In the last two weeks I have received two texts from two families telling me that two new cancer children are in heaven.
It’s two too many.
The texts read the same.
“He is in heaven.”
“She is in heaven.”
They were both expected, the first more promptly than the last. Even still. I’ve been grappling with how you can ever receive such a text, much less two, expected or not.
The first text was about Kamden Dean. The sweet, almost six year old, boy passed away after a fierce battle with an aggressive brain cancer. His family connected to ours through Joshua and his men’s group.
Kamden’s uncle, Eric, is a dear friend of Joshua. There was a season some 10 years ago when Beau was a baby that we spent a bunch of our time with Eric and his wife, Lara. Their kids were tweens, ours was a baby and it felt like, surely, we had nothing but time.
But you all know how things go. With six kids between us and 17 years between their oldest and our youngest, our lives were whirlwinds in opposite directions. So Joshua and Eric would connect weekly at men’s group, and Lara and I would give brief, meaningful hugs in the church lobby.
That was until Beau was diagnosed. Cancer has a way of distilling down everything into only what’s meaningful. Friends stepping up to support you as everything falls to pieces.
Days after diagnosis, we sat in our hospital room as Beaudin came slowly out of the anesthesia from his port placement surgery. I remember wondering if he would ever wake-up, like ever, because I had never seen my child medically asleep. I have now seen him in this slow wake-up some 20+ times, I’ve lost count. Somehow it only gets easier and somehow it never does. But for that first time, I looked across the bed and out the window and wondered how the conversation would go when the nurse came in to break the news that he was not asleep, but dead. I checked his pulse on repeat, stared at his chest to see if it rose. There was not much light at the end of this tunnel.
That’s when the door opened. It was Eric and Lara and they had tacos.
We sat down to eat a proper meal for what felt like the first time in weeks. Huddled around the hospital room couch, Eric told a funny story about raising teen daughters and how it was bumping up against the ends of him and we all chuckled. The laughter followed quickly by silence; all of us wondering if finding laughter in this space was irreverent. In the silent lull, we each looked over at Beau, still deeply asleep. We were all wondering how this would end, if Beau would get to be a teen that bumped up against the ends of us. The silence lingered as Eric gave a slow smile and put his hand on Joshua’s back, “We’ll get there,” he said.
A couple days later Eric and Lara returned to visit us with their son, Mason, who was a high school baseball star- the accuracy of that title based mainly on Beaudin’s deep adoration of him. Mason gifted Beaudin with a new baseball glove. Inpatient for 2 weeks, the glove never left his bedside. The day that two Colorado Rockies players paid a visit to our hospital room and inquired about it, Beaudin explained that it was given to him by “one of the best players there is, actually.” The glove acted as a beacon of hope that, surely, this all would end and something as childish as little league would be ours soon enough.
Eric and Lara cared deeply for us during that shitty season, and we checked the box for them of pediatric cancer. Not to insinuate that is why they cared for us so well, but just to highlight that surely, surely, surely we all thought this would be as close as they’d get to pediatric cancer. I was glad to check the box for them. (I’m glad to check the box for all of you.) We are in the pits of this hell, may as well check everyone’s boxes. If this is as close as you ever have to get to pediatric cancer, you’re welcome.
That’s how it works, right?
Eric and Lara, do you know someone with pediatric cancer? Check, Beaudin.
Surely that would be as close as it would get. And it was.
Until last summer.
In June of 2021, Eric and Lara’s nephew, Kamden, was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of brain cancer. The prognosis was less than ideal. If Beaudin and Leukemia were the “good cancer”, then what Kam had was…the opposite. Kamden fought through many rounds of chemo, multiple stem cell rescue procedures, and endless radiation. And despite all these hard treatments, this sweet little 5 year old boy was still silly, vibrant, and most of all, smiling.
And Eric and Lara kept smiling too. Despite being tormented with what this meant for Kam’s future, they walked their family through this last season with smiles and laughter. Just as they had done for us. Any time Lara sent me an update it started with thankfulness and praise and ended with hope.
This February, Kamden’s family received the gutting news that the treatments had not done what they needed to do. Despite Kam being strong and full of soul, the cancer would not retreat.
On April 27th, one day shy of Kamden’s 6th birthday, I received the following text from Lara:
“He is in heaven.”
I felt the shift, the moment the text came through. Perhaps it was me believing at the exact same moment that we were more capable than I understood, but we were also far more helpless. I can’t be sure, but I felt it. I laid in my bed and stared at the ceiling, considering what it means to survive.
I’m still not sure.
Lara texted me a couple days later. She was at Party City buying Minecraft themed plates and napkins for Kam’s memorial. Walking the aisles, weeping, because in what world is this the plan?
I had an idea.
Beaudin, Jude and I spent that afternoon at Target picking out a Minecraft Lego set. I thought that’d be a better gift than flowers, knowing they would be overrun by those. I explained to the boys that we would be buying this set, but not keeping it. At home, Beaudin constructed the legos and started to dig-in to why we wouldn’t get to keep the set after all. I explained again, “It’s for Eric and Lara, you know Mason’s mom and dad? It’s for them to remember their nephew Kam.”
“The one who just died.” Beaudin told Jude. Kids explain things so clearly. They both were putting together the pieces of a couple conversations I had had with him over the past week. On death, on dying.
“So mom, why are we giving them legos then?” Jude asked.
“Well, because when someone is hurting sometimes people show-up and give them things. And Eric and Lara’s hearts are hurting a lot. Lots of people will give them flowers, but I thought this would be a better thing to give them because Kamden loved Minecraft and who doesn’t love legos? I think this is better than flowers, don’t you?”
“So we give them this, like they gave me my glove,” Beaudin explained to Jude like it made all the sense in the world. Jude looked at him a bit confused, but didn’t say anything. We haven’t spoken about the origin of the gloves in years, but Beau remembered.
Beaudin put the final touches on the lego set and Josh and I wrote tearful words on the accompanying card. I asked Jude to go to our Lego room and see if there was a small heart or something we could add to it. I picked it up carefully to carry it to the car and heard Jude yell out from the basement for me to wait for him. Moments later he came up the stairs carrying a self-constructed red lego heart the size of his hand.
“I think we should add this to it,” he said as he placed the oversized heart smack in the middle of the scene. “Because it will show them that these legos aren’t really about Minecraft.”
“Jude, that’s the biggest heart I’ve ever seen,” Beau laughed.
“Exactly,” Jude agreed.
Please consider our dear friends Eric and Lara, Kamden’s dad Kyle, and Kamden’s mom Erica and the rest of their family as you move about your days. They are deep in mourning of a sweet child taken too soon. And now that the dust has settled from the memorial service, they begin the long exhale of this new normal.