's wedding that Rose first noticed something wrong. Toby and Ellen, an animator and producer, had met at ILM and moved to Los Angeles, where they were married in 1989. "I remember looking at him at the ceremony and his back was shaking," says Rose. "He was pale and his eyes were kind of bulging. I wondered if he was high and for a minute I was irritated. Then I thought, Well, it's his wedding."

We are sitting in the den of their 350-year-old farmhouse in Connecticut. When I first came to this house almost 20 years ago, I thought she and Bob were the coolest parents I had ever met: Rose was a vivacious, 39-year-old mother of three sons -- Toby, Todd and Troy -- and still looked like a model in a bikini; Bob was an illustrator who was just breaking into fine art with a series of highly sensuous paintings of dancers. I got much of my encouragement to make sense of the world through words here, from this family; it's difficult to be returning to write about them without Toby. So much in this house is familiar -- the only thing new to me is the story of how he died.

The autumn after the wedding, Toby thought he had an ulcer; his doctors examined his upper body and found and removed a tumor in his lung. But by his first wedding anniversary, he still didn't feel well. The following month, they discovered cancer "everywhere," according to Rose -- under his navel, in his rectum, the stomach walls, the portal veins to his liver. Rose remembers flying out to California to see him as if in a dream. "He just laid his head in my lap and said he was frightened. He looked so thin. I said, 'You'll be all right. We're going to get you well.'"

Toby's doctors had told Bob and Ellen that the cancer was terminal, but Rose couldn't believe it. "I felt like my stomach had dropped out," she says. "You hear things like they'll have 1 percent chance of surviving if it gets to the organs and you think, well, my child is going to be in that 1 percent."

At Ellen's invitation, Rose and Bob moved in with them and began to take care of Toby during the day while Ellen worked. Rose remembers a night soon after, when Toby was in excruciating pain. "I wished it was my pain. I remember rocking him, saying, 'We're going to get through this.' And I believed we would -- I had to." But by the time they got him to a hospital, he was almost unconscious. The oncologist told them he had three months to live. "He said, 'I don't want to see you back here again. Let him die in peace.'"

They did not talk directly about his death again. Instead, they lived with a kind of wordless understanding, taking their cues from Toby. Miraculously, he continued working as a cameraman on a television pilot. After he grew too weak to walk, Rose and Bob would help him to a director's chair on a crane. He finished filming three weeks before his death.

Bob had transferred his studio to Toby and Ellen's house. He was in the middle of a series for the Scottish Ballet production "What to Do Until the Messiah Comes." His paintings suddenly became charged with anguish, the dance an allegory of Toby and Ellen's life. Toby would sit near his father, strumming his guitar while he watched Bob paint. One day he lifted an eyebrow and said, "Dad, if I die, I know you're going to paint me."

Ultimately, Rose and Bob believe, Toby died of starvation. His 6-2 frame had shrunk to 98 pounds, the skin stretched so tight on his face he could no longer close his mouth. "Two nights before his death, he came into our room and said, 'Mom, can I lay down there with you and Dad?'" Rose recalls. "He never left. Maybe he just wanted to crawl back into the womb. We'd just hold each other and reminisce. He said, 'Mom, if I kick the bucket, these are the things I remember.' He talked about how much he loved Ellen and Bob and me, about ILM; he talked about you. Then he said, 'If I live, these are the things I want to do,' and he talked about directing a movie, having children."

Rose says she can still see Toby's face in the moments before he died. "He looked at me with those big brown eyes -- I remember they seemed bigger than ever because that was almost all that was left of him. He opened his mouth as if he was about to say something to me and then he closed his eyes and died. Maybe he was just taking a breath, maybe he didn't have anything to say. But that will haunt me until I die."

The family had all been there; she and Ellen were hugging him when he died. "We were talking with him until the last breath, telling him we loved him and not to be afraid," Rose recalls. "The only thing we didn't do was go with him. And I would have gladly taken his place."

