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    Bill W
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
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An Unexpected Christmas Surprise - 1. Chapter 1: An Unexpected Christmas Surprise

It was Thanksgiving and we’d just finished eating a huge and filling meal with our extended family. Sated, we retired to the living room to spend the next couple of hours chatting about a variety of topics. Of course, this included a trip down memory lane and one of the topics we discussed was the moment when we first met our son, Eric.

                                    *           *           *           *           *          

My husband, Gavin, and I weren’t sure if we were ever going to be approved as foster parents or a potential adoptive couple. You see, we’re a gay couple and we were eager to adopt, but the signals we were receiving from the people we were dealing with weren’t exactly what you’d call positive. It started with our initial interview and I can still vividly recall that day.

“Gavin and Danni Berger,” the portly gentleman called out as we sat with two other couples in the waiting room. We got up and followed him into his office. “Which one of you is Gavin Berger?” he asked in a very business-like manner, while constantly glancing between the two of us.

“That would be me,” my husband stated.

“And you are?” he asked as his steely blue eyes bored a hole into me.

“I’m his husband,” I replied. I’m Danny Berger.”

“Oh, I thought you might be his attorney,” he responded coldly. “You see, when I first saw the names Gavin and Danny on the application, I thought Gavin’s wife might have been named Danielle, but she went by Danni. I assumed Gavin had filled out the paperwork and merely misspelled her name and replaced the ‘I’ with a ‘y’.”

“No, my given name is Daniel, but I prefer to go by Danny.”

“I see,” he replied tersely, and then he hesitated for several very uncomfortable seconds before he continued, “are you hoping to foster or adopt?”

“Either, actually, but we’d prefer to adopt,” Gavin responded.

“And if you are approved to either foster or adopt,” he began after another inappropriate and lengthy hesitation, “are hoping to get an infant or an older child?”

“We’d be happy to accept any child from infant on up to Kindergarten age.” I replied.

“Does the sex of the child matter to you?” he wanted to know, and his expression made me feel as if he was expecting us to say that we wanted a boy, since we were gay.

“No, we’d be happy to accept a child of either sex,” we both said at nearly the same time. You see, we’re so in tune with what the other one is thinking that we can often finish each other’s sentences or say the same thing in unison.

Our interviewer had been typing on his laptop as we answered his questions, and I assumed he was recording our answers, but then he suddenly stopped and glanced up temporarily after our last response. He was staring at us with a skeptical expression on his face, but after a few seconds he started typing again.

“The financial form you provided with your application looks very good, but we still need to arrange a home visitation so we can determine if your residence is suitable for raising a child.” He stopped speaking again and appeared to be scrolling through something on his laptop, possibly a calendar, and when he stopped he spoke again.

“Would a week from tomorrow at 7:00 be acceptable to you?”

“Yes, that would be fine.”

When we left his office, we didn’t know where we stood. The looks he’d been giving us were unsettling and his tone, at times, was both skeptical and disapproving. We had no idea what he’d been typing on his computer, so it my have included his impression of us as well, but at least he’d scheduled a home visitation for us.

The days in between seemed to last forever, even though we were busy getting ready for the visitation. We already had a twin bed in the bedroom closest to our bedroom, and we went out to purchase a baby motoring system. We placed one speaker in that room and the other on the nightstand next to my side of the bed, since I’m a light sleeper and Gavin could possibly sleep through a bombing. We also purchased a crib that we could put together, in case we were lucky enough to get an infant.

Since we weren’t sure of the age of the child we might get, we bought some toys that would be appropriate for a toddler to a five-year-old, and if we got a baby, we could purchase the other needed items as soon as possible.

When the appointed time arrived, a woman we assumed was in her thirties rang our doorbell. “Good evening, I’m Melanie Griffin and I’m here for the home visitation.”

“We’re glad to meet you. I’m Danny and this is my husband, Gavin.”

“I’m pleased to meet both of you as well,” she responded, and then she offered her hand for us to shake.

