Happy Birthday Cooper!

Reflecting on our journey and what you’ve taught us

I feel selfish sharing joy on social media about Cooper’s birthday the day after his birthday…. 9/11. Especially this year, it being the 20th anniversary. But in my world it’s the 9th anniversary of Cooper’s arrival. It’s 9 years since we were blessed with this baby boy. I’ve finally wrapped my head around his birthday and recent events.

Cooper had a wonderful birthday – friends, flag football, Chick-fil-a, cake, presents – everything a 9 year old would want. He was so happy, and my heart burst watching him buzz around giggling. Last year at this time, not only were visitors something we weren’t doing, but he was still recovering from hip, knee and ankle surgeries. He RAN and RAN and played on Friday without complaining of hip pain. This is exactly what the surgery addressed, and we are grateful he had the opportunity to do it. Looking back, this is probably his greatest birthday yet. He’s mobile and relatively pain free, he has kind and fun friends and I’m not hovering over him like a helicopter batting away hazardous activities for a kid with cervical compression. Now that the neck and hips are fixed, he’s clear to live his best life (within reason!).

Of course I can’t think of Cooper’s birthday and NOT think of what we didn’t know on that day in 2012 – the freight train of a diagnosis and journey that was coming at us.

Earlier this month I was asked to write a letter to my younger self, the day I got news about this boy:

Cooper and I in January 2014

2014 Chris,

You just received Cooper’s diagnosis. There is no cure. Describing this disease, the internet uses terrifying terms like “shortened lifespan”, “skeletal abnormalities” and “malformations”.

Your world is falling apart. And it will feel like that for a LONG time. It’s OK to be sad and mad. Confused. Scared. In this journey you’ll feel more and deeper than you ever thought possible. Talk to friends that want to listen, who are good listeners. Smile and nod to all the folks giving unsolicited advice, then steer clear of them. Your gut will tell you when you hear something that may help. Talk to a therapist. Keep talking to Brian. He’s your rock.

Please know it’s going to be OK. It doesn’t look like it now, because you are a linear thinker and you need to see how two get from point A to point B in everything you do, before you do it. You’re embarking on new way of life. Put your trust in God. You don’t know the overall plan – you never did, and you never will. The quicker you come to the that realization, the better your heart. Let go a bit. You will still be in charge of a shit ton of life and decisions, but let go of the overall plan. Let the plan be flexible. See where life takes Cooper and the family, embrace and adjust to every situation.

You will never again feel the way you did yesterday. You will be on a roller coaster of highs and lows forever. You’ll have a paradigm shift and find a new normal.

The news of Cooper’s diagnosis is going to change every part of your life. Some friends and family are not going to know how to respond. They don’t get it, they never will, and it’s OK. Don’t take it personally. (You’ll learn all about empathy and how that looks different to different people.) But please know that there are new, wonderful, life-changing friends to be made and compassionate people leading organizations that will lift Cooper and the family. Other friends and family will step up in ways you didn’t know you needed.

No one has your exact situation and there are few people in this world who will go through what you are going through. You’ll find those people and they will be part of your new tribe.

You have all the skills to take this head on. Organization, clear communication, and mama-bear compassion. Please take care of yourself. Fill your bucket – exercise regularly, get your nails done, spend time with your tribe and get away occasionally.

Welcome to your journey to a new, stronger you. God chose you for Cooper. Go live your truth.

Love,

2021 Chris

I wonder what I’ll be writing to the 2021 Chris in 2030?

But let’s deal with 2021. Yesterday Cooper asked me how to spell “disease”. I spelled it out for him and watched what he was Googling. “Rare Disease Flag Football”. He wants to play in a flag football league with kids like him – his size, his speed, his age, his agility. My heart sank. You don’t fit Cooper. Your friends, friend’s parents and family make you fit in – but out there – you don’t fit. At least for playing some sports. I’ll tell you where you do fit – your heart, your humor, your passion. There are places you fit naturally. For example we are excited to announce that Cooper will be a Patient Ambassador for Children’s Hospital Colorado in 2022-23! Did you hear him on the Dawgpod? He was natural there too.

Cooper, Smalls and Cappy recording episode 8 of the Dawgpod.

This weekend, Cooper, Velocity and I attended a fundraising event for Canine Companions. I loved watching Coop chat with volunteers and donors about his Service Dog Velocity. People seemed surprised when Cooper shared that he was 9 years old. But his conversation and sense of humor showed he was wise beyond his years. I made sure he knew how proud of him I am that he is such a fabulous ambassador for Canine Companions.

Cooper and Velocity hiding from raindrops under the picnic table

We’ll play your strengths and continue “Cooper-sizing” the things you want to do, Cooper. We love you. Happy birthday. Keep showing us the way.

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