Monday, November 24, 2008

This week last year

Well, it has been a year now since we found out Joseph had a brain tumor. It was this week last year, Thanksgiving was over and we had come home to Atlanta. All week Joseph had this strange head tilt that kind of came and went. He was always so quirky that I just attributed it to him being silly or something. I honestly was not worried one bit about it. He also had been a bit off balance, but that also didn't worry me since he was always a little clumsy. I could tell Allen was worried but was trying not to show it. He had checked his eyes to see if he had a reflex and his left eye did not blink at all when he flicked his finger in front of it. When he showed me that I became extremely worried. We took him to the pediatrician who was not sure what was going on, but referred me to an opthamologist. I was planning to bring him there on Thursday. But on Tuesday night Allen came home from work early (he was supposed to work all night at the hospital) and said his attending doctor recommended we bring Joseph in first thing the next morning for an MRI. I was pretty worried at this point, but Joseph was so happy and normal in so many other ways that I just couldn't comprehend that anything serious could be wrong.

That afternoon, before Allen went in to work, I had gone to Starbucks (something I did regularly whenever Allen was home and I needed a breather) and called my sister while I had some coffee. I was relaying to her what was going on and that we were going to take Joseph to the opthamologist. At this point I don't think we had decided to take him for an MRI. Anyway, about halfway through my conversation, a sweet lady who had been sitting beside me got up to leave. As she walked by, she dropped a little note onto the table and smiled at me. It read "I will be praying for your son." I couldn't believe it. It stunned me that I had been speaking that loudly (oops) for her to hear everything, and that what I had said prompted her to pray. This was my first inkling that something was wrong. I just felt it.

The next morning, we woke up the kids at 6:00 and headed to the E.R. While Joseph was in getting his MRI, I received a phone call from our dear friend B.J., who was calling to see if I would check in on his wife, who had recently lost her baby. I wasn't going to tell anyone we were in the hospital until we knew what was going on, but I felt like I needed to explain why I couldn't call to check on my dear friend who needed me. I think he was on his way to work, but he said, "I'm coming right over there. I know Allen is going to tell me not to, but tell him I'm coming." I realized at that point how scared I was, because I really was grateful he was coming to offer us some moral support. I had a feeling our world was about to come crumbling down and neither of us were prepared for it. I remember both Allen and I saying, "But it could be nothing; We'd hate for you to come all the way over here for no reason." But, God must have given him insight as well, because he came right over and waited with us.

When they wheeled Joseph back into our little waiting room, he was still asleep. I remember feeling like I might be sick. Then the doctor came in, who happened to be a man whose child Allen had taught when he taught 5th grade. We had house/babysat for their family when they were out of town and they had gone to our church for a while. We were so thankful to have someone we knew and trusted to give us this news. I still remember it as though I was watching someone else. The words were registering in my head; I could comprehend what he was saying--it just didn't seem real. How could there be a large mass in Joseph's head? How could it "probably be cancer"? How did they know that? I remember saying, "But, he's so little." Cancer happened to older people, not to children, not to my child. Then a few moments later I went outside to get some fresh air and cry.

Those few days, while horrific, were also such encouraging and sweet days. We could never have expected this news, but we also could never have expected the outpouring of love we received from friends and family and the community at Emory. Joseph got balloons and stickers, toys, treats, McDonald's, Moe's, cars, trains, all his favorite things. I still remember when all the aunts and uncles and grandparents showed up at his hospital room that he probably felt like he was the most special child in the world. Everyone was there to see him and love him and make sure he had everything he needed. We are so thankful for all the many, many people who served us and loved us and supported us during that critical week (and the ensuing months).