It was more of an inspection than what we would have considered a visitation. When we entered the living, we offered to let her sit on the recliner, but she refused.

“No thank you. I’d rather get started right away, because it appears that you have a fairly large house.”

As soon as she said this, she started looking around and making notes, and when she finished inspecting the living room, she insisted on entering every other room in our three-bedroom home.

When we entered the kitchen, she made an observation and asked a questioned. “I notice that you don’t currently have any child safety locks on any of the cabinets that a child might get into. Are you willing to purchase and install those items?”

“Yes, we’ll do that immediately,” we agreed.

“And you’ll need to do that with the cabinets in the bathrooms as well,” she added.

When we reached the bedroom we planned to use for the child, I made a comment before she could ask.

“As you can see, we have a twin bed in this room. One side of the bed is against the wall, and we purchased a mesh bed rail to use on the other side, so the child wouldn’t roll out of bed.”

After she’d looked at those items, Gavin made another comment. “And this box,” he said while tapping it, “contains a crib that we can assemble if we get a baby or infant.”

She didn’t say anything and merely looked at the image on the box and read the information printed on the outside.

She said very little as we showed her around, but she continued to write down notes in a notebook she brought with her. We had no idea if she was impressed with what she’s seen, including our large backyard, but when she’d finished inspecting each room, she spoke again.

“The premises appear acceptable, as long as you address the issues that we’ve talked about. Someone else will be in touch with you in a week to ten day to explain what will happen next.”

“Do you have any idea as to when we might be notified if we’ve been approved or when we’ll be getting a child?” I asked.

“I’m only here to inspect your house for suitability and any questions you have will be answered by the next person that contacts you.”

“I know, but can’t you give us some indication of what we might expect?”

“I have. I told you someone else will be contacting you in a week to ten days.”

We found her answers unsatisfactory, but since she wasn’t inclined to give in and answer our questions, we simply said goodbye as she walked out the door and headed to her car.

We’d met with two people so far and we still didn’t know if they thought we were suitable candidates to receive a child or not. The first man was only willing to tell us that the information on our application was suitable, and the second woman would only agree that our home was appropriate for raising a child. What we couldn’t understand was why they wouldn’t tell us more.

We didn’t hear from anyone else until the following Tuesday evening when we received another call. “I know this is short notice,” the female caller began, “but this is an unusual situation. We have a two-year old boy that is presently a foster child, but he may be available for adoption in the future. If you’re agreeable, we would like to have someone bring him to your home for a visitation and possible placement.

“Yes, that would be fine and we look forward to meeting him,” Gavin quickly stated. “When would you want to bring him here?”

“We could do it tomorrow evening, if that’s possible.”

“Yes, that would be fine,” he quickly confirmed.

“Would six-o’clock be convenient for you, or would you need a later time?”

“Six will be fine.”

We were giddy when the call ended, since we realized we might finally be getting a child, and it was a two-year-old boy. We were both walking on clouds for the rest of the night and we were so excited that we didn’t get much sleep. Unfortunately, we still had to get up and go to work.

We spent the day at our jobs, and although we worked for different companies, we were both preoccupied wondering what the boy would look like. Would he be blond or would he have brown hair like Danny or black hair like me? Would his facial features resemble either one of us or would he look totally different. It really didn’t matter and we eagerly anticipated the arrival of our son.

We both rushed home after work, but we knew we wouldn’t have time to eat. We merely set everything out so we were ready to fix spaghetti and meatballs, since we felt that most kids liked that, and then we waited for him to arrive. We rushed to the door when the doorbell rang.

“This is Eric,” the woman said as she brought the young boy into our home, “and I’m Beth Gleason.”

“It’s nice to meet both of you,” we stated.

Eric was adorable, with blond hair and big brown eyes and my husband and I immediately fell in love with him.

“Hi, Eric. I’m Gavin and this is Danny. We’re going to be your new daddies.”

