Tag Archives: children of parents with a terminal illness

Good news to share and one proud mama

So this story has its beginning over a year ago, while I was recovering from my first bout with liver toxicity.

Although I am well acquainted with my own mortality, generally I feel as if I am viewing it from a reasonable distance. At times that distance has been measured in months but generally I am confident that I’ve got another year or two (and I reset the clock every morning).

However, in the days following the precipitous rise of my liver enzymes, I had to acknowledge that my continued existence is potentially rather tenuous. And I put myself into then fourteen year old Peter’s shoes. I imagined what life would be like for him not only without a mother, but living alone with a father who spends a good deal of time on the road. I realized that it was necessary to, somehow, someway, beef up his support system.

Several months later I was on a plane to Colorado for my thirty-fifth high school reunion. Seated next to me were a mother and daughter. The young woman, name Sarah, was a student at Phillips Exeter Academy and she was flying home to the west coast for summer break. The three of us began to talk, and soon I was asking Sarah all sorts of questions. I was so impressed by her intelligence and poise, and by the fact that she portrayed Phillips Exeter as such a supportive community.

I realized that boarding school might well provide the haven I was seeking for our son.

Soon thereafter Peter and I began the process of applying to private school. And what a process it was. We visited seven campuses and each did eight interviews. Peter took the PSAT’s and SSAT’s. Ultimately we narrowed the field to five excellent schools; all within two hours of our home. With applications due in January, crunch time coincided with the switch-up of my treatment. But, and I’m going to repeat myself—somehow, someway, we did it. Applications, short essays, transcripts and letters of recommendation. All in by the deadline.

On March 9th there were two thin letters at the post office. Peter had been waitlisted at Deerfield Academy and St. Pauls. We held our breath. And then he opened an email—he’d been accepted to Phillips Exeter Academy, which, frankly, is one of the best private schools in the world.

The email (which included a very fun video) was followed by an acceptance packet with a personalized letter (kudos to the marketing department at PEA). If I may quote:

“This year, we admitted only a fraction of particularly interesting students from a large and extremely talented pool of candidates–you should be proud of your selection. The Admissions Committee was impressed by your intellectual curiosity and compassion for others, along with the strength of your recommendations and your academic record at Academy for Science And Design.”

And then: “Exeter’s classes next fall will include many outstanding young people from more than 23 countries and nearly all of the 50 states…Your class could include an award-winning traditional Hawaiian dancer…an acclaimed poet and bee-keeper…and, we hope (this is in reference to Peter) a budding engineer from Amherst who is an ESL teacher for political refugees, an avid reader and talented writer, and a freshwater fish-keeping aficionado.”

To say we are excited is an understatement. There is a lot to figure out yet, and financially, this will create new challenges. For Peter, it is the opening up of a fresh world of possibilities. The opportunity to live in a community (he will board), to engage in a plethora of extracurricular activities, to make new friends, all while getting the best education possible.

Of course, even as my heart sings, there is a heaviness. We will see much less of this child we adore, as his new school will become a second family. But that’s okay—as they say, sometimes it takes a village.

A couple of days ago I got back in touch with Sarah, the young woman from the plane. And I told her how a chance encounter had become so much more. Sarah-ndipity, if you will.

Post-it note that was affixed to the door of Peter's bedroom for six months

Post-it note that was affixed to the door of Peter’s bedroom for six months