Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Little Boy I Remember

I think back on this past year and all of the amazing, terrifying, joyful and sorrowful experiences we've had, and I simply can't believe what we've been through. A year ago today, Peter completed his journey with cancer, leaving his compromised little body behind to enter God's paradise. The only way I can describe his absence is like missing a limb; his death left a void in our lives that will never fully be filled, but we are slowly learning how to function without him in our home. To honor Peter on this sober occasion, I wanted to share with you once again the eulogy from his funeral. It captures just how much I love and admire my little son and the towering spirit that lived for eight years in that tiny frame. I also wanted to share a few pictures that many of you may never have seen before; they show the Peter whose life changed dramatically when he was diagnosed only a short time later. God bless everyone who continues to cherish Peter's memory and expresses love and comfort to our family.

Peter Galbreath Barr

January 28, 2000 - March 11, 2008

On January 28, 2000, Scott and Tina had just said good-bye to Tina’s mom, Ann, a day earlier, driving her to Baltimore’s BWI airport so that she could fly to Utah and be with a daughter who was actually going to have a baby that week. Tina was due in mid-February but had been experiencing premature labor pains since around the second week in January. This prompted Ann to fly to Baltimore a week earlier to help Tina rather than traveling to Utah where Tina’s sister Katie was also fast-approaching her due date with her third child. Grandmas are wonderful, magical people, but it’s really hard for them to be in two places at once! Once Ann arrived at the townhouse in Baltimore, however, Tina seemed to respond very well to her premature labor medication, and after almost no contractions for close to a week, Tina decided she couldn’t keep her mom from jetting off to Utah to be with soon-to-deliver Katie who would most certainly win this round of the “Bergen-Sister-Baby-Derby”. Tina’s baby, it seemed, would be content to hang around until the appointed due date, and Scott and Tina settled in for another two weeks of anticipation. On the 28th of January, however, not twenty-four ours after Ann departed, and as Tina sat chatting with her on the phone hearing how she had arrived safely in Utah, Tina’s water broke: Peter Galbreath Barr was about to enter the world in very dramatic fashion!
Peter seemed to know that he was destined to be on this earth for only a short time, and the fact that he was in such a huge hurry to get here and get the fun started underscores that notion. Rather than go month-by-month, year-by-year recapping Peter’s brief but marvelous life, I will highlight some of Peter’s amazing attributes by sharing a few stories that clearly illustrate them. After hearing these stories, I am certain you will agree that if the quality of a person’s life is measured by how many people they impact for good, then Peter Barr lived a fuller and richer life than most people experience in a span of seventy-five to ninety years. He was just that kind of boy.
For anyone who knew Peter, they knew him as not just a friend, but as a dear friend with a smile that could light up any room. The Lord blessed Peter with many siblings, cousins, classmates and children from church with whom he could forge lasting bonds of friendship. His sister, Lindsey, was probably his closest friend in this life, and the two of them could scarcely be separated before or after his diagnosis. Their imaginary games would last for hours, and just when Scott and Tina thought they were finished playing, they would inform mom and dad that they had just finished “thinking” about what they were going to do and that the playing was only just beginning! They dressed each other up in all kinds of wild costumes, they made countless cozy forts with couch cushions and dining room chairs, they infected their friends in the neighborhood with their love of Pokemon and pretending to be baby animals, and they lived each day looking forward to the next chance to play together. Lindsey wasn’t the only recipient of Peter’s total friendship package. Peter knew his good buddy Cayden Fry since they were both in diapers, attending Primary classes at church together, going to the same pre-school and even attending the same elementary school in Kindergarten and 2nd grade. This past year, they were even classmates after Cayden’s family, to our delight, moved into our neighborhood, and Peter loved having his lifelong pal in Mrs. Trimble’s class with him. Cayden, for those of you who might not know, is the artist behind the picture depicting Peter surfing a polar bear down an avalanche, so it’s clear that these two have always had a strong bond between them. One day near the beginning of the school year, Cayden’s parents came to school to have lunch with their son, and true to Walker Elementary tradition, Cayden was allowed to invite a friend to sit with him and his folks. He chose Peter, and when it was time to say good-bye, Cayden was feeling very sad. Cayden had been very sad about leaving his old school and was trying hard to see the positive side about switching schools. Peter put his arm around Cayden’s shoulders to lead him off to play at recess, and when Cayden, through some reluctant tears indicated that he didn’t want his parents to leave, Peter replied, “Hey, I’d just be happy that they came!”
Even animals responded immediately to the friendship that Peter offered, and we’re not just talking about his devoted doggy Scamp, either. One of Peter’s favorite places to visit in this world was Sharkarosa Ranch out near Pilot Point. It is a wildlife sanctuary with all kinds of fun animals to not only see but with which children are also permitted to interact. Lemurs, monkeys, camels, assorted deer, horses and many other creatures awaited Peter each time he visited, but his heart belonged to the kangaroos, especially his little buddies, the joeys. On our very first visit to Sharkarosa, Peter bonded immediately with a baby albino kangaroo named Alabaster, and Peter was allowed to sit in Alabaster’s pen and feed him from a bottle. What was unique about Alabaster is that he had a crippled forepaw and would not have survived in the wild. We believe that the two of them saw each other as kindred spirits, and every time Peter went back to Sharkarosa, the trip wasn’t complete without an opportunity to feed his pink-eyed, snowy white friend who always remembered Peter the moment he stepped into the pen. Other joeys also bonded with Peter over the course of his year-long love affair with Sharkarosa; during his eighth birthday party, Peter sat in the joey pen with Itchy and Eevie, the two little pals who later visited him at his bedside just before he passed. While in the pen together, Peter learned that kangaroo joeys communicate with each other by shaking their heads and hears. Peter proceeded to “communicate” with his two little friends by shaking his head back and forth. They responded almost immediately by hopping around him, grooming him and tugging on him as if to say, “come and play with us!” Peter showed everyone who came in contact with him unconditional love, and that is what made him a powerful, lifelong friend to so many people as well as every other one of God’s creations he encountered.