“Dada,” Eric repeated as he pointed at Gavin, but we weren’t sure if it was a statement or a question.

“Yes, Dada,” Gavin replied, and then he thought quickly before speaking again. “And this is Papa,” he said as he pointed at me. And after he said this, Gavin looked at me and I nodded my approval with what he’d just said.

“Dada,” Eric said again as he pointed at Gavin, and then he turned toward me.

“Papa,” he repeated.

“Yes,” we both confirmed.

While Gavin was playing with Eric, I asked Beth a question. “Why is Eric a foster child?”

“He was taken away from his parents after the court declared them unfit. Their home had been raided by the police and his parents; along with a few of their friends, were arrested for manufacturing illegal substances on the premises. I was told that Eric was only wearing a diaper and was quite filthy when he was removed from the home.”

“That certainly doesn’t sound like a suitable environment for a child.”

“No, it doesn’t. And I was told that when interrogating one of their friends, he told the detective that the father didn’t have anything to do with Eric, since he wasn’t sure if the boy was his or someone else’s. He wouldn’t even let his wife refer to him as Eric’s dad and he would ignore the boy’s attempts to get his attention.”

“That’s awful.”

“I agree, and since we were unable to locate any suitable relatives to take him, he was placed in foster care. And considering his parents legal status, he may also become available for adoption in the future.”

“Where has he been staying since he was taken from his parents?”

“One of the single girls in our department is a certified foster parent and Eric has been staying with her for a couple of weeks. She not only cleaned him up, but she’s also been potty training him, and while she’s working, she has used our in house employee daycare for Eric. The problem is that she’s single and had only been certified to handle emergency cases and wouldn’t be able to take him long-term.”

“Oh, I see.”

As she went back to join Gavin and Eric, I went to retrieve a couple of items that we’d purchased the weekend before. I set one of the items on the sofa as I re-entered the living room, but I kept the other item. It was a plastic ball with a seven inch (17.8 cm) diameter that we felt would be perfect for Eric after we heard his age.

I knelt down and rolled the ball to Eric and he looked at it briefly before rolling it back to me, and then I rolled it to Gavin so he could roll it to Eric, and then Eric rolled it back to him. After doing this repeatedly for awhile as Beth looked on, I got up to retrieve the other item.

As soon as Eric saw it, his eyes opened as large as saucers, and when I offered it to him, he took it from me and hugged it to his chest. It was a stuffed elephant and Eric appeared to instantly fall in love with it, seeing he was squeezing it as if it was the most valuable item in the entire world.

“Elephant,” I said as I pointed to the stuffed toy. “Elephant,” I said again as I repeated the process.

“Elly,” Eric responded.

“Yes! That’s a very good name for it, so Elly it is.” Eric not only had a new toy, he also had a name he could use whenever he wanted it.

“Elly,” Eric said again as he hugged the toy and smiled at us.

Since Eric was preoccupied with Elly, I turned to ask Beth another question. “Is it normal for a two-year-old to be using baby talk?”

“It’s not unusual, but he may be a little behind other children his age, due to the fact that he was being raised by unfit and neglectful parents.”

That answered my question, so I went back to spend time with Eric.

At the end of two hours, Beth looked at Gavin and me and asked a question. “Are you gentlemen prepared and willing to take Eric in and give him a loving home?”

“Yes!” we shouted in unison. And then I added, “Absolutely.”

“Won’t you have to go to work in the morning?”

“One or both of us will call in to our jobs and take the next couple of days off so we can take care of him. It will also give us a chance to arrange for daycare while we’re working.”

“In that case, I’ll just run out to the car and get the things I brought along for him.”

“I’ll go out and help you,” I quickly offered.

“That would be greatly appreciated,” she said with a smile, and then I followed her out to the vehicle she was using.

