Wednesday, September 6, 2017

18 months and the war continues

BJ left us 18 months ago. I really never thought that I would have had to be here without him for this long. (Read whatever you want into that.) It's been hell. There have been some good days sprinkled in over the past 18 months, but this grief overshadows everything. I've been happy at times, but there is always that piece of me that is still deeply hurting. Being carefree is a distant feeling, and one I doubt I will ever feel again. Yes, I know that BJ is in Heaven and I know without doubt that I will see him again, but that doesn't take the pain away. How could it when I desperately miss him being physically present with us? I am a mother to the fullest definition of the word and I want to talk to, hug, teach, do things for him and love him with everything I have in me. I have so much to give him and he's not here. 

He'll never be here again and I have no place for the things I would be doing for him. The mom I am to Carly doesn't take the place of the mom I am to BJ. No special dinners, no special birthday cakes or new shoes and clothes, no pulling my hair out as he leaves in the car for the first time, no watching him play basketball or football or annoying his sister. No scrutinizing girlfriends, or dancing at his wedding, or loving on his babies. There is none of that for BJ anymore and it's just too quiet...except inside my mind. 

I liken this to a battlefield. Bodies are scattered, there is evidence of death, smoke and ruin, and clothes are tattered and dirty. Once tall, healthy trees have been chipped at and pushed until they have crashed to the ground, taking others down with them. 

I, along with so many others like me, am wounded severely, missing limbs, ears ringing, confused and disoriented, constantly scanning through smoke and fog, searching for my child even though I know he's gone. All those like me are bleeding and broken, crawling, pushing ourselves onward through the trenches, scratching at the ground, pulling ourselves along with all our might. 

Some of us have succumbed to the exhaustion of trying to get through the turmoil and lay in a mound of brokenness. Some refuse to move and join their beloved. Some warriors have made it through this war zone with deep battle scars that aren't quite healed. They have come back into the smoke to look for survivors and whisper encouragement to the broken souls.

Unaffected onlookers stand in the DMZ and watch, some with worried faces, some without expression. Some stand for a short time and watch, some just turn their backs to the grotesque sight. Some call out to the wounded warriors, advising them of a better way to crawl, or directing them to a different path. They claim knowledge of the battle plan, and yet they stand, unaffected, unscathed, with no battle scars. The wounded warriors hear the calls from the onlookers as their words chip away at their reservoir of perseverance. 

There are times along the way when the wounded quickly take cover, attempting to protect themselves from impending trauma and further destruction that isn't always seen by the watchers. Those in the DMZ remark among themselves how strong the warriors are, happy that they haven't been drafted. 

As they crawl and push themselves along, the warriors on the battlefield scream out in deep pain and plead with whoever is listening to help them stop this war. "Please!!! Help us stop this destruction, stop this cruelty and torture, stop all this pain!" Some of the onlookers remain silent, some call out in agreement to stop the war, and very few onlookers join the resistance. 

Let's be clear. This is war.

The Gap by Michael Crenlinsten

The gap between those who have lost children and those who have not is profoundly difficult to bridge. No one, whose children are well and intact, can be expected to understand what parents who have lost children have absorbed, what they bear. 

Our child now comes to us through every blade of grass, every crack in the sidewalk, every bowl of breakfast cereal, every kid on a scooter. We seek contact with their atoms, their hairbrush, toothbrush, and clothing. We reach for what was integrally woven into the fabric of our lives, now torn and shredded. 

What we had wanted, when our child so suddenly took ill, was for them to be treated. We wanted them to be annoyed that their head had been shaved for surgery. We would have shaved ours and then watched them smile as we recovered together, whatever the nature of that recovery. “Recover” is no longer a part of our vocabulary. Now we simply walk through the noise and debris of our personal ground zero. A black hole has been blown through our souls and, indeed, it often does not allow the light to escape. It is a difficult place. For us to enter there, is to be cut deeply, and torn anew, each time we go there, by the jagged edges of our loss. Yet we return, again and again, for that is where our child now resides. This will be so for years to come and it will change us, profoundly. At some point in the distant future, the edges of that hole will have tempered and softened but the empty space will remain…a life sentence.

It is not unlike a dog who, suddenly hit by a car, survives. The impact is devastating and leaves the animal in shock, confusion, and despair. In the time the animal recovers adequately to spend the remainder if it’s life on three legs. It is not that he is unable, eventually, to function or even to laugh and play. The reality, however, is that on three legs from here on, every step he takes, every action, virtually every breath reminds him of what he has lost. We are that animal. 

Our community of friends will change through this. There is no avoiding it. We grieve for our child, in part, through talking about them and our feelings for having lost them. Some go there with us; others cannot and, through their denial add a further measure, however unwittingly, to an already heavy burden. 

This was not a sprained ankle or major surgery that we suffered. Assuming that we may be feeling “better” six months later is simply “to not get it.” The excruciating and isolating reality that bereaved parents feel is hermetically sealed from the nature of any other human experience. Thus it is a trap, those whose compassion and insight we most need are those for whom we abhor the experience that would allow them that sensitivity and capacity. And, yet, somehow, there are those, each in their own fashion, who have found a way to reach us and stay, to our immeasurable comfort. 

