In 2000, my son Forrest was diagnosed with a stage-4 liver cancer called hepatoblastoma. He was 20 months old and, as far as we knew, healthy. At the time, I had just finished recording a CD and was about to do a series of concerts to promote it. Needless to say, I had to cancel them, which I did via email. That announcement was so difficult to make. I didn't know whether Forrest would live or die. My world had turned upside down. I didn't even know the people I was writing to, but I knew I needed to tell them the truth of my new situation. In the days, months and years that followed, I continued to write to my fans on a regular basis. When I started, the word 'blog' did not exist, but my 4 to 5 emails a week in those early months were my life-line to the world. My need to write and try to communicate what was happening to me helped me to survive. When Forrest died 18 months later, I continued to write. Eventually, I wrote The Present Giver. Forrest, like so many other children who are living with difficult health issues, was an inspiration to me and to many others. He lived fully and with incredible joy. We were lucky in that way. My book is an account of some of the wonderful things that happened to us during that time; it is also a book that describes the harder sides of what we had to do. My hope was that telling our story would dispel the notion that a child's illness and subsequent death is a parent's worst nightmare. Difficult, yes. Demanding, exhausting, devastating, especially when it ends in death, but every bit as wonderful as a life led by a healthy child. Since I've written the book, I've spoken to oncology residents on a number of occasions at Albany Medical Hospital to help them understand what it's like to be a mother in my shoes. I've read some of our stories at bookstores, at writers' festivals and workshops. I've started teaching writing to new writers who are anxious to move from their journal to a public forum. The Present Giver has been used in three college-level courses for various reasons: Smith College in the Masters of Social Work program (a class in grief), Colby Sawyer, a death and dying course taught by an Episcopal Priest, and University of Texas at Austin Social Work (taught by the same teacher who used the book at Smith). Most recently (last week) the book was chosen for the reading group in my new home in Colorado, and I was deeply moved by the response. For me, sharing Forrest, talking about death, dying, and, most importantly, talking about life, is what this book allows me to do.
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