“You’ll need this,” she said as she pulled a sizeable item from the backseat and handed it to me. It appeared to be a child-size toilet. “It’s the one he’s been using while staying with the other girl, and since it wasn’t that expensive, we wrote it off along with the other items I’ll be giving to you. Eric has begun potty training, but he still has occasional accidents.”

“That might be due to the fact that he’s been passed around recently, but hopefully that won’t happen once he gets used to living with us.”

“There is some training underwear in the diaper bag, along with a few other items that you’ll need, but you’ll have to buy additional things for him, since we only purchased the bare minimum. There are also a few clothes in this bag,” she said as she grabbed a cloth bag out of the vehicle, “and you’ll have to purchase a car seat like this one for Eric to use before you can take him in your vehicle.”

“I’ll run out and buy a car seat, some more clothes, and whatever else we’ll need when Gavin is home to watch him.”

Beth was definitely friendlier than the other people we’d met, so we thanked her for all of her help when she was preparing to leave. As soon as she was gone, Gavin went out to fix our dinner before it got any later.

We’d been so excited about getting Eric that it hadn’t dawned on us to ask Beth if he’d eaten yet, but we were certain that he’d eat if he was hungry. If not, he can just sit and watch us until we’re finished.

I had a hell of a time getting Elly away from him so he could eat, because I didn’t want Elly to get covered in spaghetti sauce. And seeing I couldn’t find a bib in the things Beth had left for him, I tied a hand towel around his neck. I did this since I knew young children could make one hell of a mess when they were eating spaghetti.

I had to cut up Eric’s spaghetti and feed it to him, since we didn’t have and suitable dinnerware or utensils for him to use. And since we didn’t think the salad we were having would be appropriate for him, Gavin also prepared some peas. He figured Eric shouldn’t have any trouble eating those.

In between me taking a mouthful of food, I feed Eric. He was very good about accepting a couple of small spoonfuls of spaghetti, followed by another small spoonful of peas, and I continued this process until he was full. We didn’t find a sippy-cup for him in the things that Beth had given us, so I found a small glass, put some milk in it, and held it for him so he could take a drink every now and then.

While I was feeding myself and Eric, Gavin and I would chat. “We’ll both have to call into work in the morning,” I pointed out.

“I know, and after we explain the situation to our bosses, I’m hoping they’ll allow us to take the day off.”

“Actually, I’m hoping my boss will let me take both days off, since we don’t have anyone to leave Eric with. I’ll call some daycares to see if we can get him in, but if not, we’ll have the weekend to try to find someone who can watch him for us.”

“I hope that doesn’t become a problem. So, what are you planning for after we finished eating?”

“We’ll give Eric a bath, but before we do that, I want you to take Elly up to Eric’s room and place it on the floor near the head of his bed while I’m running the bath water. Then you can join us and get him undressed while I’m filling the tub and making sure the water isn’t too hot.”

As soon as we finished eating, Gavin went upstairs ahead of us as I held Eric’s hand and walked him up to the bathroom. By the time we reached the landing, Gavin had already placed Elly in Eric’s room, so he undressed Eric while I was filling the tub. As soon as I felt there was sufficient water in the tub and it wasn’t too hot, I picked Eric up and sat him in the tub.

I knelt beside the tub as I bathed him, and Gavin gave him the toys that we’d bought for him to play with in the tub. After he did that, he sat on the toilet lid and watched as I bathed Eric. The toys Gavin had given him included a rubber ducky, a small hard-plastic cup, and a sponge that I’d cut out of some foam that I’d purchased at a fabric store.

Eric loved the rubber ducky and guided it over the water in the same fashion that a boy might push a small car or truck across the floor. When he picked up the cup, he started to put it up to his mouth to take a drink, but I gently pushed it away.

“Bath water dirty. Yucky,” I said while making a face, and then I guided his hand so he could dump the water over the rubber ducky. Then I helped him fill the cup and dump the water over the rubber ducky again, and then I let him do it on his own. He laughed as he was doing this, and he did it several more times.

