Young children often become the other pets in the family. They do tricks that make us laugh. We marvel when they do as they're told and hope they will do so again. When they misbehave, we ponder an acceptable punishment. We lecture them and wonder if it takes.
Not often enough do we ask them what they think, not to mention feel. And when they say or do something profound, it amazes us. Sometimes, it actually is amazing.
You'll see what I mean.
It's a spring day in a pleasant Carlsbad neighborhood 11 months ago. Ten-year-old Finn Lopez is playing with friends - well, playing at it, because he is aware of an atmosphere of dread in his nearby home.
The door opens, and his aunt comes out and calls for him to come inside. Finn hops on his little bike and pedals as fast as he can.
He knows what is coming, vaguely. Remember, he's a little boy. But after a few steps past the door, his soul gets older as he approaches the hospice hospital bed in the living room. A year later, the image is still vivid:
"I went inside, and I saw for real my mom on the bed. Her mouth was open. She wasn't breathing. She couldn't move. I even tested to see. I lifted her arm up. It just fell down. I just went back outside and joined the rest of my crying friends."
Marni Kass, 45, the mother of Finn and 6-year-old daughter Sloan and the 10-year wife of Paul Lopez, is dead. She is the victim of a brain tumor that caused a seven-year ordeal of disability that spread over her body like a creeping stain.
No chanting Druid could conjure up a more grim experience for 4th-grader Finn than for his mother to die a few feet from where he had been playing. Death had grabbed him away from cops 'n' robbers and exposed him to the wind of mourning.
Weeks before her looming death, he had turned to his computer and created a blog - an ode to his mother and the journey they were traveling together. It was his work entirely, his dad says.
Sprinkled in this column are excerpts, as he wrote them:
I start typing this at the age of 10 and I know that my mother will not be in the world much longer I try to make a difference to her and I try to get closer to her. I also try not to tell her how I really feal about her, not that I feal about her in a bad way I just ... I just tell her that I love her and I will always love her even when she is in heaven. And now my hands are getting tired and i am running out of ideas i am stopping.
Though Marni's tumor was diagnosed when Finn was 3, he didn't become aware of it until about 9. Now, almost a year after her death, Finn is 11. He's a thoughtful boy with remarkable emotional poise as he talks about his loss.
Looking back to those unhappy days, he says, "My mom was a wonderful woman. She might have been different from everyone else. But for me, she was a normal person just with one eye that didn't work, one arm that didn't work and one leg that didn't work, and I didn't care. I knew that it wasn't her fault that she got the brain tumor. It was the tumor's fault."
Toward the end, with her on medication, could you talk to her?
"Not really. I would talk to her and know that she was listening, but her not showing it. Like, she'd just be laying there with her eyes closed and still be breathing."
What did you say?
"I honestly, really, I was just crying and really my dad was the one saying a lot of stuff, and I tried to get it off my chest. I had her in my mind, but I just went outside and played with my friends.
"I sort of knew on that day that she would die, but I didn't really want to tell any of my friends because then they'd just get super sad and not want to do anything."
As Marni struggled to be a mom, her efforts left Finn with plenty of little things to brag about. "Mom was a very good cooker, and even though she only had one arm, she could do it, and she could carry pots. She could do stuff that I have to do with two hands." He adds, "It shows that she was really fighting hard to keep on living."
Finn has stored away memories of his mom, and as those memories tend to be, they're of the small things that usually are the most up-close and involve laughter. He tells of playing hallway soccer with his sister and dad, and when what was used as a ball would bounce to Marni sitting nearby, she'd kick at it and usually miss. She would also play a made-up card game, though the family joke was that she cheated.
He also has wrapped his head around the reality of death and its inevitability. "I bet you out of all the kids in the world that are my age, I bet you 25 percent of those kids have lost people in their lives. If you lose someone who loves you, it's super sad."
That says what to you?
"It says that I'm not alone in this world."
It would not be considered unusual, or even unhealthy, for Finn to withdraw into his room and quietly play with his toys, seeking a child's path to peace of mind. However, Finn chose to stay in the center of family life.
We have a little something called "Taco Night" where some of our friends come over and we all make tacos and burritos for dinner. Without my mom at the stove, the tacos just will not be the same. Everybody told my mom that she had the best tacos in the world and some said you have the best food I have ever tasted. Well I know that everyone is going to miss it cause it all goes up with her into the gates of heaven.