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Parents never completely stop feeling responsible for their children's health and safety; when a child dies, they still feel somehow to blame, no matter how old the child or what caused his death. For five years, Rose tells me, she reviewed Toby's life and found guilt in even the smallest details -- from whether she let him eat too much candy as a child to a family fight that was a turning point in his life. Toby had been out drinking with high school friends when he flipped his parents' Jeep. "Fortunately, no one was hurt, but Bob blew up," Rose recalls. "He said, 'After graduation you're out of here.' I think it was too soon -- he had just turned 18 and he wasn't ready. Intellectually, I know it didn't cause the cancer, but maybe it had some impact, weakened his immune system. Maybe I should have stood up to Bob more."

Alone in San Francisco, Toby got a room in a transient hotel. "He'd call and say, 'I'm thinking of coming home.' I'd say, 'Come back,' but Bob would say, 'Stick it out a little longer. I'm sure you'll find work.' He was talking from his own experience: When he was 18, he went to New York with his portfolio, stayed for a week and came home. He didn't want Toby to have that regret." If Toby had lived, I realize, this would be part of his success story, what made him, but now it is forever tinged with sadness.

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In the last century, when up to half of the babies born in the United States died in childhood and parents could lose all of their children in a single epidemic, it was a common practice to photograph the dead or dying. Most of the postmortem photos disappeared with the people who treasured them; some that remain, including many of children, are gathered in a collection called "Sleeping Beauty: Memorial Photography in America." They are strangely beautiful, reminders of an age when people looked more steadily at death because they had no choice. In some, the grieving mother cradles a dead child in her lap like a stiff little doll. In one sequence, a ball lies on a bed near the limp open hand of a dying boy; in the next picture, the child is dead. Many were the only photos ever taken of these children, and they were cherished -- hung in homes, worn in lockets, sent to relatives and friends.

Bob did paint Toby. His work now hangs in their home: huge, grief-wreathed portraits of a young man whose gaze stays clear and serene while disease destroys his body. They are both beautiful and raw, filled with a palpable rage and tender, bereaved love. And for a year after Toby's death, they were almost all Bob could do.

"When a woman loses a child, she loses her past, present and future," he says. "A man loses his future. Toby was an extension of me." The only way for Bob to reclaim him was through painting. "As long as I have pictures of somebody, I have them. I don't know that I could ever go back and do them now. I don't think I could do a realistic picture of his face anymore. But he's still there, in some way, in every painting I do."

Death hovered over the birth of my second son, Nathaniel. I had placenta previa -- a condition that meant the blood flow to his body could be cut off at any time during gestation -- and he was born five weeks too soon, weighing less than five pounds, his lungs not ready to breathe on their own. After he was whisked from my body to a respirator, the doctor told my husband he might not live through the night.

Nat was in the intensive care nursery for two weeks. When he was still too weak to nurse, I would go to the hospital twice a day with a cooler of pumped milk to bottle-feed him, then go home and empty my breasts again. I probably should have worried that we weren't bonding enough, but I just felt lucky. Nat and I were on the edge of a world of children who were hovering between life and death -- some born weighing only a couple of pounds. I would see their mothers in the nursery day after day, standing sometimes for hours, their hands lying on their children's tiny bodies through portholes in the incubators. Some of those babies would make it and some would live for maybe six months and die. Then they would take the still child out of the incubator and disconnect the tubes and the mother would get to hold her baby for the first time.

Nancy was not at the hospital for Nat's birth. She joked that going through labor with me once was enough. But she was too sick, had been in too many hospitals herself by then. Or maybe the irony was too much. The same machines that were literally breathing life into my son were being used more and more frequently to keep her alive -- and for how long?

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I drove under an empty blue sky through the Massachusetts Berkshires to the home of Nancy's mother, Suzanne. "I've been planning to make a Nancy album," Suzanne says, carrying in a box of photos and notebooks as we sit down on the sofa. "But it was two years before I could look at these, and then I just put them in a box and couldn't touch it until today. And that's doing well for me."

On the mantel is a kind of shrine to Nancy -- photos, candles, poetry and an old Christmas ornament, a pair of ballet slippers dangling on a pink ribbon. Each year on the anniversary of Nancy's death, Suzanne goes to a peace pagoda near her home in Amherst and sits by herself with a book of poetry. "But I try to focus on her birth more than her death. I know Nancy would prefer that."