I then picked up the piece of foam that had been sitting in the water and showed him how to squeeze the water out of it, and then I got it wet again and repeated the process. He reached out for the sponge and copied what I’d been doing, but his hand wasn’t large enough for him to squeeze all of the water out or it. I’d have to cut the piece of foam down even more until it was the correct size for him to handle.

He didn’t seem to want to get out of the tub after I’d finished bathing him, so I drained the tub so he’d be willing to get out. As soon as he had no water to play in, I said “all gone” and lifted him out of the tub. After I dried him off, I dressed him in the pajamas I found in the cloth bag Beth had left for us, and then I gave him Elly again, before I put him in bed.

“Time to go night-night,” I said as he hugged Elly to his chest and placed his head on the pillow. We both kissed him on the forehead and bid him pleasant dreams, and then I asked Gavin to turn off the room light. We’d placed an automatic LED night light in that room over the weekend, in preparation for his arrival. We knew some children had difficulty being left in a dark room, so we did this to make certain there would be at least some light in the room.

I stayed with Eric and sang ‘You Are My Sunshine,’ ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,’ and the song ‘When You Wish Upon a Star’ from the Disney movie ‘Pinocchio’ until he fell asleep.

 

In the morning, Gavin and I both called into work. Gavin’s boss agreed to let him take a sick day, and then I called into work. After explaining the situation to him, I wondered how he was doing to respond.

“Danny, why don’t you take some of your personal time and stay home with your new son. I’m sure you have other things you might need to do as well, such as find a pediatrician and arrange daycare for him, and then I’ll see you on Monday.”

“Thank you very much and I promise to make this up to you somehow. I really appreciate you letting me do this.” Now that work had been dealt with, Gavin and I had breakfast with Eric.

Things were going very well after that and Eric started feeling very comfortable with us. He continued to call Gavin dada and me papa and everything was going great. Gavin and I would spend as much time as we could with him, but time was passing by far too quickly.

It was soon Christmas, so we took Eric to see Santa, but he cried, no he bellowed when we sat him on Santas lap. We weren’t sure if he thought we were giving him to Santa and going to leave him or if he had a bad experience with Santa in the past, but we’d have to work on it. He was, however, fascinated with the lights on our Christmas tree, as well as all of the lights on the buildings and houses that we passed while riding in the car.

On Christmas morning, he quickly learned how to tear the wrapping paper off of his presents, and he even took one of the stick-on bows off of one of his presents and stuck it on his forehead. It was cute and very appropriate, because he we truly our present that year.

The days continued to fly by, and when Eric was roughly three-and-a-half-years-old, he started calling Gavin Daddy, not Dada, although he still called me Papa. By Christmas that year he was actually looking forward to seeing Santa.

When he was four, we were told that his parents had surrendered their parental rights, seeing Eric would be a grown man by the time they were released from prison. This meant that we could adopt him, so we immediately started the adoption process. The adoption was finalized before he went to Kindergarten, so he would begin school with our surname.

It was about the same time that he started calling us Daddy Gavin and Daddy Danny, and at his school’s holiday concert that year, he even sang ‘Jingle Bells’ with his class. He was so cute wearing a white shirt and long tie, and we were very proud and impressed with his performance.

Everything was wonderful and we were all enjoying being a family, but when Eric was seven he started to have severe headaches, and he had them several mornings in a row. At first we thought he was faking it so he didn’t have to go to school, but he liked going to school, so what changed?

We thought, possibly, that he was having trouble with one of the other children, but then he also complained about having headaches on the weekends. Before I had a chance to call the pediatrician to make an appointment for Monday, his teacher told me that he’d been complaining about having bad headaches in class as well. I called and made an appointment with his pediatrician and I took Eric to his office during my lunch hour.

As soon as Eric’s doctor heard about the severe headaches, he scheduled Eric to have a CT scan. When that showed a growth on his brain, the doctor scheduled an MRI of his head so he could better assess the problem.

