Losing My Firstborn Son
Ryan Blundell has many talents, one of them being an accomplished writer. I want to thank Ryan for sharing his Never Alone story “losing my firstborn son”. It brought tears to my eyes, many times, as I prepped this blog.
In memory of his son…
I have lost both of my parents and my firstborn son within 7 years.
To say the very least, it’s a significant break from what is taught to us of the circle of life.
There are no proper terms for all life experiences, one of which is being a parent or sibling to a child who has died. Perhaps it’s because it’s unnatural and should never have happened. When a child loses a parent, they are orphaned; when one loses a spouse, they are widowed. What do you call it when one loses a child? I’ve heard the term ‘bereaved parent’ many times, and have used it myself. It’s accurate in the fact that you feel deprived, cheated of a lifetime of memories.
On April 14th, 2007, our first child, Keian, was born.
On January 1st, 2014, our first child passed away battling T-Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.
I was there to see his eyes open for the first time, as well as the last.
I was first to carry and comfort him. I was last to hold him when I placed him on the gurney to take his body away.
Let me say that although I do not discount the effect grief has on someone. I found that I have never been more affected than losing a child. Other bereaved parents that I know share my feelings. While it’s an unwelcomed, unifying force, it’s not a club to which you want to belong.
Looking back during his treatment, it tested your mettle as a parent. Imagine having to come out of a meeting with oncologists who just told you that you had a few weeks left with your son. You then go back to his room where he is, unknowing of his fate would excitedly tell you what he wanted to be when he grew up, or that he wanted to go somewhere special in a few months. You smile, share in his excitement all the while you are screaming inside. During this, you are also raising his little brother, who was born just over a month before his diagnosis. My mom passed away from cancer only a few months into Keian’s treatment; I left to see her a month before her passing and for her service.
We emulated Keian’s strength, his positivity inspired us; but still, we struggled. Whenever there was a setback, he would shrug it off and say he would try harder on getting better. If only it were that easy. It was an 18-month battle; I went on unpaid leave after my parental leave ran out. We were ready to buy our first home but ended up having to live in a donated 26-foot trailer in the hospital parking lot.
A healthy diet and exercise were a luxury as we did what we could to keep both of our boys happy and fulfilled. The most important thing was to be a family, no matter what. Downtime meant we were researching what his blood tests meant, how successful the medication and chemotherapy were, and what alternative treatments were out there.
Near the end, he slept a lot, wouldn’t eat, and would be in pain when he was awake. I remember one of the last things he said to me. I was holding his hand, slowly leading him to use the bathroom. He told me, “You make a pretty good dad. You make a good father.” I felt a sense of pride and failure simultaneously. I made him happy, I made him feel loved, but I couldn’t save him.
For the longest time after his passing, I had that numbing sense of dread throughout my body. Sometimes, when the last few moments of his life play over through my mind, that feeling comes back. It was unfair that he was only given 6 1⁄2 years on this planet; 1 1⁄2 of which was with cancer. After much self-hatred, overeating, and negativity, something shifted in our mindset.
We were not going to waste this precious gift of life. We were going to live for him.
Unlike before, we had dedicated ourselves to proper eating, prepared at home, and regular exercise. First, we trained on our own, then eventually worked with a personal trainer and dear friend. At my heaviest, I weighed roughly 370 pounds; I’m currently between 235 and 240. I’m in the best shape of my life (so far) and appreciate what I am capable of.
I look forward to getting to a comfortable weight range and still push myself.
As we progressed, we also began to live for ourselves as well. We allowed ourselves to be happy. Yes, it is possible to grieve and be happy. For us, it’s not moving on or moving past; it’s about moving with, moving through the trauma and the pain. It’s a part of us whether we like it or not. It contributes to our resilience and our dedication to living better and supporting others in their own journey.
We continue our fundraising in memory of our son through Team Keian. Each year we host a bottle drive, raising money for families affected by childhood cancer – helping to make the holiday season a bit easier so they could focus on being a family as well. We also run a Keian’s Holiday Wish Toy Drive, delivering donated toys and gifts to BC Children’s Hospital and Canuck Place Children’s Hospice. We’ve raised tens of thousands of dollars and delivered the same in toys and gifts. It started with a sick little boy with a wagon full of toys and now includes countless volunteers and supporters.
With all this said, I still struggle with anxiety, grief, and self-doubt. It helps to share Keian’s story by speaking or writing about him.
He continues to inspire me to be better and to push when I struggle to be. He was who I want to be when I grow up.