I'll Make You A Rainbow
By Linda Bremner
is nothing that can truly prepare you to lose your own child. Looking back, I've
often thought the doctors should have written a death certificate for me as well
as my son, for when he died, a part of me died too.
was almost twelve. For over three years he had been battling cancer. He'd gone
through radiation and chemotherapy; he'd gone into remission and out again, not
once but several times. I was amazed at his resilience; he just kept getting up
each time his cancer knocked him flat. Perhaps it was his pluckiness and grit
that shaped my own attitude about Andy's future, or maybe I was simply afraid to
face the possibility of his death; whatever the cause I always thought that Andy
would make it. He would be the kid that beat the odds.
three summers, Andy had gone to a camp for kids with cancer. He loved it and
seemed to relish the week he could forget about hospitals and sickness and just
be a kid again. The day after he returned from his third camp adventure, we went
to the clinic for a routine check-up. The news was bad. The doctor scheduled a
bone marrow transplant for two days later in a hospital 300 miles away from our
home. The next day we threw our things in a suitcase and left.
of the things I tossed into my suitcase was the present Andy had brought home
from camp for me. A plastic suncatcher shaped like a rainbow with a suction cup
to attach it to a window. Like most mothers, I considered any present from my
child a treasure and wanted it with me.
arrived at the hospital and began the grueling ordeal the doctors felt was my
son's only chance. We spent seven weeks there. They turned out to be the last
seven weeks of Andy's life.
never talked about dying...except once. Andy was worn out and must have known he
was losing ground. He tried to clue me in. Nauseous and weak after one of the
many difficult procedures he endured on a regular basis, he turned to me and
asked, "Does it hurt to die?"
was shocked, but answered truthfully, "I don't know. But I don't want to
talk about death, because you are not going to die, Andy."
took my hand and said, "Not yet, but I'm getting very tired."
knew then what he was telling me, but tried hard to ignore it and keep the awful
thought from entering my mind.
spent a lot of my day watching Andy sleep. Sometimes I went to the gift shop to
buy cards and notepaper. I had very little money, barely enough to survive. The
nurses knew our situation and turned a blind eye when I slept in Andy's room and
ate the extra food we ordered off of Andy's tray. But I always managed to scrape
a bit together for the paper and cards because Andy loved getting mail so much.
bone marrow transplant was a terrible ordeal. Andy couldn't have any visitors
because his immune system was so compromised. I could tell that he felt even
more isolated than ever. Determined to do something to make it easier for him, I
began approaching total strangers in the waiting rooms and asking them,
"Would you write my son a card?" I'd explain his situation and offer
them a card or some paper to write on. With surprised expressions on their
faces, they did it. No one refused me. They took one look at me and saw a mother
amazed me that these kind people, who were dealing with their own worries, made
the time to write Andy. Some would just sign a card with a little get-well
message. Others wrote real letters: "Hi, I'm from Idaho visiting my
grandmother here in the hospital..." and they'd fill a page or two with
their story, sometimes inviting Andy to visit wherever they were from when he
was better. Once a woman flagged me down and said, "You asked me to
write your son a couple of weeks ago. Can I write him again?" I mailed all
these letters to Andy, and watched happily as he read them. Andy had a steady
stream of mail right up until the day he died.
day, I went to the gift store to buy more cards and saw a rainbow prism for
sale. Remembering the rainbow sun catcher Andy had given me, I felt I had to buy
it for him. It was a lot of money to spend, but I handed over the cash and
hurried back to Andy's room to show him.
was lying in his bed, too weak to even raise his head. The blinds were almost
shut, but a crack of sunlight poured in slanting across the bed. I put the prism
in his hand and said, "Andy, make me a rainbow." But Andy couldn't. He
tried to hold his arm up, but it was too much for him.
turned his face to me and said, "Mom, as soon as I'm better, I'll make you
a rainbow you'll never forget."
was the one of the last things Andy said to me. Just a few hours later, he went
to sleep and during the night, slipped into a coma. I stayed with him in the
ICU, massaging him, talking to him, reading him his mail, but he never stirred.
The only sound was the constant drone and beepings of the life-support machines
surrounding his bed. I was looking death straight in the face, but still I
thought there'd be a last-minute save, a miracle that would bring my son back to
five days, the doctors told me his brain had stopped functioning and that he'd
never be "Andy" again. It was time to disconnect him from the machines
that were keeping his body alive.
asked if I could hold him, so just after dawn, they brought a rocking chair into
the room and after I settled myself in the chair, they turned off the machines
and lifted him from the bed to place him in my arms. As they raised him from the
bed, his leg made an involuntary movement and he knocked a clear plastic pitcher
from his bedside table onto the bed.
the blinds," I cried. "I want this room to be full of sunlight!"
The nurse hurried to the window to pull the cord.
she did so, I noticed a sun catcher, in the shape of the rainbow attached to the
window, left no doubt, by a previous occupant of this room. I caught my breath
in wonder. And then as the sunlight filled the room, the rays hit the pitcher
lying on its side on the bed and everyone stopped what they were doing, silent
room was suddenly filled with flashes of color, dozens and dozens of rainbows,
on the walls, the floors, the ceiling, on the blanket wrapped around Andy as he
lay in my arms — the room was alive with rainbows.
No one could speak. I looked down at my son and he had stopped breathing. Andy was gone, but even in the shock of that first wave of grief, I felt comforted. Andy had made the rainbow that he promised me — the one I would never forget.