It’s one of the only times in my life I’ve ever felt at a loss for words. Because the person I love more than anything is in heaven. And I assume that heaven is a wonderful place, suitable for someone as beautiful and wonderful as Odie. But heaven isn’t close to me. It isn’t close to here. It isn’t close to now.
I’ve written before about how I’ve had to say a lot of goodbyes in my lifetime, that I always remember that people are put in our lives and change us forever, that when they leave, they leave a piece of them with us. I’ve never hoped so much that this is true. But then again, I’ve never lost someone so close to me.
It’s hard to explain what it was like meeting Odie for the first time, that fateful day in the Triage waiting room at St. Jude. I was having one of those days that felt like it was from hell. I was nauseous, my leg was killing me, and worst of all, I was terrified. Cancer was like that. And a few feet from me was this adorable little boy wearing a hat and sitting in a wheelchair, completely absorbed in his iPad. I found myself in conversation with his mother, the pretty woman sitting next to him. She looked even more afraid than I did. When she told us about her son’s prognosis, about his cancer, about his chances, I looked into his eyes expecting to see the most fear I’d ever seen before. But that’s not what I saw. Because Odie wasn’t afraid. As the months went by and our friendship deepened, I continued to respond to my treatment. My cancer shrunk away as Odie’s cancer, for whatever reason, did the opposite. And as the months went by and our friendship deepened, I kept expecting some sign of fear to pop up in this little boy’s beautiful blue eyes. But Odie wasn’t afraid, even then.
Odie had within his thirteen-year-old freckled body the greatest courage that I’ve ever encountered. I was older than him in years, but he was older than me in every other way. He was wiser. He was braver. He was stronger. If there’s one thing I want the world to know, it’s how much I love Odie and how much he taught me. There were many times during the past year when I wanted to give up because of the pain and the vomiting and the lack of my old normalcy, but each time I could close my eyes and remember him. I would remember how he looked sitting up in his hospital bed eating a giant bag of potato chips and smiling, despite the pain he was in. I would remember the time he told me that he was going to be a marine one day. I would remember how I felt when I found out his treatment wasn’t working. And that was more than enough for me. Because I decided that I wasn’t ever going to back off when it came to cancer. Because cancer took my Odie from me. Because cancer takes so many lives every day, even young ones. Because cancer deserves the hell it gives to so many beautiful people.
A very close friend of mine lost a good friend to cancer years ago as well. He was very young, too young, and his death devastated a large number of people. I asked my friend what to do in my time of grief. I asked her what would make it better. And she told me to channel my emotions into a good cause. It’s not hard to figure out what she meant; she’s a St. Jude doctor now. I know that her friend’s battle with cancer inspired her to become an oncologist. And I know that she’s the best there is. I just hope that one day I can be half the doctor she is so that I can touch lives like Odie’s.
The visitation, funeral, and burial this weekend were difficult, but they were beautiful. This song is a song that was played at the funeral, a song that Odie’s mom and sisters sang to him. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VqaBof47pmY
Not only is Odie an honorary marine, he is also a junior special agent in the United States FBI. Odie touched lives near and far away. His spirit was one that reached out to everyone he encountered. It was so good to meet so many of Odie’s family members. Now I can see where Odie got his qualities. In an attempt to say goodbye to Odie (for now at least), I wrote him a letter. At the visitation service, his sweet aunt put the letter in Odie’s hands. It was still there today when they buried him. I wish I could have given Odie something more than a letter, something to show him my love, but that’s the thing about love; it’s not concrete. My biggest hope is that, in my time together, I showed Odie my love. Because, without a doubt, he showed me his.