I recently read an article about a family in Ireland who lost their son to a brain tumor. They had no indication that he was seriously ill. They thought he had gotten a stomach bug, and after a few days of him not getting better they took him into the hospital. He went into a coma that day and died from the tumor that had grown so big without their knowledge. After reading that article, I realized how that could have been our story. If Allen had not noticed the serious issues with Joseph and if the doctors at Emory had not taken him seriously and gotten us in there quickly, we could have bounced around from opthamologist to neurologist before anyone thought it might be a brain tumor. There are so many people I have met at St. Jude's who said it took them months to figure out their child had cancer. I think in our case we wouldn't have had months and it would have been too late. So, I'm so thankful the Lord gave us 9 more months with him and that we got to see him grow up some more, really enjoy life and really enjoy spending time with grandparents and cousins and our family that loved him so much.

So, this Thanksgiving I'm thankful for my family I have here with me. I'm thankful for the four wonderful years of life I got to spend with Joseph and all the wonderful and special memories we have with him. I'm also thankful for the many ways God supported us and provided for us throughout this journey. I can honestly say I'm not scared of much anymore. Well, I guess I don't fear things as much because I feel like if we can get through this, then we can probably get through other things. To say I miss him just doesn't cover it. But his life has influenced me and Allen and Holly, and our family will always include Joseph. He is always on our minds and in our conversation and we regularly quote "Josephisms." Holly still imitates him and wants to be like him. I hope that never changes.

I'm still processing everything that has happened. One thing I'm learning, though, is that it really is best to be thankful for what you have. It can always go away. I could be bitter and angry that I don't have Joseph anymore, but what would that do for anyone? I have Holly, a wonderful husband, a sweet new doggy, an absolutely amazing family, and the sweetest friends in the world. I really am blessed. I think we all are in different ways. We just don't always recognize it.

51 comments:

Anonymous said...

From an unknown friend in Texas who has kept up with your blog along this journey, I thank you for this post. I still continue to pray for your family daily. May God grant you peace and happiness and comfort and everything else that our good God gives. May you and your family have a very blessed Thanksgiving.~~ a friend in Texas......

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your story. You make me hug my children tighter, be more patient with them, play with them more instead of doing my "stuff". You have made me thank God for them every day in a way I never had before reading your story a few months ago. I am so sorry for your incredible loss. Thank you for allowing God to use your story in my life.
Nicole

Jennifer said...

What a wonderful and well written post. I will be praying for you & Allen & Holly over Thanksgiving. I am so thankful for you as a sis-in-law, and for being such a great mom to Joseph & Holly (and for letting me 'copy' so many of your ideas)... Joe will always be a part of our whole big family and he is sorely and dearly missed. I love you.

Anna Tester said...

Sweet Friend I am so thankful for you. You have ministered and encouraged so many of us. Sending great big hugs and kisses to you and all of your family.xxxooo

Sam said...

Gill,
thanks for being a great sister and momma. I often forget to be thankful for those wonderful moments God gave us with JoeP during the nine months following his diagnosis. I'll be praying for you and Al and Holly (never ceases to provide as many laughs as her older brother did).

sambo

Kate Etue said...

You're amazing, Gillian... Let's get together soon...

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your heart, Gillian.
I pray for you often as you fall into your grief rather than fight it. Joseph's life is so honored by the way you are choosing to live and embrace life as you are missing him.

I am thankful for you!
Gina Butterfield

Heinzfeet said...

I never cease to be amazed at the depth and the richness of what is coming out of your soul. Thank you for putting it into words so that we all might benefit.

I've been thinking about you so much this week. I remember you guys coming over last year at T-giving and watching Will and Joseph ride Adeline's Barbie Jeep up over that giant exercise ball in the yard. Joseph just laughed his head off and we thought they were going to flip over. I remember his adorable little outfit your Mother-in-law had just bought him and how he was wearing sandals when it was 30 degrees outside.

We all remember him and love you guys so much!

suzanne morris said...

Thank you for reminding us to be grateful for what we have or had instead of being bitter over what we want and don't have.
Larry was so glad to spend some time with Allen recently. Wish we could have seen you too.
We love you guys!

juliette said...

