On August 16, 1986, our 4 year old son, Phillip, was diagnosed with leukemia. From that very moment our lives changed, never again to be the same, not for us nor our children. We spent the next year in and out of St. Jude's Hospital watching a very courageous little boy endure the pains and struggles of childhood cancer. At the same time, Phillip had a zest for life which gave us tremendous strength and courage. When Phillip was diagnosed he had an eight year old sister who was in his words "my best friend" and a one week old baby sister that he already adored.
Phillip died one year later on August 7, 1987, at St. Jude's Hospital. The feelings and emotions that we've had to deal with since his death have been so intense and so consuming that it's difficult to find words to describe; however, those of you who have lost a child can well understand.
During the next couple of days which followed, though in an unknown state of shock, we managed to plan Phillip's funeral, make the decisions that had to be made, and visit with the many friends and family that came to support us. There were so many family and friends who did so very much for us, we cannot imagine how it might have been without their help and support. The weeks that followed, were somehow now filled with desperate feelings of loneliness and isolation. The family and friends were still there, but the pain within felt so deep and unmanageable that we were not sure how we were ever going to cope and manage our family and our lives again. It seemed to take all the strength we could muster to give to our girls. How could we ever expect to be happy or joyful again? One of our precious children had died.
Just a few weeks after Phillip died, we were introduced to a support group for parents who had lost a child(ren). The group was Compassionate Friends and met in Lafayette once a month. We reluctantly went to this group out of desperation. We didn't know how to cope and we were hurting so much, we were willing to try almost anything that might give us some relief - some hope for our future and for our children's.
It is now very clear to us that during Phillip's illness, and in the weeks and months that followed his death, God carried us through our pain and struggles. We very often felt angry with God and felt abandoned by him for allowing this tragedy. We were spiritually confused with unanswered "Why's." But as time began to move along, we, too, began taking some forward steps on the journey towards a new life - a new normal life. (We wanted the old life, but eventually began to accept the fact that we would never again have things as they once were).
God could not return to us what we so very much wanted, but He did allow us to learn and grow from our tragedy. It is our belief that God does not cause tragic events in our lives, but He does allow them to happen. It is part of the price we pay for the freedom God has given us.
In time we began to know how God was going to help us survive. Through the love, support, and prayers of our family and friends, through the many books we read on the grief process and the Compassionate Friends Support Group, we've learned not only to survive, but also to live again. Through the help of these resources, we came to recognize that the feelings of anger and isolation, the loneliness and desperation, the feelings of being stripped of self confidence as a parent were all very normal and that we were not going crazy.
We've come to know and understand that grief is a journey that can either cripple, or become a time of growth spiritually and emotionally. We have come a very long way on our journey through grief - and for that we give thanks to God. We also are clearly aware that for the rest of our lives we must continue living through the lifelong losses that come with the death of a child. We know we will continue to feel the loss of Phillip's not being there for the first day of school, not being there to graduate from high school with those who were his friends, not being a part of his sisters" lives, not knowing his new little sister in the family, or not ever becoming our adult son. Although we continue to hurt and miss Phillip, we have also been able to accept, to adjust, to live again, and to laugh again.
We will always, always miss Phillip not being here as a part of our earthly life, but our faith in God's promise of eternal life and happiness allows us to have Phillip in our lives spiritually every moment of every day. It is this assurance that has allowed us to re-create a new normal life for us and our now three daughters. We've come to create a balance to our lives, one that has both the joys and struggles of life. Through God's blessings and our continuing journey through grief we've learned to live and to laugh again. May you too learn to live again and laugh again one day at a time.