I mentioned earlier how Peter’s friend, Cayden, depicted Peter surfing a polar bear down an avalanche. That fanciful notion, born of a thought Peter shared with his dad shortly after his diagnosis, symbolizes another of Peter’s Christ-like attributes, and that is courage. Ever since his diagnosis on December 9, 2006, Peter did indeed surf a polar bear down an avalanche as he battled his tumor, and never once did he ask , “Why me?” or complain that what was slowly transforming him and his life each day was unfair or terrible. He simply mounted that polar bear and took it for a ride! During his battle with a rare and aggressive form of cancer, Peter endured thirty radiation treatments, seven months of various types of chemotherapy, two surgeries and heaven knows how many pokes, pricks, yucks and other assorted unpleasantries. He saw his hair begin to fall out and watched in dismay as his body gained thirty pounds as a result of medication he needed to take to control swelling in his brain. Did this deter him from having fun? Not in the least. He went to Disney and conquered “Expedition Everest” like a pro. He rode horses and made a movie at a dude ranch in Colorado. He played his first and only season of soccer as his team’s goal keeper, following in his older brother’s footsteps. He skied down a mountain, cavorted with rescue dogs, and drove a snowmobile in Montana thanks to our friends at Eagle Mount and Bridger Bowl. When his right hand went numb as a result of his progressing tumor, was he discouraged? Not a chance; he simply put his pencil in his left hand and moved on without a moment’s hesitation. The journey of dying from cancer would seem like a maddening, terrifying prospect for almost anyone, but for Peter, he treated it like the chance to have the adventure of a lifetime. He treated is as though he had the opportunity to do something special and unique. He treated it like he was surfing a polar bear down an avalanche, not even worrying about what would happen when his ride came to an end; he had the courage to see the wonder and the miracle of each moment he experienced.
Another attribute that greatly aided Peter in his journey was his irrepressible sense of humor. We can’t count how many times we heard people comment during his life that this child always seems to be smiling! It’s almost as though he could see the fun and funny side of every situation he encountered. He wrote a story that appeared on CaringBridge a few months ago in which he tells the adventure of a tiger cub named Cobu. Cobu was fishing by himself one day but found himself far from home after falling into the river and being swept downstream. As soon as he realized how lost he was, he meets a girl tiger cub named Coru who invites him to play with her. “But I’m lost,” replied Cobu. “That doesn’t mean you can’t play!” retorts Coru, and off the two of them pounce together to have some fun. He loved hearing and telling the jokes that so many of you sent to him last year via CaringBridge, and he even saw the funny side in the changes happening to his body. When he would step out of the bath tub in his mom and dad’s bathroom, he could see in a full-length mirror every pound of the weight he had gained from the medicine he needed to take. Rather than getting depressed, he would smile and start dancing in front of the mirror making his jelly-belly and all of his little fat rolls shake and jiggle! Peter loved playing games and created some of the most dramatic and hilarious ways to roll the dice when playing Yahtzee and came up with some of the zaniest, goofiest words when he was his dad’s Scrabble partner. As his family rode the DART train down to the Dallas Zoo in early February, Peter was already losing his mobility as well as the ability to speak without great effort. That didn’t stop him from seeing the humor in things happening around him. About halfway through our trip, a clearly disheveled woman with mounds of unruly blond hair on top of her head stepped aboard the train and sat down right in front of Peter and his mom. Peter said nothing, but it was obvious that this new passenger had caught his attention. After she stepped off the train, Peter leaned over to his mother and whispered, “She was having a bad hair day!” Immediately after he was diagnosed and knowing that something was gravely wrong with his little body, Peter still couldn’t contain himself. He spent the day he was in the hospital getting his brothers to pull him around the pediatric floor in little wagons and playing ceaselessly with the buttons on his hospital bed. “This is the best hotel I’ve ever stayed at!” he would exclaim with his one-of-a-kind Peter smile exploding from his face. That smile and his ability to find fun in every situation saw him and his family through some of the darkest hours of this past year, and they are almost certainly causing quite an uproar on the other side of the veil.
A few months ago, one of Peter’s Primary classmates from church ran to his mom after church; like all of our dear friends, the mom immediately quizzed her son for news about how Peter was doing, obviously seeking information on his health. Her son took it a different way. “Peter’s doing fine, mom,” the youngster replied, “He knows all of the answers!” This pretty much sums up the last of Peter’s attributes I want to share, namely intelligence. Peter excelled at everything he attempted (except maybe tying his shoes), and he picked up many things far earlier than his parents ever expected. He spoke in full sentences near his first birthday, learned to swim before he was three, and rode his bike like a pro well before Kindergarten. He always had something to say, something to share, a story to tell, or an observation to make, and he almost always figured out a clever, silly way to say it. It’s hard to imagine what went on in Peter’s mind or how he processed things, but one experience showed guile and maturity far beyond his then six years of age. His brother Nathan was having his fifteenth birthday party at our home, and the house was packed with teenagers having fun and playing games. Peter was not about to be excluded from the festivities, and Nathan agreed that Peter could participate in the main activity of the night, the game called Murder In The Dark. For those of you who don’t know the rules, one person is chosen, unbeknownst to all of the other players, as the “Murderer”, and once the game begins, it’s their job to eliminate all other players through a series of covert hand squeezes without getting caught (everyone is seated in a circle and holding hands). Peter’s parents observed the game in action and saw the systematic way that players were being eliminated by the “Murderer” commenting to each other that whoever it was, they were extremely patient and calculating since no one had a clue who was bumping them off! Ultimately, the game got down to the final four players, and Peter was among them! As poor Melinda Woomer frantically tried to accuse Peter of being the “Murderer”, she quickly realized that in that instant, there was no one left to second her guess! There she was, all alone, staring down into Peter’s cute little smiling face as he said in a voice both innocent and sinister…. “You’re too late!”
Peter certainly understood things that no other child his age might have needed to understand, especially about his eternal destiny. Peter learned early in his illness that leaving this life was a very real possibility, and after a few fearful moments, he embraced that outcome as he drew on his faith in his Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. Only a few weeks before his passing, Peter’s dad lifted him out of the bathtub so that his mom could get him dried off, dressed and ready for bed. Peter had been give a brief window in which he was able to speak again after several days of being incomprehensible in his speech, and his mom asked him if he was scared at all. When Peter shook his head, mom began to rehearse again all of the reasons why crossing over into the next life would be a wonderful thing to him, but before she got too far, Peter raised his hand as if to quiet her concerns. “I’m good…I’m good,” he whispered. Peter felt his Heavenly Father’s love and knew his Savior, Jesus Christ. He had felt the comforting, healing power of the Holy Ghost, healing not his body but soothing his spirit and preparing him for the next phase of his incredible voyage, and he had the intelligence to know truth when he felt it. He had wisdom far beyond his years, giving him the capacity to show patience and submissiveness even under the gravest of circumstances that served as an example for his whole family.
Peter Barr exemplified many things, but the attributes of friendship, courage, humor and intelligence are what his family will remember most as they reflect on the miracle that was the life he led. The impact Peter and his God-like qualities had on his family, his friends, his school and his community may never be accurately measured in this life. He leaves behind an almost unbelievable legacy for an eight-year old boy. He showed hundreds if not thousands of people how to face the greatest hardships in life with grace, humor, dignity and faith, and we could all see the love of God shining in his sweet, freckled face. Your family loves you, Peter, and we rejoice in the fact that through our Savior, Jesus Christ, our reunion in eternity is not just a hope, it is a certainty.


