Today was the Terry Fox Run at my son’s school. He has just started Kindergarten this year so his first introduction to Terry Fox was through a video and a run around the schoolyard. When he came home from school, I asked him what he had learned about Terry Fox. His answer made me smile: Terry Fox got his leg cut off because he had alimony and he didn’t like that. Harris then explained to me that alimony was a type of cancer. For the life of me, I cannot figure out what word was used on the video that sounded like alimony.
When I went to tuck Harris in to bed, he had tears in his eyes. When I quizzed him on what was the matter he responded that he “missed Terry Fox.” We had a long conversation about cancer, and although I did my best not to cry, I cried too. My dad, Harris’ grandfather, died of cancer when I was a teenager. Our beloved dog succumbed this summer to the disease. A good friend of mine from University lost her young son who was Harris’ age to cancer not long ago. How could I reassure my son that everything would be okay when deep inside I was full of fears and questions? There’s no easy answer, and I didn’t have an easy answer for Harris either. I was reminded of Terry Fox’s own words: That’s the thing about cancer. I’m not the only one. It happens all the time to people. I decided to focus my discussion with Harris on the basics–I didn’t shy away when he asked what kind of cancer each person had, I offered to bring him to the grave site where my father is buried, I reiterated how brave Terry Fox had been when faced with adversity and that because of him more money than ever is being raised for cancer research.
After Harris went to bed, I got out a couple of my books on Terry Fox and did some more research. I read Terry’s words which reassured me that perhaps I had taken the right tactic with Harris: I broke it down. Get that mile down, get to that sign, get past the corner and around that bend. I didn’t have to answer all of Harris’ questions at once. I just needed to focus on his needs in that moment.
I was in Grade 1 when Terry Fox died. I remember having a special assembly in school about it and not really comprehending the significance. I wasn’t sure if it was a person who had died or a fox. I did know that somehow it was an important moment in time. I just didn’t realize how big that moment was or for how many people. I think Canada’s Prime Minister at the time, Pierre Elliott Trudeau said it best when he addressed the House of Commons: It occurs very rarely in the life of a nation that the courageous spirit of one person unites all people in the celebration of his life and in the mourning of his death … We do not think of him as one who was defeated by misfortune but as one who inspired us with the example of the triumph of the human spirit over adversity.
It’s been over 30 years since Terry Fox began his Marathon of Hope, and each fall when I see the schoolchildren running by I can’t help but think of all the promise and hope that Terry Fox gave not only to Canada, but to the world. I am glad that Harris will continue to learn about Terry Fox each year and I hope that, like his mother, his understanding and appreciation of this Canadian hero will evolve and deepen over time.
If you’d like to read more about Terry Fox, I highly recommend the following, especially Douglas Coupland’s book:
Coupland, Douglas. Terry. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 2005. Print.