Then, as if it was on her mind, she recalls the day Nancy was born. "When they brought her to me in the hospital and I saw her huge violet eyes and blond hair, I couldn't believe she was mine," Suzanne says, ruffling her cropped dark hair, which is currently tinted the color of wine. "I always had a terrible fear that I would lose her -- she seemed too good to be true."

On the wall is a photo of Nancy at her first tap recital, rosy rouge circles smudged on her cheeks. "She was always moving, always dancing," Suzanne says. "When she was a child, you could hardly catch her. You would reach out to hug her and she would slip through your fingers, she was gone."

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After raising four children with Nancy's father, Les, Suzanne reversed course midlife -- she divorced, went back to college to study psychology and fell in love with her current mate, Susan. Listening to her talk, it seems that sometimes during that period, she and her eldest daughter reversed roles. "Nancy drove me to my first class and I was shaking like a leaf. She said, 'You're going to be fine. What time is class over? I'll be here to pick you up.' Like a mother taking her kid to kindergarten."

In 1984 Nancy married Howard, a psychiatric nurse and aspiring musician. Like Rose, Suzanne first became alarmed while her child was home for her wedding, when she noticed a mole on Nancy's leg. Nancy avoided having it checked out; when she finally did, it was melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer. Nancy's doctors immediately removed the mole and a large amount of tissue on her leg. They thought they had gotten all the cancer, and a few years later, she and Howard were able to adopt a baby boy, Aaron. But then a new tumor appeared on her lungs.

I ask Suzanne when she knew that Nancy was going to die. "Aug. 26, 1991," she answers. "It was a beautiful sunny day, a few weeks after Nancy's 37th birthday. I answered the phone in the kitchen. As soon as I heard her voice, I knew. The cancer had reached her liver. Nancy was crying, but I felt like I had to hold it together for her. The mother has to be strong. If you're not, how will your child be?"

But when she hung up, Suzanne fell apart. "Shards of glass pierced my being," she wrote in her journal that night. She began having "dreams of dragons, mountains and roads to travel -- roads that are too long and I'm lost and I waken shaking ... I am melting in a pool of helplessness."

Nancy began commuting between her home in Oakland and City of Hope, a cancer treatment center in Southern California, where she underwent an agonizing regimen of chemotherapy, interleukin and interferon treatments. And Suzanne began commuting between Amherst, City of Hope and Nancy's home. "I lived tentatively," she says. "I felt like my feet were never touching the ground, I was never firmly ensconced, any minute I might need to get on a plane."

Over the next three years, she watched as, one by one, parts of her daughter seemed to fall away -- her work, her strength, her possessions, her beauty. "She had long hair when she went into City of Hope," Suzanne recalls. "The nurse gave her a pep talk. She said, 'You're going to lose your hair, but it might fix you.' I'll never forget the day she was combing her hair and chunks -- not strands -- chunks of her long blond hair were falling around her. She cried. I went back to my room and cried." Another night Suzanne broke into tears watching the Olympics, seeing the parents of the medalists bursting with pride. Yet she and her daughter rarely talked about death. They danced around the subject, talking instead about recipes or the weather or people they knew. Nancy would talk to friends about her treatments and feelings in front of Suzanne, but not to her.

Suzanne began to feel a free-floating anger. "I didn't even see it. I was really angry at God, but I didn't know how to have a conversation about it with God, so I started picking on other people. You think you've gotten your children through everything, that they're safe. And that's when the anger comes in."

The only person she couldn't get angry with was Nancy. She did once, six weeks before Nancy's death, and she still regrets it. Suzanne had scolded Aaron for something minor and Nancy yelled at her. "I went to my room and stayed in there like a little kid. The next morning, we were alone in the house and she said, 'Mom, why are you mad at me?' She patted the seat next to her and said, 'Sit down and talk to me.' I said, 'I'm not mad at you, I couldn't be mad at you.' And she said, 'Yes, you could.' I regretted it terribly. It was OK for Nancy to get mad at me, but not for me to get mad at her."

Suzanne's biggest regret is that when she could do less and less to protect her daughter from her growing pain, she found herself finally wishing Nancy would die. "If anyone had ever told me I would think for one second, 'Please, God, take her now,' I would have told them they were crazy. But I couldn't bear to see her unable to get out of the bath or bed, unable to keep food down, unable to breathe."

