Most people will tell you that when they think back to their childhood, they remember relatively happy times. Times spent with friends and family. Carefree summer days and cozy winter nights. A childhood filled with hopes and dreams for the future, laughter, friendship and fun. I had that kind of childhood. Sure, there were some sad, tough, uneasy and awkward times sprinkled in between, but overall my younger days are the days that I sometimes long for now…
But not my kids. My kids will tell you that when they think back to their childhood, they remember some happy times, some carefree days, some hopes and dreams, but mostly they remember the CANCER that took their father. They remember the scans, pills, seizures, surgeries, chemo and the radiation. They remember the countless trips to the hospital, the talks about the fact he was going to die, the painful days and nights in hospice, and the heart-wrenching final goodbye. They remember making the poster board collages for the viewing and funeral, pinning notes and handmade pictures inside his casket, and going back to school just days after, trying their best to carry on as if nothing had happened.
In so many ways, I hate that their childhood was scarred. No child should experience that level of pain- a pain that tears even the strongest of adults apart. Children should be allowed to be innocent, carefree, trusting and naive.
But in other ways, time has given me the gift of seeing just how much my children have gained through their devastating loss. Kyle and Eve’s Dad died when they were 10 and 6 years old. Kyle was in 5th grade and Eve in 1st. This year, Kyle is graduating from high school and Eve is graduating from middle school. Time is going so incredibly fast!
My son has begun the process of applying to college to study communications and broadcasting, and along with the general application listing concrete evidence of aptitude, comes the essay – the question about what in your life has sparked your transition from childhood to adulthood. Needless to say, I knew what he would write about. I just wasn’t sure I was ready to read it and share it, but here goes:
“The mental age of any given person can often surpass their physical age. As children grow, they are educated in a myriad of ways, whether from traditional textbooks or real-life experience. This permits the human mind to expand far beyond the limits of physical age. Along with learning in a traditional classroom setting, my experiences have bestowed wisdom beyond my years on me. I can credit this mental growth that I’ve gone through to my father; however, it was not inherited from some genetic adaptation or something of that sort. With my father passing when I was ten years old, my mental fortitude and overall outlook on the world had changed drastically, and at such a young age, I had already begun a journey into adulthood.
From the moment I was born, there was no clear way of knowing when my father would pass away. Due to the uniqueness of his situation, doctors estimated that the brain tumor that he had contracted would kill him in close to one year. Instead of becoming a victim to his disease so easily, my father managed to live on for almost fourteen and a half years after that diagnosis. Not only did my father agree to have children, which was enough of a risk, but he also participated in the activities that had made my childhood so extraordinary. However, in 2010, we would have to finally part ways. It took patience and coping in order to fully recover from the events that had transpired, and my family surely felt the aftershock of it all. For myself, however, this experience had opened up my view on the world and subsequently enabled me to grow stronger as a mature human, even at such a young age.
If I had remembered the one piece of advice that stuck with me in the time that followed, it would be that not everything can be perfect. Death is a persistent theme that we must come to terms with at some point in our lives. However, in my situation, a multitude of opportunities presented themselves soon after my father passed away.
Shortly following our loss, I went with my younger sister to attend a weekend camp specifically designed for grieving children called Camp Erin. The founders of the program, Jamie and Karen Moyer of the Moyer Foundation, contacted our family some time after that weekend to tell us about the possibility of appearing on national television to share our story. Even though I was nervous to appear on the show, the experience was unlike any other. At 12 years old, I was effectively inspiring a national audience. My experience on television was particularly special for two main reasons. My passion for radio and television has stood the test of time ever since my family’s appearance, and the host of the show, Anderson Cooper, had also lost his father when he was 10 years old.
After appearing on television, I was personally invited to speak on the radio program 1210 AM (WPHT), which was even more fascinating; not only because of my interest in radio and television, but also for reaching out to another large audience who was silently grieving in the same way as I.
The most important lesson that I hold so close to my heart to this day is that I am not alone. Although each experience with grief is unique, many people feel alone, and become secluded in thought, unable to talk with anyone else. However, when someone can open up with their experiences, they learn to tolerate and accept the past in a meaningful way. While my father may have passed on, his spirit guides me to new opportunities every single day. This strength given to me through experience is what has sparked my transition from childhood to adulthood.” – Kyle T.
Kyle, you know that had I been able to protect you from all the pain, I would have. No child should have to suffer the way you and your sister have. But the compassion, perspective and maturity you have gained through your loss is beyond admirable and will certainly serve you well in your future endeavors.
Yes, the innocence of your childhood was lost, but through that loss, you have found such an incredible sense of compassion, perspective and appreciation for life and all it has to offer. My only hope is that you and your sister embrace these gifts and continue to show the world just how much good can come from love, trust and acceptance.