You know the feeling when something bad is coming and it makes you really sad? It is called anticipatory grief. When you experience it, you do everything that you can to prepare yourself and you begin to think that you can handle it when it comes. Except that when the thing actually happens, it makes you feel like you got punched in the face and then kicked in the stomach, over and over and over again. In reality, there is no way to be prepared at all.
I had a dream early this morning that I was falling down a deep hole. I dropped and dropped for what seemed like miles, clawing at the dirt as I flew down desperately trying to get purchase on the wall. After a very long time, I hit the ground. In my dream, I screamed from the utter and complete agony. My bones were broken and my head was throbbing and spinning. I hurt so very much all over. And then I woke up.
But that was when the pain became really intense. Because I remembered that Braden was gone.
Braden Dean Smith died peacefully at home in the early hours of Monday, May 13, 2013, surrounded by his family. His fourteen-month long fight with leukemia had left his body and mind exhausted and worn, far beyond his mere nineteen years. He tackled his illness with bravery and intensity, but the disease was simply insurmountable in the end. He is survived by his mother, Stacy, and his father, Steve, as well as five younger brothers and sisters… Chloe, Maddie, Cameron, Rachel and Eric. He is also loved by countless family members and friends who consider ourselves so lucky to have had him in our lives.
I am so very grateful that Braden is no longer suffering, even while we are left behind to suffer in his absence.
Braden was exceptional. He had book and street smarts. He was athletic. He was funny. He was passionate… about sports and politics and religion. And he was also compassionate and caring and forgiving. He was a great friend and a doting boyfriend. He wanted to go to college and get married and have a family. He wanted the good life.
But even when he was in the middle of the hardest battle he would ever fight, he was always looking out for those around him. He was kind enough to indulge my anticipatory grief and go to lunch a few times with me over the last few weeks. We talked about everything and nothing, fears and regrets, hopes and dreams. It was inspiring to me and those conversations, as well as many others we had together, are memories I will always cherish.
I am so very sad right now. My sadness comes in waves. I am sad for the profound loss that his family is enduring. A mother and father lost a son. Siblings lost their big brother. My daughter lost her first true love. I am sad that a young man with so much potential had to suffer and die before his life ever really got started. I am sad over the loss of my friend. My grief is no longer anticipatory… it is here.
I know that it is healthy and normal to be sad and to grieve, especially over the loss of someone so young. There is no rule book or guide to follow, but it is very important to seek counseling or fellowship immediately following the death of a loved one. Fortunately, we have each other to lean on, confide in, reminisce with. We need to remember Braden, talk about him, share stories about him. It will help us and it will make Braden happy when we reach out and help each other. Do it to honor him.
These pictures are from one of my favorite days with our whole family, including Braden, after he had been diagnosed and had gone through a transplant. He was getting his energy back and it was a nice day, so we went over to Webb Bridge Park to play on the playground and throw around the football. It was pure and happy and good. Remembering that day will always make me smile.
It will not bring him back, but it will keep him eternally alive in our hearts and our memories.
I sure do miss you already, Kid. Until we meet again…
Wish me luck for tomorrow…