At home on the Friday before she died, Nancy began gasping for air. "We turned the oxygen up all the way, got the bag that she kept packed for the hospital and rushed her into the back seat of the car," Suzanne remembers. "Aaron started screaming, 'Mommy, don't go!' He ran after the car and I ran after him. We stood on the street, my hands on his shoulders, tears streaming down both of our faces. Nancy turned and looked back at us. I'll never forget the look of terrible pain and torture on her face -- it's a look no mother would ever want to see."

The next day Nancy was well enough for Aaron to visit for the last time; that evening, she and Suzanne watched game shows on TV before she slipped into a coma during the night. I saw Nancy for the last time the next morning. She was as pallid as the hospital room, her limp body propped up in the bed. All that was left of her was her breath. I held her hand to my heart, as she had held mine in labor. She had not only been my friend -- she had helped shape my life and I could not imagine the shape of a future without her. I couldn't speak the words I should have said; I said them silently and willed them into her.

At around midnight, Nancy's breathing became very labored and her doctor suggested increasing the morphine to ease her discomfort. Suzanne knew this could ultimately cause her to stop breathing. "What would you do if it were your child?" she asked him. "She won't live more than a few hours," he said. "I would turn it up and let her go quietly." So Suzanne and Howard agreed, and an hour later, Nancy's breath left her.

A small child who is separated from his mother cannot comprehend the loss -- he still expects that she will respond to his cries. The child will look eagerly toward any sight or sound that may be his mother, using all his resources to recapture her any way he can. Psychologists call this behavior "searching." The mother is the center of the child's universe, and when the mother is gone, the child feels not only her loss, but lost himself.

A mother who loses a child often does the same. No matter how expected a child's death is, the mother's hope for a miracle can become a physical prayer, so strong that it continues even after death. A child's absence is simply too unnatural; if the parent is alive, her mind insists that the child must be alive somewhere too. If the longing is strong enough, she may see the child or hear him moving about or calling to her.

"For the first few years, I thought, Toby's just gone for a while. He'll be back," says Rose. The first time she saw him was on a stage in London, shortly after his death, when she was shooting photos of dancers in rehearsal. "The light was falling on his face and hair, but his body was partly hidden in the curtains," she recalls. "He was wearing his glasses, like he used to. My heart was pounding. I grabbed the telephoto lens to get a better look, but he was gone." Later, she found out it was the ballet's young composer. "But that used to happen a lot -- I'd see a young man and think it was him."

Suzanne still remembers a phone call on the first anniversary of Nancy's death. "I picked up the phone and I heard Nancy's voice on the other end." The caller was her daughter Julie, but the feeling was so strong, Suzanne kept waiting for Nancy to return. "I thought maybe she couldn't be here for a while, maybe she was with Aaron," Suzanne says. "Then one day I was thinking about her and the wind chimes outside started ringing, although there was no breeze. And I knew it was Nancy. Now I feel her close to me from time to time. When I'm really in a bad place and I ask for her to come, she does."

Suzanne talks to Nancy and also writes to her, filling up the pages in the journal that Nancy left incomplete. Her notes to her daughter are touchingly conversational -- about summer storms, Aaron's growth -- like the things they used to talk about, or a mother's letters to a daughter who is simply away for a while.

Aaron is now 9 years old; his curiosity about his mother brings her back to him. When he visits Suzanne, he likes to sleep in Nancy's childhood bed. This year he told Suzanne he would like to have the robe that Nancy always wore. "Sometimes I look up in the clouds and she's up there, she sees me," he said. "Sometimes I wish I'd die so I could be with my mommy."

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Nancy's journals, which begin before she was married, are like a window into our shared past: filled with poems, postcards, autumn leaves, quotes and lengthy ramblings about torturous love affairs. Then the melanoma sneaks in, like a rude interruption. Nancy fantasizes about having George Winston music piped into the operating room and writes about a dance she will choreograph, "Hospital Dance," set to Winston's "Thanksgiving." There are program notes: "In mid-December, I was diagnosed with melanoma, a potentially fatal form of skin cancer. My life went through a series of abrupt, unexpected, emotional upheavals. I was not ready to die." Later she writes, "I'm too young and healthy and besides that it wouldn't be fair." Turning the page, I find a list of questions for her doctor about treatments and life expectancy and then her handwriting stops.

