I am reminded of a young boy named Komake as I sit on my front deck watching the palm trees sway. He was born on Oahu so his folks gave him a Hawaiian name. We met in Washington but Komake was part of the aina (the land) of where he was born. Beautiful mountains, valleys and sea cliffs surrounded by the ocean.
He was a sweet little boy with a brain tumor. I met him by chance one day when I was at Children’s Hospital. He had a swollen little face that looked as if the cause was some type of medication. And, he was in a wheelchair. He looked very much younger than his true age. I was there to see someone else but he caught my attention because he was alone in the hallway looking distressed. I stopped to see if I could help. He told me that his roommate had been mean to him. Because of his age, Komake was 10 years old at the time, he was on a floor that was not cancer specific. His roommate was 15 or 16 and was there for knee surgery. Completely different realms, right? Well, the self-absorbed teenager was playing his music very loudly and Komake asked if he could turn it down because it was hurting his head. The teenager started yelling and cursing at the poor little guy. It turns out that this little boy was very religious and was not accustomed to such language.
Komake’s family lived about 65 miles away from Children’s and were not there at this time. He had two younger sisters at home with mom so she had to divide her time and attention. After hearing his story, I told Komake to wait and I would go ask the nurse if he could change rooms. I went to nurses’ station and waited and waited to no avail. I walked the length of the hallway and saw several rooms that had open beds. I went with Komake to gather what little he had and moved him. Once he was comfortable, I went back to the nurses’ station and waited some more. Finally, a nurse came and I told her that Komake was now in a different room and why. She was very understanding. I expected a big lecture but she was supportive.
We became friends and even when it was time for Komake to go home I went to visit. The doctors’ said they could not help him any longer. He and I talked about that several times. He didn’t want to upset his mother with the truth of what was happening to his body, so I encouraged him to talk to me about his feelings, fears, etc. The week he died, he asked me to help his mom and sisters. I readily agreed and we were there for the funeral. A month or so later, I was able to let his mother know that he had protected her up until the end. We cried together and I told her that her grief was healthy. I mean, she rolled with it and didn’t try to ignore how she was feeling. She encouraged her daughters to do the same.
After a time, Komake’s mom told me that she was going to apply for several state government jobs. She had been out of the workforce for a number of years. Luckily, we were the same size and I had changed professions and was no longer in need of suits and professional clothes. I am happy to say, Komake’s mom got the job. Fairly soon after, we moved to NC so my husband could attend graduate school. We lost contact. I was left to wonder.
For years I have thought of that sweet little boy and hoped his family fared well after his death. Just a few days ago I received an email from his mom telling me that they are doing fabulously. Komake has a namesake nephew. It made my heart sing to learn that they not just survived but continue to thrive. Komake is their guiding light. There is such a thing as good grief.
Shirley Enebrad is a Certified Grief Recovery Specialist with 25 years of experience. For her many years of work with pediatric cancer patients and those grieving the loss of a loved one, she received the Jefferson Award for Outstanding Public Service and the Angel of Hospice Award. She is the author of Six-Word Lessons on Coping with Grief and Six-Word Lessons for Surviving a Devastating Diagnosis.