When she would get frustrated or sad, how did that affect you?
"Well, as being me, I tried to make her feel better by showing her how to do whatever she was doing and if she couldn't do it, I'd help her. I helped make dinner with dad and I'd help set the table and I'd help do the laundry. I help with a lot of chores."
Would she cry or swear out of frustration?
"There was a lot of swearing."
How did it affect you to see her so upset?
"It sort of made me want to (do) more research about how I can make it better and how I could help more. I tried to get a lot of my friends and family to donate money for research, and my mom loved paper cranes."
She loved paper what?
"Yeah. So our friend's mom told me that if you make 1,000 paper cranes in Japan, you can get any wish you want - in the whole world - and so I wrote on my blog, ‘Hey, guys, we should start making cranes for my mom.'
"I wished that my mom wouldn't have a tumor and her body would be functioning right again."
How did you know that would not come true?
"My dad told me. But I knew my mom would be happy with us making cranes, and I knew that she loved them and she'd cherish them."
Did you make a thousand?
"Yeah. Like I even put up posters around the neighborhood that said, ‘A thousand cranes for Marnie. Please donate paper cranes to (home address).'"
"Not really. Someone tore down my sign and put up their own sign, which I got super mad about."
Finn did finish making his 1,000 paper cranes.
I have so many friends and family that help with my mom. Everywhere I go I hear "hope your mom feels better"and "stay in there"and all I can say to is thank you for you support. There is really nothing anybody can do about it and time flies so sooner or later she will pass and if everyone's gonna be sad about it then everyone's sad about it. So everyone who is reading this I just wanna say ####THANK YOU FOR YOU SUPPORT!!!!
What do you say today when teachers or kids say: We're going to have this or that and you and your mom and dad are coming, right?
"Usually I just say, my mom's going to be working, or she'll be on a business trip or something. Just like today, a friend asked me what my mom does. I said she's just a house mom. She just does whatever she wants. She shops, she does grocery. She cooks, she does the laundry, a lot of things around the house."
Why do you say that?
"Because he was one of those kids who's only a halfway friend, someone who'd tell everyone."
What would be wrong with everyone knowing your mom is gone?
"I don't want everyone feeling bad for me because it's technically a good thing that my mom - well not for us, but for her. Because she doesn't have to deal with suffering anymore. She doesn't have to deal with cussing and dropping pots. She can do whatever she wants to do.
"It really depends who I'm talking to. If it's one of my friends that I know will keep a secret and that won't tell anyone, yeah, I'll tell them. But if it's someone who's really loud and can't keep a secret, I'm not going to tell them. I don't know why, it's just something I do."
"Where is your mother now?"
He pauses, considering. "Well, for some people, she's up in heaven. For some people, she's in the stars."
And for you?
"Up in heaven."
Does what you've been through make you a stronger, better person?
"Sort of. It just made me unique in a special way. I don't know that many people without a mom."
As Paul, 43, goes about his insurance, the watch-over is left to a hired nanny, leaving a big open question about the family future.
Finn, you know there's a good chance your dad is going to marry someone else.
"Yeah, I know. I think there already has been (another woman), but not for long."
It would be a big adjustment. At some point, you might get angry and say you're not my mother!
"Yeah. But it's my dad's choice. If it's someone that I don't like and I think will be mean, I'm going to talk to my dad about it and not just deal with it (myself). I know that he'll choose the decision that is better for the family altogether."
Tuesday May 12 A.K.A my friend's birthday, my mom sadly let her spirits go up to heaven. I remember my friend's note to her it it said "Dear Mrs. Kass, I wish you the best of luck with your life. You are a great person and an amazing parent. you have tought Finn greatly and many tricks that you poses. don't worry about Finn, his dad will take care of him and Sloan when you are sadly gone. I will miss you dearly, it will be weird not seeing you at the house.
The only way to explain Finn's remarkable jump start toward manhood is that the spark of character and kindness is part of the magic of birth, safeguarded in a genetic code. No other way to explain it.
But character has to be put together as carefully as a Rolex, and that starts on the first day of life, held in the security of a mother's arms.
Thanks, mom. Good job.
Marni Kass in 2004
Fred Dickey's home page is freddickey.net. He believes every life is an adventure and welcomes ideas at [email protected]© Copyright 2016 The San Diego Union-Tribune. All rights reserved.