For a long time, I thought Nancy and I needed to talk about her death. When I was away from her, I would think of new ways to broach the subject, but she would always wave me off. I thought she was not following the necessary steps to dying in peace -- she was "in denial," refusing to "bring closure," not taking her "journey of acceptance." Now I understand that she was dancing with death -- making deals, buying time, agreeing to put up with whatever physical torture her treatments required to gain time with her son. Aaron was the one thing she could never let go of. She told me once, "Sometimes I think if I'm good enough, maybe God will let me live."

I remember the last time I saw her at home. Her burning blue eyes had almost lost their light, her body was shrunken, as she told her sister Julie, "to the dancer's body I always wanted." Just as she did not want to talk about her death, I had found it increasingly difficult to talk about my life. We were folding clothes in silence when she said, "I'm not afraid of the pain -- I know the morphine will take care of that. I just wish I could figure out how to leave behind five years of clothes for Aaron and five years of frozen dinners."

Even as her wish to live drowned out everything else, she was preparing to die in a quintessentially motherly way: attending to tedious domestic tasks, cleaning up the messes she anticipated after she was gone. When she was strong enough, she tidied dresser drawers, labeled shelves in Aaron's closet, sorted through his clothes. She made a photo album for him called "Mommy and Me." She may have even started scouting for her replacement: After she died, Howard found the business card of a woman he had not seen in years. Nancy left a note saying that she had run into her and ended it: "P.S. She's single."

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When mothers talk of a child's death, they say that the emotional pain becomes physical -- overwhelming and unendurable, like the pain of childbirth. But women seem wired to forget the pain of childbirth, while the pain of a child's death appears to be limitless. Researchers trying to ascertain the endpoints of grief have yet to determine if there is a limit to parents' mourning. Rose and Suzanne would say there is not. "It softens after about seven years," says Rose. "It never goes away."

A woman carries a baby in her body and when that child dies, no matter how old he or she is, the mother feels that something has been cut out from inside her -- the loss is as profound and permanent as becoming a parent. I asked Rose and Suzanne how childbirth and child death changed their lives.

"A woman named Elizabeth Stone wrote that having a child is 'to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body,'" Suzanne says. "That's what becoming a parent is like. And now I've lost that piece of myself."

Rose thinks back to Toby's birth. "I remember holding him when he was a newborn, being scared to death. Here was this tiny human being that I was responsible for, and the love and commitment is for life, even after he's married and has children. And when you lose that child, it takes a part of you out that never returns -- a part of your heart. A light goes out forever. You just learn to live with the loss."

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I looked at photos of my children a lot on that trip. I memorized Joey's skinny knees and the deep brown pools of his eyes; the kissable curve of Nat's chin and the sprinkling of cinnamon freckles across his nose. I devised my own waltz with mortality. I will become the perfect mother, I thought, I will write down every deed and phrase. At home, Joey hugged me with his ever-ready love and said, "I felt empty when you were gone." Nat held back, needing to know that I was not going to disappear again. The next day, when I was untangling a hopelessly knotted shirt that he was trying to get over his head, he burst out, "I love you, Mom," and threw his arms around me.

But the problem with trying to live every day as if your children could die is that life gets in the way. Dishes pile up, homework needs to get done, bills must be paid. Work pressures rise, children misbehave. A few weeks later, Joey and I were at the grocery store. We were on our way to Disneyland and had a cart bulging with chips and SnackPack cereals, and he was whining for a 25-cent toy in the gum machines. Suddenly, that toy became a point of honor, all that stood between me and spoiling him rotten.

Oblivious to my tough-love stance, the checker reached into her pocket and gave him a quarter. "How can you resist those big brown eyes?" she cooed. I shot Joey a look and he made the weakest possible effort to refuse her money, then ran off to the machine before she could finish insisting that he take it. The checker looked at me softly. "I know, it's not good to spoil them," she said. "But I lost my son when he was 11, so let me spoil him just a little."

By Camille Peri

Camille Peri is the editor of Mothers Who Think.

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