By Tyler Clemmons, LCSW
We are in the midst of a busy holiday season. Many of us are looking forward to time away from work or school and time spent with family and friends. While we may celebrate and experience a lot of joy this time of year, this season also brings challenges. As we know, many in our community have lost loved ones, and some have lost loved ones to pediatric cancer.
This season may intensify emotions related to loss for many people. For some reading this, the loss may still feel very fresh. For others, these feelings have become more manageable over time, but they are still very palpable. Everyone’s journey looks different.
If you are grieving this season, we at AHF wanted to remind you that you are not alone. Three AHF families have agreed to share some of their experience of loss and pediatric cancer below. We are grateful for their willingness and vulnerability to share their stories, in hopes of bringing encouragement and comfort to others.
Bradley and Heather Walker:
Our son, Doc Anthony, was a normal two year old until one day he wasn't. He complained about tummy pain (which he never did), and after 1 pediatrician visit, 1 outside x-ray, 1 urgent care visit, and 2 ER visits, he was diagnosed with Burkitt's Lymphoma. Unfortunately, after a short one month, he passed away.
After our son's passing, we were devastated, but with the help of our family, friends, church, and the Austin Hatcher Foundation, we have learned to take it one day at a time as we move forward. Also, we have learned it is okay to not be okay. But we always need to reach out and talk to someone when needed.
Jim and Amy Jo Osborn:
Family, friends, quality time and togetherness are key components when we personally think of the holiday season. This is a cherished and celebratory time, but also a time of grief and hard reminder of those we have lost.
For Jim and I, our loss is our son, Austin Hatcher Osborn. Our story began on October 8th, 2006 when we, as first-time parents, heard the words, “Your Child Has Cancer.” Austin’s diagnosis was extremely rare and aggressive, and, only 11 days later, he took his last breath in our arms.
Pain and grief come in many forms, and every individual processes grief differently. The first 3-5 years of grief looked completely different than it does today. The first few years, the pain was so raw. It was a pain that is hard to describe. It brought so many feelings, especially during the holidays because of the overwhelming sense of “What If” that arose. Holiday time, seeing all the nieces and nephews running around laughing, smiling, living life to the fullest, was tough. The reality that, as parents, we will never get to experience all the milestones and growth of our son, like we witnessed so many around us get to experience.
Now, 15 years later, the pain is still raw, but more manageable. We love to celebrate Hatch’s life. For example, on his birthday, the family bakes a cake together, and all sing Happy Birthday. We also take the number of balloons of the age he would turn and let them go in his honor. During the holidays, we share memories and stories and talk about Hatch. For our story, our other children never had the chance to meet Hatch, so we share how he was, the journey of being new parents, and how his life had a purpose that we all live out as a family every day.
Mike and Traci Otterman:
We lost our little Simone in September of 2015. I remember the deep grief and depression and the holiday season approaching, which intensified everything. Holidays and families can be hard even without grief and stress caused by cancer and loss, so it’s definitely a time you need to take care of yourself.
Being able to lean on friends or groups who can help you get through the stress of "celebrating" when it’s the last thing you feel like doing is a huge blessing. Whether it’s because of a hard phase of treatment or loss, knowing there are others out there feeling the same can be a huge source of support over the holidays.
The Austin Hatcher Foundation has helped us all at different times in our family, from parent events to kids nights out to even tutoring and sibling therapy and activities.
The biggest message I would like to send is that holidays are hard when your family is struggling, but there are always people out there to connect with that can help and offer support, and The Austin Hatcher Foundation is a great option with many opportunities to support cancer families!
If you are finding this holiday season to be challenging at times, you are not alone. AHF is part of a strong community who want to support one another. We have a large network of families who are all experiencing their own unique circumstances this year.
Some are celebrating new life, and some are mourning the loss of loved ones. Some may be focused on spending quality time with family and friends in the midst of treatment, while some have “rung the bell,” finishing their treatment. We hope that you can take comfort from our community this holiday season, and hope that you will continue to be involved in this community throughout next year.
At AHF, we offer grief support to immediate family members of those affected by pediatric cancer. We offer therapy provided by licensed clinicians, at no cost. Beginning January 2022, we are offering a grief support group open to adults who have lost an immediate family member to pediatric cancer. We will be sending out more information regarding this group in the near future.