Joanne Palmer: Raising the dead


Joanne Palmer

Joanne Palmer's Life in the 'Boat column appears Wednesdays in the Steamboat Today. Email her at

Find more columns by Palmer here.

When my son was little, he believed he could raise the dead.

Distraught that his grandmother died 10 years before he was born, he matter-of-factly decided he would bring her back to life.

He assumed a Power Ranger stance - feet wide apart, shoulders thrown back, chest puffed out and said, "I'm gonna dig her up with my backhoe and breathe blood back into her veins. Then I'm gonna glue her hair back on. I don't know if I'm powerful enough but I'm gonna try."

I tried to explain she was in a happy place called heaven, but he wasn't buying it. He badgered me to hop the next plane to test his 4-year-old powers at a graveyard in Minnesota.

Dying scares me. It scares me so much that if I think about it - usually at night - I have to turn on all the lights and read until I can go back to sleep. Accepting death, I hope, will be like the concept of French kissing. The first time I heard about it, I swore I'd never do it. Once I got older, it seemed like the natural thing to do. Maybe a time like that will come with regard to dying. At 52, it just doesn't feel like it will be anytime soon.

However when I think about my son dying, the lights are not enough. My throat constricts, my heart races and I have to sit beside his bed and listen to him breathe until I calm down. Every time I drop him off to ski I worry about a crash, a fall that will land him in the hospital. I already know that I'd be one of those in-your-face, top-volume mothers who cause doctors to think about early retirement.

Once, he had to have five stitches removed from his chin. The skin had grown over two stitches and the doctor was struggling to remove them. They put him in a straight jacket type of device so he wouldn't wiggle and gave me two choices: either leave the room or pin him down. The doctor actually suggested I apply my full body weight to hold down my terrified, crying child. I snapped, "That will be a bonding moment!" glared at the doctor and stayed put to hold his hand.

My son articulates his feelings about death better than me. Two years ago, when our dog died, he was the only one who could describe the pain. He immediately said, "It's like a splinter in my mind. It's always there, it always hurts and you can't stop thinking about it."

Until Peter was born, I thought I knew what love was, but, his arrival unlocked a fifth chamber of my heart. This tiny chamber bubbles with a wellspring of fierce unconditional love that's never ending. This love allows me to listen to him sing AC/DC songs in the car, allows my living room to be converted into a Lego laboratory and not to laugh when he complains about his "arch nemesis" at school. This love bursts with pride during mogul competitions and school plays. This makes me choke up on the first day of school as I watch him walk away from the car - a step closer to his future and further away from mine.

My son wasn't totally wrong about his powers, because he brings me back to life every day. He is my silly sidekick who frees me from the deadening world of adult responsibilities and commitments. He makes me laugh, he makes me sing, and he makes me forgo cleaning the house in favor of fishing at Fetcher's pond. He makes me realize that none of us can control how much time we live, but we can control how we live the time we have. And most of all, he is a daily reminder that life, as long as we have it, is immensely worth living.


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