One of the choices Tina and I made many years ago was to take out a small life insurance policy on each of the children. I remember thinking how morbid that sounded at the time, but I can also remember thinking that should anything happen to the children, God forbid, the last thing either of us would want to worry about is paying for a funeral. I can't tell you what peace of mind that policy brought to us as we began planning for Peter's services; the cost of a child's funeral, which is generally about half the price of an adult's, can cost anywhere between six to ten thousand dollars. My heart breaks for parents who may sometimes spend years paying for the final resting place of their loved one, and I would strongly encourage any parent out there to consider purchasing at least five thousand dollars worth of insurance for each child, which can cost sometimes as little as four or five dollars per month. Should it ever be needed, the peace of mind it can bring is priceless.
Why all of this talk about insurance? Well, we retained some of the remaining money from Peter's policy once all bills were paid, and we wanted to do something for our home with that money that would be a lasting tribute to him. One of his favorite birthday presents back in January was an apple tree which we planted in our back yard next to the boys' salsa garden, so we decided to do it all over again. Tina purchased three Live Oak saplings which were delivered to our house on Friday. On Saturday morning, we spent a few hours digging holes, driving in stakes and planting the new tributes to our son which we can see every day. I love the idea of planting trees for Peter; our friend, Chandler Brown did the same thing at Walker Elementary last Spring when he planted a group of Crape Myrtles in Peter's honor as part of his Eagle Scout project. Such things last, they beautify, and they reaffirm life to all who look at them and enjoy them.
We did something else just last night that helped us think of Peter. The temperature in McKinney hasn't been unusually cold for November; nevertheless, our pool temperature has dropped into the upper fifties since overnight lows have been a little nippy, so we haven't been spending enormous amounts of time swimming in the pool this month. We are, however, looking forward to a special birthday celebration for Peter when January 28th rolls around. Since Peter loved swimming as his favorite activity and polar bears as his favorite animal, we decided that a fitting tribute to Peter on his birthday would be a polar bear swim! That's right...on January 28th, anyone who wants to come and wish Peter a happy birthday can do so while jumping off of our diving rock into the icy waters below! Since a few members of our family are, shall we say, warming up to the idea, we figured we needed some practice. We invited our friends, the Walters, over for an evening of marshmallow roasting and hot tubbing, and sure enough, everyone who wanted to spend time in the hot tub needed to take a brief dip in the pool first. The teenage boys went first, followed by the Walters' two youngest sons, Connelly and Carter. I then did my obligatory cannonball, and finally it was Tina's turn. I love that woman's style! The screaming started well before she even made it to the diving rock, but she saved the best shriek for her leap of faith. To her credit, I believe she could have given our Olympians a run for their money as she sped from one end of the pool to the other on her way to the spa! The pool temperature read fifty-eight degrees, so you can imagine what we'll be facing in two months (yikes).
A few months ago, I made a promise to myself that I would follow three more children who were battling DIPGs: Mara Adams, Gunner Gillespie and Aidan Zaugg. They are the last children we began following before Peter's passing, and they each put up courageous battles against this horrible disease. As of yesterday, however, the last of these three little warriors went home to his Heavenly Father as Aidan ended his miraculous two-and-a-half year struggle. God bless you Aidan. Rest in peace Mara and Gunner. They are just three names in a long list of beautiful young children claimed by this rare tumor in the last few years, a tumor that still perplexes and confounds doctors around the world. Now that these three have gone home, I plan on stepping back and focusing on my family, even though all of the families who have struggled or continue to struggle with DIPGs will forever be in my prayers.
Many parents make the defeat of childhood brain tumors their mission after the death of their little one. They often create a foundation in their child's name, and they dedicate their lives to making sure that their child's death means something. As strange as it may sound, I don't feel like that is my calling. I feel like the greatest good that I can do after having gone through this ordeal is offer help and insight to grieving parents. Many families break apart after their children pass away, mostly due to their inability to express their grief or reconnect with each other following the disappointment and despair of a child's death. As tragic as the child's death may be, the continuing tragedy of families torn to pieces by grief must also be addressed or else cancer's collateral damage can grow to include both parents and the child's brothers and sisters. I hope that sharing my experiences through this medium as well as ultimately telling Peter's story to a larger audience can help grief-stricken parents understand that life goes on and that it can become sweet again. We hope for that every day, and we know that it will happen to us and to anyone who seeks it.