“Mom, none of my friends are free to visit. They are always busy, and I really need to see them, to have someone to talk to.”
This had been a hard day for my fourteen year oldson, Philip. He had been diagnosed with GBM, a stage IV brain cancer, fourteen months prior. We had been told it was terminal, but he kept living his life to the fullest, and with hope, trying every new treatment I could find, even making two, overseas trips to Germany and Israel.
Most days, Phil focused on the positive, keeping up his spirits by attending school; he had been academically gifted. He loved drawing, and won every contest he ever entered, usually drawing favorite animals, such as dogs and horses. He had also drawn the lion and lamb lying down together on the new earth, as depicted in the book of Isaiah, chapter eleven, verse six. He was usually the first to make plans that all his friends could be a part of, and he already had “a special friend,” a sweet girl named Victoria. He was wearing a hospital gown and recovering from brain surgery, when he asked her parents’ permission to have this type of friendship. Surgery scars and missing hair didn’t hold him from his dreams. He had even interviewed for a job, which was to start, as soon as his fifteenth birthday arrived in September. Nothing seemed to stop Philip…except today’s cloud of loneliness.
His disease was progressing, despite two, recent craniotomies, and he seemed to know that life was short. Yet everyone else had their own, uninterrupted lives to live. He had felt too sick from a new chemo regiment to make it to school most days. “Philip, I am so sorry,” I said, wishing desperately that I could fix this broken world, especially my son’s cancer. “I can tell you. Only God will be able to comfort you in your deepest needs.
“Why don’t you go outside to the trampoline, and read your Bible for a bit and pray?” I suggested. After he left, I grabbed my Bible and did a little praying too. It was incredibly painful to watch my son’s life change, while his body deteriorated. I needed comfort myself.
Phil was gone for while, and I was ready to start dinner, when he suddenly reappeared, face glowing. “Mom, God is near me. I was praying for comfort like you told me to do. Then I prayed that God would show that He is near, through one of his creatures. Just then, I thought of a cardinal. When I opened my eyes a red cardinal flew down to a close branch and watched me for about three minutes! This gives me hope. I’m not afraid to die now. God is with me!”
How comforting this incident was to him, me, his brothers and even others who heard him tell his story, including a favorite nurse, after he was readmitted to the hospital. The hope in his voice while sharing it was priceless.
Focusing on Life
A few weeks passed, and with them came more emergency visits, seizures and heart rending MRI scans that showed rapid growth of Phil’s brain tumors. Throughout all of it, Phil chose to focus on life.
Then came a coma, but Phil amazed us all by waking up from it, and coming home from the hospital. He saw friends, went to a memorial service held for a mother of eight, who had died in a car accident. When his younger brother protested “that it will be too depressing,”
Phil responded with, “They need comfort. I want to go. What if no one came to my service?” Later, “Mom, it was so good for me to come and hear this,” referring to the memorial message on heaven.
Phil slipped into another coma. It was important to me to keep him home, so we had assembled a group of nursing friends, in addition to using hospice. However, it was not to be. Hours after slipping into unconsciousness, Phil’s entire body began to seize, and I was unable to access his pic line, which is how he could get his medications. Beyond panicked, I called 911, and then proceeded to give him some rectal meds that I found in the refrigerator. When the ambulance arrived, it was not equipped with seizure medications. Once again, we were headed, code three, to our downtown, children’s hospital. In weariness and shock, I questioned why God would allow more trauma to Phil’s precarious situation.
When I arrived with Phil on oncology, I was met by his admitting nurse, who lingered after the other medical personnel left. I sat down exhausted and heart -weary, and she quietly sat in a nearby chair. After a few minutes, she softly said,” I brought a child to the hospital, who never came home.”
Then with compassion, she answered my halting question, “How did you make it?” Her words did not hold out any false promises, but she assured me that Phil’s spirit would live on in my words and actions, if I chose to live life, in his memory.
The next day was harder. Philip experienced a couple of seizure storms, which took an entire team to handle. How would I ever done this at home, even with help from a nurse? What if I had been alone? Now, I began to see how Phil’s prayer for peace was being answered. I could hug him, kiss him, sing to him and even cry, which wouldn’t have been possible if I had been his main medical caregiver.
With the seizures under control, Phil slept peacefully for two more days. On the fourth day, just as the new day was dawning, Phil passed through heaven’s gates to meet his Savior, Jesus, and to walk on those streets of gold. It was April 13, 2016. The days had been filled with rain and overcast skies, but that day was the beginning of six, gloriously beautiful days of sunshine and vibrant blue, cloudless skies.
With an aching heart, I washed his face one last time, tenderly wrapped him in his favorite white blanket with satin on the edges, kissed his face over and over, and carefully stroked his hair. Then I said my last goodbye, and left him with the hospital chaplain. Mechanically, I found my car, and drove out of the hospital parking garage, as I had done so many times. This time I did not have my dear passenger, nor would I be returning for him.
One Final Goodbye
When I got home, I didn’t want to go inside, so I stayed in the backyard, soaking in the beautiful day in a state of numbness. Finally, I stepped through my front door, afraid to see too many reminders of my beautiful son. The first place I headed was the living room, where Phil had spent his last conscious day.
I sat down on the couch, where I could see through the front window into our large, maple tree. The pale green, spring, leaves were just beginning to unfurl, so every branch was clearly visible. Right then, two birds landed and hopped about on the branch within my view, one a bright male cardinal and the other, his less showy, female counterpart. They kept close to one another for about three minutes before taking flight again.
Yes, Phil and I had been parted, yet here was a visible reminder that a mom and her son are never truly separated in spirit and love. God was near. He would answer my prayers for hope, comfort and peace, just as he had done for my son.
- Lydia Parks