One year ago today I had gotten up early to get ready for the Fall Festival in Tega Cay. I was going to be setting up a tent so that I could sell Harlan The Hero items…t-shirts, stickers, etc. I got there, got my things unloaded, and started setting up the tent. Not even 20 minutes later I got a call from Michael. “The” call. The call that said I needed to pack everything back up and head over to Jacki and Jonathan’s house. I can’t explain what I was feeling. It was a combination of sadness, panic, terror, nausea, and that feeling in your stomach like you are in a continuous free-fall. I was just trying to not to break down in front of all the people around me. Michael came to help me, we got everything packed up, and then headed to see Harlan.
I don’t think we spoke a word to each other the whole way down to their house. I just remember when we pulled in their driveway, I have never had such a strong feeling of my body wanting to run far away, as fast as it could. I knew what was happening inside that house and I didn’t want to believe it. It was like a primal, instinctual feeling that took all my strength to push aside. It only got tougher as I walked in their front door.
I won’t go into the details of that morning…they are too personal and too heart-breaking for me to share. My heart gets ripped out of my chest whenever I think about that morning. But, as strong as that feeling was of me wanting to run far away, as soon as I stepped into the doorway of the room where Harlan was, a peace immediately came over me. It was so, so strong, so peaceful, and so pure. I don’t know if anyone else there felt it, but I definitely did. Even though my heart was breaking into a million pieces, I wasn’t angry anymore. I knew Harlan would be at peace soon. After we spent some time there, I made sure not to tell him good-bye. I know I’ll see him again one day.
Harlan was a special boy; a boy wise beyond his years. My favorite memory with him is when I went to take something to Jacki just a week before Harlan passed. I had only planned on staying a few minutes but when I got there, Jacki, Jonathan, and Harlan were getting ready to go on their nightly golf cart ride. They asked if I could stay and there was no way I could turn them down! I’m so glad I spent that evening with them and will forever remember that night. I rode around the neighborhood with them as we visited some of the neighbors. One of them had some boiled peanuts for Harlan and then they gave me a bag to take home. While we were sitting in the golf cart in that driveway, Harlan looked up and just gazed at me while smiling his heartwarming smile. It seemed like he was looking straight through me and it was in moments like these that you just knew he was wise beyond his years. In those seconds that I would give anything to get back, it was like everything was in slow motion. I tried to memorize his smile, his face, his giggle…I won’t ever forget. After the golf cart ride we went inside to his playroom. I stacked up little miniature Reese cups on the tray of his chair and it made him giggle. It made my night 🙂 He stole a piece of my heart and will have it forever. He touched everyone that he met, even if it was just once. People didn’t even have to meet him for them to love him. The ones that did are just extra lucky.
I believe he is still here with us. I believe in signs from loved ones in Heaven and I know that he has sent us some. I have dreamed about him several times. Mackenzie has dreamed about him. Dandelions pop up in the most unexpected places. At the CureSearch hike, Jacki mentioned that the last group of runners should be coming to the finish line at any minute. Right then, the sun came out from behind the clouds (it had been rainy and cold all morning). She said, “That’s Harlan.” And then shortly after, the clouds came back. I know without a doubt that he was with his uncle Michael on the night of his wreck. The door of Michael’s car with Harlan’s sticker was unscratched. The rest of the car was completely demolished. Cayden talks about Harlan all the time. She was only 6 weeks younger than Harlan and adored him. She asks me questions about him all the time and it’s so hard to explain to her why he isn’t here. Most of the time she will just say a simple, “I miss Harlan”. Breaks my heart.
Parents shouldn’t have to lose their child to cancer because only 4% of the National Cancer Institute’s budget is dedicated to childhood cancer research. I shouldn’t have to explain to my kids that cancer took their cousin because only 3 new drugs have been approved that were specifically developed to treat children with cancer. September was Childhood Cancer Awareness month but the awareness has to continue year-round. Just DO something…anything. Donate to a non-profit like Harlan’s Heroes, where 100% of the donations go straight to families in need and back to the hospital/oncology units that helped Harlan (not the non-profits where only a fraction of your money goes to actual cancer research – do your own research and you will be shocked at where you thought your money was going but in reality it’s not). Raise awareness, display a gold ribbon for childhood cancer, shave your head, volunteer your time, whatever you want to do. Just raise awareness.
Harlan was my inspiration to start running. I’ve always lacked the motivation to stick with any one thing for a period of time, but I told myself that I was doing this in honor of Harlan. Every time I wanted to give up, I would just imagine him behind me pushing me. If he never gave up, then why would I think I had the choice to give up? He kept me going. And he will eventually help me run that half-marathon 🙂
When Harlan would come over to our house, a lot of the times we would order pizza for dinner. Or he would be over for one of the kid’s birthdays and we would always have cake. Last September we had a family get-together at our house. That was an awesome day; he felt good, was smiling, and wasn’t bothered with all the people around. By the end of the night, he didn’t want to leave. Earlier in the evening we were sitting in the floor rolling the ball and out of the blue he said, “I want pizza and cake”. It was hilarious because he remembered that we usually ate one or both of those each time he was at our house and he wanted them both right then!
So in honor of you, sweet boy, we are eating pizza and cake tonight. We just wish you were joining us.