Gillian and Allen,
We have been thinking of you all this week. I woke up this morning with you all on my heart and mind. We pray for you this holiday season. I know it will be comforting to be with your wonderful and loving families. We love you both and sweet Holly.
Juliette and J.R.

Anonymous said...

Once again, your words are so inspirational. We hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving with your family.

Love, Kelly and Glen Iannucci :)

Phil said...

It seems like such a long, long, short, short time ago. I'm so glad to have known Joseph. I love you guys.

Anonymous said...

I am in my office at school and just heard "Held" on K-Love streaming through my computer. That song always makes me think of you guys now. You have been in my thoughts and prayers even more this week just remembering the significance of this time last year. You and your family continue to be an inspiration to so many. Thank you for sharing your heart once again.

Ellen Fulghum

Katy said...

Thanks for the post. You have such a great way with words and I am thankful that you are willing to share. My kids still ask about Joesph, and Lilla in particular asks if she will get to meet him in heaven one day.

Laura Matthews said...

I'm a friend of J's back in Memphis and I just want you to know that I'm thinking of y'all this week...

Jenn said...

May god bless you with peace and happiness.

Margaret said...

It has been heavy on my mind this week- flashing back to standing in the baggage claim of the airport with emails streaming in on my PDA and one with a subject line 'Joseph' and the immediate chill that went through me. There are some memories that will always feel like yesterday and that is one of them.
You are so amazing to lift us all up with your perspective on Thanksgiving. I know I am thankful that Joseph was part of our life and I am thankful for our friendship and feel blessed to know your family.
It was a blessing to have that cherished time with Joseph and to not take for granted a single second of his sweet smile, silly laugh and mischevious grin.
He has touched all of us to live a fuller life and that is something to be truly thankful for!

Wright Family said...

We have been thinking and praying for you this week as we remembered last November. You continue to encourage and challenge me. Your love and trust in Jesus is so obvious. Praying for you all this week...
rebekah wright

Anonymous said...

Thankful for the Spirit who is leading you slowly through this - praying for you guys so much.

Anonymous said...

A beautiful post, Gillian. I admire you and your family so much.

Love to you guys,

Catherine Morris

Sarah-Jane said...

I hate that I check your blog at least 5 times a day to read new comments, and then have someone call me to ask me something about your new blog entry, or to ask if you have become a seamstress:)
I remember you calling me to pray for Joseph's eyes and his balance. I also remember thinking it was nothing at all. I also remember the phonecall on Wednesday, Mom, telling me about the tumor. Eli also remembers it and talked about it the other day. I didn't really believe Mom, I kept asking , "are you sure". That was a hard day, and so scary.
I am also so thankful for 9 months to really get to know and fall in love with my sweet nephew. I am so glad that Bella-Claire, Eli and Deacon got to know him so well, and really love him. I am so thankful for you and Allen who have been so honest in your pain and anger, and yet so faithful to trusting God and his love for you. It has ministered to me more than anything.
I am thankful that Joseph is with Jesus, his healer and savior and is way happier than any of us here are. It doesn't take away the pain here, but it gives me lots of relief and hope.
I love you all so much.

jody (atlanta) said...

Thanks for the latest post and this blog. I admit I find myself coming to it AT LEAST once a day and just re-reading old posts and comments and looking at the pictures. It helps me feel closer to you.

As my 'rambling' message to you earlier indicated...I am thinking of you all even more this week and time of year. Your insight, words of comfort and honesty always just touch me so.

I am thankful to God for bringing you into my life and your family. We miss Joseph so and look forward to making more memories with you, Allen, Holly in the years to come.

I LOVE YOU AND MISS YOU GILLIAN!!!

Happy Thanksgiving.

Sissy Kimbrell said...