They have understood, again each in their own way, that our child remains our child through our memory. Their memory is sustained through speaking about them and our feelings about their death. Deny this and you deny their life. Deny their life and you have no place in ours. That’s the equation. How different people have responded to our loss, or not, transcends a range of attitudes and personal histories. It is teaching us much about human capacity and experience, albeit at a searing price. Parents’ memories of a lost child sustain that life. It should be the other way around. 

We recognize that we have removed to an emotional place where it is often very difficult to reach us. Our attempts to be normal are painful and the day to day carries a silent, screaming anguish that accompanies us, sometimes from moment to moment. Were we to give it its own voice, we fear we would become truly unreachable, and so we remain “strong” for a host of reasons, even as the strength saps our energy and drains our will. Were we to act out our true feelings we would be impossible to be with. We resent having to act normal, yet we dare not do otherwise. People who understand this dynamic are our gold standard. Working our way through this over the years will change us as does every experience…and extreme experience changes one extremely. We know we will have recovered when, as we have read, it is no longer so painful to be normal. We do not know who we will be at that point or who will still be with us.

There will come a time, quite some number of years down the road, when the balance between the desperate awareness of what we have lost when our child died will be somewhat balanced by the warm and joyful memories of what we had with them when they lived. I neither long for nor cringe from that time. It will simply come. We will recognize it, though now it is beyond us.

So, yes, our beloved child is gone…a light in our lives gone out leaving blackness for us, left behind, to stumble through. And, while we understand and deeply feel the meaning of our phrase “Now we are lit by our child only from within,” we hope, desperately, that they are where the light is. We are trying to understand what this means, as we seek our own way, for the remainder of our lives, to some kind of light. We love our child and are trying to breathe. 

We have read that the gap is so difficult that, often, bereaved parents must attempt to reach out to friends and relatives or risk losing them. This is our attempt. For those untarnished by such events, who wish to know in some way what they, thankfully, do not know, read this. It may provide a window that is helpful for both sides of the gap.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Football goes gold for cancer awareness by Brianna Crane, Denver Weekly

DENVER – On Sept. 1 the North Lincoln High School cheerleaders will wave gold pompoms and the Knights football players will sport gold socks as they take on Fred T. Foard under the lights.
The gold socks and pompoms will be provided by the Stand Firm Warrior Foundation – a nonprofit organization aimed to bring awareness to childhood cancer and alternative forms of treatment – in honor of children's cancer awareness month in September.
Michelle Love, the organization’s president, created the Stand Firm Warrior Foundation in honor of her son, BJ Correll. He was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) in 2012 two weeks into sixth grade at North Lincoln Middle, and was homebound for the rest of the school year.
“We tried all kinds (of chemotherapy), but the chemo didn’t work,” Love said.
She later explained “the leukemia cells became resistant” and a “few rogue cells” mutated and couldn’t be stopped.
Still, BJ endured, and by eighth grade, he was “looking healthy” and even excelled on the basketball and football teams.  
“He was a tough kid,” Love said. “When he was in chemo, he was working out.”
Love said he created 25-pound weights, strapped them to his back and would walk for miles on the treadmill, determined to build physical strength during his treatment. When he was at his healthiest, BJ was 6-foot-2 and 170 pounds.
“The leukemia was back,” Love said, noting that BJ relapsed while undergoing chemotherapy treatments. 
After months at Levine Children’s Hospital and a clinical trial at Duke University’s Cancer Center, Love had to make a difficult decision.
“On Feb. 20, 2016, we had done everything we could medically, it left him at about 115 pounds,” Love said. “We came home on kids path, which is a nice way of saying kids’ hospice.”
On March 4 BJ turned 15 years old, and on March 6 he passed away.
“He had all the faith in the world that God had this handled,” Love said. “When he left us, it was a shock… we still had all the hope in the world.”
In the wake of her loss, Love knew her son would want her to stand firm and continue to fight, thus the Stand Firm Warrior Foundation was born.
“I felt like we needed to find someone doing research,” Love said looking back on her son’s treatment journey. “I really believes that (chemotherapy) is what ended up killing my son.”
ALL, Love said, is one of the most curable types of children's cancers, yet many die from it each day.
“We need to keep getting the word out. Kids need funding, their cancer is not adult cancer,” Love said. “Most kid cancers are using adult treatments, and very few are formulated for children.”
Love said convincing NLHS to go gold for one game in September was simple, as the team has shown support for other forms of cancer as well.
“The kids deserve just as much awareness as the pink… their lives get cut off years before they can experience anything,” Love said.
Kickoff for the awareness game is at 7:30 p.m., but Love will be selling T-shirts beforehand at $10 each so the entire crowd has the opportunity to wear gold.
North Lincoln Middle will also host a children’s cancer awareness game on Friday Sept. 20. For more information about the games or the Stand Firm Warrior Foundation, visit