hoLLy said...

we are thinking about your family and your sweet peter today. this post was beautiful. the pictures of him-adorable. i know today must be a difficult one, but i hope you guys are able to spend some quality time together, remembering your sweet little guy. he made such an impact on the community-and around the world. thank you for continuing to share your story with us. lots of love!

mamapickle said...

Sending all our love to you today. The rain almost seemed fitting to wake up to this morning. Loved the sign posted out by the pool for him and know that lots of people are thinking of him today as well as all of you.

Suz said...

Scott - I have been thinking of Peter all day today! I woke up and realized it was March 11th. Thank you so much for writing this and helping us all to remember Peter!

We miss you guys and think of you often. Suz, Craig, Ty, Cal Coop and Em

Rich said...

Scott, Please know extra prayers of comfort are being said today for all of the Barr family.

Please know you are never far from my thoughts and always in my prayers. May the love and memories you have of Peter get you through these difficult days.

God Bless.

Rich ~Angel Matthew's Dad~
DIPG Parent

Butler Family said...

Tina and Scott-
I have thought so much you and your family the last few weeks. I hope that you are able to rise above the hard times. For some interesting news we just accepted a job offer with the company that my husband works for in Plano, Texas!! The start date has yet to be determined, but it will be before the end of summer!! I can't wait to see all of you and be closer to family!!! Keep you posted on when we are out there.
Love Adrian and Michelle Butler
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