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.