One year ago my baby was still in this world. One year ago today (by date but it was a Thursday) I was picking up the phone and calling Brandon to tell him I'd finally had an idea for a special gift he could give his wife Christina for her first Mother's Day. He'd asked me for ideas two days earlier when I'd taken him to outpatient radiology for a cranial MRI, which I wrote about in the last installment of this blog. I'd been watching my baby boy's body deteriorate in front of my eyes for several weeks and, unless a new treatment was tried soon and it worked, something in me knew he couldn't be here for Christina's second Mother's Day.
Still, the heart often cannot accept what the mind knows, and it really didn't occur to me that a successful treatment wouldn't be found or that his wife, his daughter, his sisters and brothers, his dad and I, his friends had only three more weeks with him. I don't think Brandon's heart had yet accepted what I'm fairly sure his mind was beginning to grasp. He dropped "hints" that said he had a good idea of where his cancer was taking him, yet he also talked about how much he was looking forward to a mid-June vacation to Hilton Head with Christina's family (and, as I later found out, a parasailing adventure that would let him relive feelings he associated with skydiving), beating cancer's ass after initiating an upcoming drug trial, getting strong enough to go back to work, adding to their family some day, etc.
Hope is not something to mess with. Ever. Brandon still felt hope; we all still felt hope. And all the while we also knew what we didn't want to know. So introducing the gift idea I'd come up with for him to give Christina for her first Mother's Day was "tricky" - tricky because we all knew but we didn't. This was a conversation in layers. There was the "what was said" layer. There was the unsaid layer, which was tiered with hope and fear. There was the pragmatic layer that gnawed at me and had not stopped since I'd the gift idea had come to me, "If not now, when?"
"Brandon," I said, "I've come up with an idea of something special you can give Christina for Mother's Day. If it was me, I'd most want family photos. I really think she'd like that more than anything.
"Mom," he said, sounding so very tired, "Mother's Day is only three days away. I can't get that together by Sunday."
"But do you think Christina would like it? I think she'd like photos now, because your hair is back in and it looks really nice. With the radiation, it's probably going to be gone again soon, and who knows how long it might be before it's back again." (The radiation was to treat some new "hot spots" that had developed in his brain. I hate that euphemistic term "hot spots" when what the doctors mean is the word "tumors" or "metastases.")
"Yeah, Mom, it's a good idea, but it just can't be pulled off that quickly."
"Leave that part to me, Brandon. I'm going to make a few calls and I'll get back with you as soon as I can."
After a quick prayer I got back on the phone, leaving messages with my friend Anne to get a direct contact number for her daughter Jenny, the owner and photographer of Fresh View Studio. Of course, I'd already left a voicemail message at the studio's business number and I'd filled in and sent the form on the Contact page at her web site.
Jenny quickly answered my prayer and listened to my tearful request. Although she was busy with business and preparing for her Memorial Day weekend wedding, she never hesitated. She quickly said yes. (There are no words for how grateful I felt then and how grateful I still feel for her "Yes!" that afternoon.) She had a couple of commitments during Mother's Day weekend, but if she and Brandon could figure out a time that worked for everyone, she was "happy to help."
|The bro-men - twins Tony & Joey on either side of older bro Brandon|
After a couple of glitches, and there are always glitches with this family, of one time being set that then had to be reset, she and Brandon settled on a bit before noon Saturday, May 12, for his family's photo shoot. In a really nice glitch, both of his out-of-town brothers (one from New Jersey and one from outside Chicago) made last-minute plans to come in for the weekend, so now I was calling Jenny again to see if it might be possible to also take few photos of our family. Additional glitches with son Tony's flight from New Jersey almost put a halt to the secondary family photo shoot, but he landed and we went straight to the park to join the rest of the family for "our" photos. (The photos of "our" shoot on this post were taken by our son-in-law Kris while we posed for Jenny.)
|My Gromada men - Tony, Brandon, Joey & Dad Joe|
|Sibs - Carolyn, Brandon, Joey, Elizabeth & Tony|
|Posed with sibs seated and Dad & Mom standing|
|Relaxing between shots|
Brandon died three Saturdays after the families' photo shoots. I arrived home after his death at around 3 a.m. on Sunday morning and turned on my computer. I felt too "wired" to sleep, and I needed to let some people know what had happened. Email and Facebook let me do that quickly. But me being me, I had to check my own email for messages. And there was an email message from Jenny with, ironically, a link to the proofs from the photo shoots of the beautiful family Brandon and Christina had created and of the family in which he grew from cuddly baby to wonderful man. How fitting the first stanza of Ringo Starr's song Photograph as I flipped through the slideshow with tears streaming down my cheeks...
"Every time I see your face,
It reminds me of the places we used to go.
But all I got is a photograph
And I realize you're not coming back anymore."