Gillian,
Thank you for your beautiful post. You truly are a living light for many. Your strength and encouragement amaze me. We continue to pray for your family, especially during this season. Thank you for sharing it all. I am truly blessed by you and your family.
Peace be with you!
Sissy

Anonymous said...

What a blessing to read your incredible words.
All our love,
Mel & Steve and family

The Morginskys said...

gillian, thanks so much for sharing this. how scary those first moments must have been and for those fears to be realized and still hear you praise the Lord. what a testimony. i love you.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing with us and making everyone aware of how much we have to be thankful for. Ya'll have been in our thoughts and our prayer is that God will fill you with his peace. Love, Karl and Martha

Dando said...

I just wanted to let you know that your little boy has impacted my life more than I could explain. I am friends with Matt and Jennifer and I followed his story for a long time. Because of Joseph I decided to raise support for my first marathon (The Memphis / St. Jude Marathon) and I am close to raising $1,000 for my race on December 6, all because of Joseph. I have a picture printed out of him I will carry with me to remind me why I am running. My prayers continue to be with you and your family.
Kevin

Jean Joiner said...

Gil,
What a tough "look back" this must be for you. I'll be praying for you guys. Thanks for your words.
Love,
Jean

Abbie said...

Gillian,
I read your post yesterday and I've been thinking about it ever since.
There's a Sara Groves song called Kingdom Comes--I love it.
Your post (and your perspective) call to mind the lyrics of that song.
Listen to it when you have the chance.

He is building His kingdom. Thank you for being such a powerful reminder of that to me.

trmills said...

Thanks for all that you shared, Gill. It was lovely to read, and incredible to consider all that this year has held. We have so much to give God thanks for, even as we walk through this life full of sorrow and joy. Thank you for that beautiful reminder this morning. Happy Thanksgiving and love to you all.

Chloe said...

I saw a french film this week called Lets Talk About the Rain.
What initially seemed a farce about a bunch of self obsessed Frenchies, turned out to be a tender look at one of the fatal human flaws – which is that so often we search beyond what we are and have for completion. The sad realization in the film was that each person had what he or she needed all along. Simplistic because due to the constraints of cinema, all their realizations coincided, and sad, because of the time that had passed where they were searching instead of enjoying and cherishing.

Gill, thanks for your blog, I remember this week so well last year. I am still shocked by the news.

Keep your open heart. It is a valuable asset an inspiration.

Love Chloe xxx

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your words. The note from the total stranger - that spoke volumes. You are on our hearts and in our prayers all the time. Just this week we received a card from St. Jude saying a donation had been made in memory of Joseph. It made us cry and then it made us thankful that another child might receive help and healing. We love you.
Kissells

Anonymous said...

I'll never forget Pauline phoning this time last year and my shock and disbelief. Thinking about you all the time especially now it's nearly Thanksgiving and Christmas.
What a beautiful post Gillian.
Love you Allen and Holly
Ann Ben & the boys xx

Anonymous said...

i absolutely love your blog. you continue to make us think, and in this case really be grateful and remember the things we should be thankful for, not just this time of the year, but everyday. Happy thxgiving, please give the carter kids a hug for me too.
-the shims.

Anonymous said...

Oh man. This makes me cry. I remember this time. You had just gotten on facebook, and were going crazy on it, and I was so happy to have made contact with you and Allen after so much time. Paige and I were looking forward to going on a triple date with you and Phil/SJ over the break, and then I heard from Jennifer what was going on. I kept watching your facebook page status bar to see what was going on.

Your interpretation of the time is fully of spiritually-enriched insight. It is gracious of God to have let you discover the cancer so quickly. What a journey the last year was as a result. From your blog, Paige and I could tell what a wonderful last year Joseph had, relatively speaking. In economics, I'm always stressing about the counter-factual - what would've happened had this policy not been in my place? What would have happened had this not happened, etc. You're doing the same thing. Had God not given Allen the idea that something was clearly wrong, and had so many other links in the chain not fell into place, then the counter-factual would've been more suffering for everyone, and less time with Joseph. That is not nothing. I can only imagine that it is actually a tremendous amount, in fact, for you, but also for Joseph. It was used by God to shape his character, make him more like Christ, and bring him glory where he waits with the Lord and the saints for the rest of us.

