To lose a child is to lose a piece of yourself. Barb Bos knows this all too well.
Darren was Barb’s youngest child. He excelled at school, winning multiple academic awards in the early grades. He mastered the game of chess by age 6 and showed a precocious talent for guitar by age 10. By all measures, he was a bright, happy and healthy child.
By grade 10, however, Darren began skipping school. At first, Barb chalked it up to typical teenage (mis)behaviour, but when he began spending full days in his room strumming his guitar, she started worrying that that he was experimenting with drugs. Just six months after the strange behaviour started, Darren quit school and left his part-time job.
At 17, Darren was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. He spent the next four years in and out of a mental health facility at the Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria, while physicians tried to find a cocktail of medications that would calm his confused mind. Eventually, much to Darren and Barb’s relief, they were successful. Slowly but surely, Darren reintegrated into the community. He found work, lived on his own and had a girlfriend. He even saved enough money to purchase a motorcycle. When Darren was 24 he decided to move to Ontario to reconnect with some family and make a fresh start. He got a job immediately and enrolled in night school to complete his high school diploma. Barb was ecstatic; Darren’s life was finally falling into place.
Sadly, unbeknownst to Barb, Darren began experiencing profound pain and loss of motor skills in his arms and hands. He was admitted to hospital while doctors attempted to diagnose the source of the pain. A rare form of cancer called germ cell tumour was discovered in his chest near his heart. The cancer had spread into his lymph nodes and wound through his rib cage and spine. He started chemotherapy immediately.
A few months later, Darren called his mom to share the news of his diagnosis. He sounded happy and upbeat, and even joked about losing his rock star hair. Barb offered to come for a visit, but Darren declined, convincing her that the cancer treatment was working well. Then the phone calls suddenly stopped. For about six months, Barb lost contact with Darren. He had stopped taking his schizophrenia medication. In his confused state, Darren tried to get to Victoria by boarding a bus, but ended up in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario instead. Scared and delusional, with no money or possessions, he stole a car and was promptly arrested and incarcerated for 30 days. When he was released, Darren once again attempted to get to Victoria.
After months with no contact, Barb received a call that Darren had been picked up in the Victoria Inner Harbour, acting strangely and threatening people. He was taken to a local mental health facility for psychiatric evaluation, where doctors tried to piece together his medical history and needs, but it was a challenging process; it had been three years since Darren left and much had happened since then.
Over the next couple of months, Darren received treatment for his mental illness, as well as radiation for his cancer, which was progressing. In July, he was finally able to go home to live with his mom. They spent every day together, logging every opportunity for quality time after so many years apart. Both musicians, they would jam as often as they could—Barbara on piano, Darren on guitar. He made his mom promise to “keep playing after I’m gone.”
As the cancer progressed, Victoria Hospice’s Palliative Response Team (PRT) began to care for him, with a nurse also coming to give him a weekly injection for his schizophrenia. A hospital bed was placed in the dining room next to a large window, so he could see outside, feel the fresh air and not have to climb the stairs to his room.
As the end drew near for Darren, his breathing became laboured. At the recommendation of the PRT, Barb transferred her son to Victoria Hospice’s Inpatient Unit for more advanced palliative care. Upon his arrival, Darren rallied a little. He played his guitar (which now hangs on the wall in Hospice for anyone to use) and said his farewells to close friends and family.
In their last moments together, Barb expressed her sorrow at his situation. Darren said, “Mom, all I wanted when I got sick was to find my way back home to you. The hard part is done.”
Darren died on October 17 at the age of 28.
After his passing, Barb fell into a deep state of mourning and depression. She has few memories of the following weeks. She became unaware of time and was unable to complete even the most basic tasks of daily living. She had no desire to be with family or friends; people would reach out to invite her over and she thought, “Why would I want to come for dinner? How is a dinner supposed to fix this huge hole in my heart?”
With the help of Hospice bereavement counsellors, Barb began to pour out her grief on paper, writing in great detail and with tremendous clarity the experience of caring for her son. For Barb, writing was the only way that she could even begin to move through the intense grief she experienced following the loss of Darren. Her journals have been carefully saved, including her last letter to Darren commending him for his accomplishments and bravery, and expressing her love.