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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Thank You, Mr. Larry Fitzgerald

Brothers. I've always been grateful that we were able to give our children what I consider to be their greatest gift, siblings.  There are some things you can only learn from your siblings, and they also provide an understanding of your life that no one else can touch.  When I was pregnant with 3 of 4 of my children I was a gestational diabetic, which means I had SEVERAL ultrasounds.  I would drag my once excited, but now bored three-year-old daughter to every one of them.  The first one thrilled her beyond words, although she tried to articulate her feelings in her adorable baby way.  However, by the time we'd reached what was probably the seventh one, she had resigned herself to bringing a book or toy and occasionally placating the amused technician with a cursory glance at the monitor and correctly named the vital organs being shown there.  I, however, watched carefully each time because there is something thrilling about seeing that little human doing somersaults inside your body and feeling the movement at the same time.  Although my husband and I prefer the "surprise" when it comes to the gender, I'd now seen so many ultrasounds that I was more than positive that this child I was carrying would be a boy.

I remember being ecstatic when I first discovered that we'd have another son.  Obviously, it's a 50/50 shot and none of us can control the outcome of that any more than anything else in our lives.  But, I was thrilled that my son, Logan, was going to have a brother.  I kept the secret to myself (even from my husband), but made sure that we had a video camera ready when the kids came in to meet him.  I couldn't wait to see my son's face when they handed him his new brother.  Just as I'd anticipated, Logan was over the moon.  He held him first and just stared at him as if to say, "Are you REALLY a boy?  You're ACTUALLY a brother?!?"  After years of being surrounded by mostly women, he'd been anticipating this moment more than the rest of us.  He immediately began telling Easton about all the things he was going to teach him.  He'd show him how to throw and fish and bother his sisters.  He'd be there to defend him if anyone were dumb enough to pick on his little brother.  I'll never forget the look on his face that first time he held him.  It's one of my most cherished memories.

Last December, Logan was robbed of all of those moments he'd envisioned with his brother.  He'd already given up so much.  He learned rather quickly that Easton wouldn't be like other brothers.  He wouldn't be able to go on bike rides with him, or run and catch a football.  But, he never gave up on him.  True to big brother form, he simply changed the game.  One of their favorite things to do was a game in which Logan lay on the floor and Easton would slap him in the nose repeatedly.  Logan took it for as long as he could and then rolled away in mock pain, and Easton would throw his head back and laugh hysterically.  This game went on for hours at times.  Watching the two of them together was truly something to behold.  I remember sitting on the couch once and staring in awe at them.  My boys had not been deterred by illness.  They hadn't lost to seizures.  They still found a beautiful way to just be brothers.  I will also never ever forget the look on Logan's face the day I had to tell him that his brother was only going to get worse and that he couldn't come home.  I remember the pure pain and agony in his eyes.  I remember the way he punched the hospital bed and threw his body over his brother's, begging us to be wrong.  I remember standing there, helpless, watching those brothers embrace for the last time.  It's a bizarre mix of emotion when you realize in that instant that you've seen an entire relationship of love with your own eyes.  I had watched as they placed Easton in his arms the first time, and I was there as Logan clung to him for the last.

How do you take that kind of pain from your child?  How do you tell him that everything will "be ok" when he knows better?  We can't.  All we can do is love him through the process.  One of the ways we've decided to take on that task is to take each of our children on their own get-away with Mom and Dad.  Logan chose a weekend of sports, of course.  We saw a great St. Louis Cardinals game on a Saturday, and on Sunday we watched the Rams play his favorite NFL team, the Arizona Cardinals.  He'd worn his jersey that boasts the name of his favorite player, Mr. Larry Fitzgerald.  Before heading into the locker room after warm-ups, Mr. Fitzgerald came over to Logan and handed him his practice gloves as a keepsake. My son's smile lit up the room in that moment.  He put the gloves on and didn't take them off the rest of the game.  The Cardinals lost that game, but he was too proud of his special moment to even take notice.  Jeff and I were so happy just to see him smile a real smile.  We hadn't seen it in so long, and it was beautiful.

Jeff wrote a long thank-you to Mr. Fitzgerald so that he would know just how important that moment was to our family.  He spoke of Easton's life and death and how much he'd meant to his brother.  He thanked him beautifully for giving us that moment.  Today, a couple of weeks after Jeff had sent the letter, I received a package.  The return addressee said, "Larry Fitzgerald."  I assumed my husband had bought something for Logan, so I opened it.  Inside was a signed 8x10 of Larry Fitzgerald and on it, a note to Logan:

To Logan,
I'm proud of you for your courage and perseverance.  Losing your brother is not easy.  My heart goes out to you and your family.  I know you will always keep him close to your heart.  I got a letter telling me that you were a fan of mine.  I want you to know that I am a fan of yours and that I am proud of you for just being you.  Keep working hard in class and be a good big brother to your sisters.
Best Wishes,
Larry Fitzgerald    Faith, Focus, Finish!

I don't know about you, but I consider this to be one of the greatest achievements of a professional athlete.  He reached out to a young fan in pain, with no expectation of accolade or acknowledgement.  I couldn't wait for Logan to get home and read what his hero had sent him.  I video-taped him as he opened it.  I don't ever want to forget the look of awe as he opened that package.  He was beyond thrilled, and called everyone he knew in the next ten minutes.  He ran to neighbors' houses to show them.  His smile was back tonight.

If I could tell this story to every person I know for the rest of my life, I would.  We've already written the thank-yous that we're sending back to him, but I wanted to tell as many people as I could about this amazing man and his beautiful soul.  So, THANK YOU, Mr. Fitzgerald.  Thank you for my son's smiles.  Thank you for giving me happy memories of his face as he opened your gift.  I have entirely too many pictures in my mind that are formed by pain and suffering, and in this simple act you've replaced them with something truly inspiring.  Thank you for giving him a reason to continue to strive for success in his life.  And most of all, thank you for showing him what it means to be an incredible human being.  We'll forever be grateful to you for your kindness, for your "love for the sake of loving" (as is written on our ETO cards).  He'll know what it means to be generous.  He'll know what it means to be kind.  He'll know what it means to love.  And that, sir, gives him back a little piece of his precious brother.

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