Given a year to live, Seattle mother writes children’s book about death
Two and a half years ago, Caroline Wright moved to Seattle from New York City.
“My husband and I, and my son Henry, the older, was three, and my son Theodore was two weeks old,” Wright said.
Soon after, she started having really bad headaches. So she went to the doctor.
“(The doctor) said, ‘Well, just to make sure we should get an MRI.’ And they discovered a seven centimeter brain tumor in my frontal lobe.”
Wright was only 32 years old, and the tumor didn’t present like cancer, so she was told a surgery would be all she needed.
“By the following Friday I was in surgery to have a craniotomy to have it removed,” she said. “And then by the next Friday I found out that it was actually the worst cancer that you can get, glioblastoma. It also has a lovely, charming nickname of ‘The Terminator’ because it usually kills people within a year, which is what I was given to live.”
During that year, living under the cloud of her doctors’ dire prediction, Wright and her husband settled on a way to talk to their children about death. They believe in being honest. So they answered all of their son Henry’s questions in an age appropriate, but truthful way.
“We basically came to the philosophy that if you don’t tell them what you’re going through, you’re actually doing more damage because you’re damaging the trust the child has with you, which can’t be repaired if you die.”
They looked around for books to read to Henry, but they were either too religious or too metaphorical; none of them actually named death.
“There weren’t any books out there that felt like they spoke to what we were telling the kids,” Wright said. “Which is, whether Mommy’s here or not, there are a lot of loving people who are going to raise you. Mommy’s love is still part of what is going to raise you, whether she’s here or not. That was such a powerful idea and it really did bring comfort to my kids. So one day I just woke up and had the idea for this book.”
Lasting Love: a children’s book
Wright, a cookbook author by trade, wrote a children’s book called Lasting Love. The book is about a sick mother with a young son, who leaves the hospital with a creature.
“The creature is the outward representation of the dying parent’s love.”
Halfway through the book, the mother dies.
“The creature is always by my side now,” Wright reads from Lasting Love, which is narrated by the young son and beautifully illustrated by Seattle artist, Willow Heath. “He never tries to cheer me up, he just keeps me company. He still holds that strongest part of Mama and helps me find her every day. With him, I’m never lost. Together we still find beauty. Together we find Mama everywhere.”
Wright has learned that since adults have a hard time talking about death, they project their fear onto children, assuming they won’t understand, when they actually do.
“Kids have parents who die and just because you don’t want to talk about it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen. And it doesn’t mean that those kids don’t need resources.”
Wright donated more than 700 books to Safe Crossings, a Seattle Children’s bereavement group, and says the book has been a welcome and helpful tool. But there are two children who are not fans of her book.
“Everybody thought, ‘Oh, this must be so beautiful, or such a relief to have this book. Your sons must love it so much,'” Wright said. “But for my children, this is a book version of their nightmare. Their mom dies halfway through. I tried cuddling them and reading it and everything, but it was traumatic. Henry really can’t get through it. Which I didn’t expect.”
Wright is moderating a panel at Seattle’s Town Hall on November 9 called How to Talk To Kids About Death, featuring experts in the fields of children’s bereavement, terminal illness and cancer.
“I really wanted the focus to be less on my book and more on their amazing work. And my book to be a value added tool for the parents out there.”
Wright was given a year to live, but that was two and a half years ago.
“I’m technically not in the clear. I don’t know that I technically ever will be because it’s a cancer within a 100 percent recurrence rate. But what is impressive to everyone, I’m cancer free. There’s no visible cancer on any of my scans, which is statistically less than 1 percent.”