God bless you this Thanksgiving. Thank you for your thankfulness, too.

-scott cunningham

Christy said...

You all have come to mind so much lately, even more than usual. Thank you for being thankful. We miss all 4 of you mucho.

Randi said...

Praying, Gillian. Love you all and bidding you peace.
Randi

Siobhan said...

I am thankful for what I have, which I know is ALOT. And I am so grateful to you for sharing your journey so I can more aware & more thankful.

Thinking of you all
Siobhan

Sara Beth said...

I am so thankful for you. Thanks for sharing this journey. Each step has been encouraging and convicting.
I love you!
sb

The Johnson Kids said...

so beautifully said. Thank you for putting Thanksgiving in perspective for all of us. Hearing stories of Joseph keep him close to all of us. You are such an amazing family and such an inspiration to every mom and dad. Will keep you in our prayers as always.

Kelly said...

I'm so glad to read that you're thankful. How easy it would be for you to be angry and bitter about having to give up your precious son. I've miscarried a few babies and while I never got to hold them and love them like you did Joseph I still struggle with not always being content and thankful for the one child I do have. Your post was a great reminder that no matter our circumstance there is always something to be grateful for. Thank you for continuing to share your story.

Q's NEWS said...

Truer words have never been spoken. I dont remember exactly whose blog...I think maybe someone named Boothe.....that brought me to your blog but I am so thankful. Your words are more inspiring than you could know. Every time I come to your blog, the picture of Joseph at the beginning always takes my breath away. And I still can't go to Target. It is amazing to me how profoundly people you have never met can impact you forever in a split second. Always know you and your family are never far from my thoughts and prayers.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Susan in WV

Brea said...

Gillian,

Your perspective on your loss continues to amaze me. Thank you for the reminder to cherish each day and each gift we are given. I know that you guys are able to live a life without regret because you cherished each day that Joseph was with you, and you continue to cherish the gift of children and one another.

We are continuing to pray for you.

Love,
Brea

Courtney said...

Thank you for who you are and how you share your life to encourage others and honor the Lord. I never tire of reading what you have to say. You're so genuine and honest and always drive me to the Lord.

-Courtney S.

sumi said...

Thanks for sharing with us. It is so evident in your story, as it is in mine, that God's mercy and grace and kindness never fails.

Hugs and prayers from a mommy who understands...

Sumi

Anonymous said...

You strengthen my faith. Your words took my breath away. It's such an honor to see what God has done for you and the strength He has given you and Allen. I pray that He will continue to bring your family peace and hope for the future.

Anonymous said...

thank you for sharing this...

Sue said...

Your writing is so beautiful and your faith and positive attitude are inspiring. You and your family are in my prayers. I followed Joseph's story for many months and I have been checking for updates. I have definitely been convicted of not appreciating the blessings I do have - thank you.

Supabloggasuprememama said...

Bless you and your sweet, sweet family. I just came across your blog through Boothe, and your story is heartbreaking, but your outlook inspiring. I just can't imagine, and I am praying for your family!

Audrey said...

praying for you right now.

audrey

Tracey said...

I've been thinking about you all very much recently and your post reminded me of all the details that day and the weeks following. We've been talking about Jesus' birthday lately (like Holly, Landon is trying to connect all the Santa, Christmas, Jesus information) and out of the blue Landon asked me if his friend Joseph would be going to Jesus' birthday party. The questions of children amaze me. I told him that yes, Joseph would be enjoying the most wonderful birthday party ever.
We miss Joe and we miss you guys. Thanks for allowing us to remember with you. And, thanks for the beautiful post.
love,
Tracey