I don’t know when it happened. Sometime between the one-month and two-month mark of finding out Kohen has cancer, I went numb. Emotionally and spiritually numb.

Perhaps it’s from juggling responsibilities at work and caring for our five children at home while Courtney is at the hospital with Kohen . . . perhaps it’s from being all cried out . . . perhaps it’s both.

Or maybe, it’s just that I’ve finally compartmentalized what is happening to Kohen, like how I’ve done with my job for the past twenty years. It’s how I can be witness to countless horrible sights, smells, sounds, and experiences—bearing witness to the evil that men and women do to one another—and yet still do my job (and maintain my sanity).

The mechanism I’ve used in my job to cope with the horrors of life in the real world (where people commit terrible and violent crimes against each other) isn’t something I’ve ever consciously tried to put into effect, it just happens. And it seems to have worked fairly well the past two decades. But I do remember when there was a crack in the wall; the one time when this coping mechanism momentarily failed and emotions exploited the opportunity.

It came after three juvenile deaths within an eight month period between 2008 and 2009.

In November of 2008, I dealt with a fourteen-year-old who used his parents’ shotgun to kill himself in their bedroom while they were out for the evening.

In March of 2009 I worked in vain to save the life of a one-year-old boy in his driveway (the same age as my oldest son at the time) after he was backed over by a vehicle. All the CPR and other lifesaving efforts in the world made no difference, he succumbed to his injuries and there was nothing else we could do for him.

Then in July of 2009, a six-year-old boy went missing at the lake over the 4th of July weekend. It was presumed he drowned but divers could not find his body.

That following Monday evening, after the lake had been cleared out of beach goers and campers who returned to their normal work week, the boy’s body surfaced. I responded to the scene after he was pulled from the water and remained beside his body until he was transported for autopsy later that night. Watching the sun go down, and a breathtaking full moon rise over the mountains on the opposite side of the lake while I stood watch over the deceased child, was quite a surreal moment.

It wasn’t long after that I was riding in a car to Oregon when—for the briefest of moments—those emotions got the better of me. That spate of three juvenile deaths, for some inexplicable reason, momentarily compromised my coping mechanism and I wept.

I’ve been involved in countless other death investigations before and since then, involving babies, children, and adults (to include suicides, car accidents, fire, gunshots, stabbings, etc.) but I have never again had that breech in my usually impenetrable wall.

But what worries me is I believe I’m employing this same subconscious coping mechanism with my son. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt emotions about Kohen’s situation. For over a month after learning of his cancer, I cried every day. Now . . . nothing.

I’m drained. I feel distant and disconnected (even from the rest of my family), like I’m just going through the motions.

And I’m tired. Tired of talking about Kohen and his cancer; tired of giving updates about his cancer; tired of even writing about it. I’ve grown completely numb—I can’t even remember the last time I’ve cried over Kohen. And that scares me.

Just like people say about parenting not coming with an instruction manual, there’s also no instruction manual for how to deal with life when your child gets cancer.

Who knows? Maybe this is just a touch of unconscionable narcissism on my part. Maybe it’s just an excuse for being a deficient husband and neglectful father. Or maybe I’m just being a self-indulgent jerk, wallowing in my inner conflicts and wrestling with my own emotions when my focus should be on my son. I don’t really know, but hopefully one day I will have the answer and get it together.


7 thoughts on “Numb

  1. Starla Smith

    We love you all so very much Jerry. I had a fun time with Kohen the last time we were there to visit. And uncle and Courtney had a little time to visit as well. Our thoughts and prayers are with you all. Aunt Starla😘❤️

    Sent from my iPad


    Liked by 1 person

  2. *Do not lose heart- this is to encourage you: In our own personal life we have known great agonies and monstrous evil for almost 20 years now. At first you cry all the time, then you cry sometimes, then you can cry only for others who are in traumas, but your own agonies have been cried out- at least for a time, but the severe pain is still there, it is only deep, deep inside you. The LORD knows it and He holds us in our great sorrow. You are “numb” but this does not mean there is something wrong with you.
    Because of how we have suffered I know the LORD has given us a “way” of surviving until the “next thing” whatever that is to be. You compartmentalize. I live in each moment. I do not believe either is wrong, it is only a way to cope.
    *Even though you may not feel like it—Continue to cry out to God, He is our strength, He is our only strength!—Jill

    Liked by 1 person

  3. jyllibean

    A fog- where you can’t quite see, bumping into things now and then, you walk aimlessly, while trying to look normal.
    The fog- chilling, heavy to breath, an ache in disbelief with the way things are settling in to be.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Roberta Rosario

    I understand, although I have not witnessed such tragedy, I did experience my share growing up in a very large, deeply dark, family, then drugs, abuse & alcohol from the age of 12-22. I experienced & saw way too much, which then affected me for many years. In 2001 my husband was diagnosed with Condrosarcoma. Our life was turned upside-down over night. Surgery would follow at the same as selling our home, moving to Nevada & our children were 3 & 6 at the time. The diagnosis was bleak & the numbness set in. I didn’t want another “I’ll pray for you, he’s strong, God’s got this, etc” I just wanted to go back to “normal” I wish I could take this feeling away but I know it will pass! We are praying for all of you & your family. If you need to talk, please know we are here for you. God Bless You

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Merri

    My deepest and heartfelt thoughts and prayers for you at this time. Thank you for all you do and have done. This is your baby, this is real, you have alot on your plate. You are human, you are ok, you are an incredible and amazing man. It’s fine you are in a season, just know it’s ok! Give yourself a break, you”re wonderful and thanked beyond your comprehension. Thoughts and prayers.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Doug Andrews

    Pattison, (Jerry I think),
    I understand the compartmentalization. I was a fire paramedic for 25 years in a big city. I saw about one death a week plus numerous injuries, and sickness. I held all of that inside for all those years.
    After retirement my wife had cancer. It was during that time that the bad visions, nightmares and feeling of impending doom came. I cried a lot.
    John 16:33 “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer I have overcome the world.”
    Every time one of those bad memories came I would close my eyes and see Jesus there with me, caring for me and my patient. And I worship a lot now. For me singing brings peace.
    My heart goes out to you, for your pain, loneliness, and feeling of being disconnected.
    One benefit (maybe short term) of being able to compartmentalize, is to get us through those extremely difficult circumstances, Kohen being your most difficult ever. You have a difficult road. It’s okay to feel numb sometimes.
    I’v never meet you, but I love you my brother.
    “…let us lay aside every weight…and run the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
    Hebrews 12:1,2

    Liked by 1 person

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