Gavin and I were deeply concerned, because this definitely didn’t sound good. We were holding our breath as we went to meet with the doctor in his office so he could tell us what he’d discovered.

“I know this isn’t going to be easy for you to accept,” he began, “but Eric has a growth on his brain that I’m very concerned about. I’ve discussed this situation with a neurosurgeon I’m friends with and we agree that a biopsy is required to determine if it’s malignant.”

“You mean he has a tumor on his brain and it might be cancerous!” I gasped.

“That’s a definite possibility, but we want to find out for sure.”

“But to do a biopsy,” Gavin interjected, “doesn’t it mean the neurosurgeon will have to remove a section out of his skull?”

“It won’t be that drastic, because my friend says it can be done with only a small bore hole. It’s the only way a sample can be collected so it can be examined. If you agree, then I’d like to arrange for my friend to perform the procedure.”

We were dumbfounded by this news! We hated the thought of having to put Eric through this, but apparently it had to be done. There seemed to be no other option.

The procedure was scheduled to take place in three days and we had to prepare Eric for what was about to happen, but how do you explain something like this to a 7-yearll-old?

“Eric, your doctor believes your headaches are caused by a growth on your brain. They want to use a needle to find out how bad it is,”

“Will the tests hurt?”

“No, they’ll put you to sleep while they’re doing it, but you’ll have to stay at the hospital overnight, and we’re going to stay with you. We just wanted you to know what the doctor was going to do.”

Eric was a brave little soldier as we walked into the hospital and went to admissions. After that was completed, we were directed to take the elevator to the floor where the operation would take place, and when we reached that floor, we were directed to a room where Eric could get ready. He had to undress and put on a hospital gown first.

“Why do I hafta do this if they’re gonna put a needle in my head?”

“It’s just something the hospital requires when they do things like this.”

After Eric was taken into the O.R., Gavin and I were nervous wrecks. We only had a rough idea about how long it was going to take, and then we’d have to wait to learn the results, and the neurosurgeon said that it could take 5 to 7 days.

When the neurosurgeon came out, he spoke to us. “Everything went as planned, and now we just have to wait until we learn the results before I can give you any more information about Eric’s status.”

We spent the night with Eric in his room, and Gavin and I slept while sitting in the chairs in his room and leaning on each other. In the morning, the hospital made Eric eat breakfast before they’d discharge him, and then we drove him home.

A week later, we had another meeting with the doctor in his office, and we could tell by the look on his face that the diagnosis was not what we were hoping for.

“I’m afraid Eric has a malignant brain tumor,” he advised us. It was the most unexpected and devastating medical diagnosis we’d ever received

“In that case,” Gavin began, “we would like you to make a referral for Eric to be seen by the doctors at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. It’s not that we don’t trust you, but the doctors there deal with this sort of thing on a daily basis and we’d like the physicians there to evaluate his situation and suggest a course of action.” In fact, we were hoping the doctors there would be able to perform a miracle for Eric.

At our first few meetings with the oncologist at St. Jude, he told us that he looked at the biopsy sample that had been taken before we arrived there and he agreed with the neurologist’s findings. The oncologist is a doctor who treats patients with cancer. He also asked when we first noticed something was wrong with Eric, and after explaining the required information, he explained what he was going to do nest.

“I’m going to have more MRI’s taken so I can get a good look at the tumor and see if it has grown since the MRI I was sent had been taken. I won’t sugarcoat it for you, because this is definitely serious. The good news is that the CT scan that was done before you arrived here didn’t find problems in any other areas of the body, so this isn’t a metastatic brain tumor. Metastatic cancer originates in another part of the body and then spreads to the brain, and those tumors are more serious because they tend to grow rapidly and will destroy nearby brain tissue as well. The bad news is that Eric’s brain tumor is in an inoperable section of his brain.”

“What makes it inoperable?” Gavin asked.

“It means that if we attempt to cut out the cancerous portion of Eric’s tumor, we might cause him to lose vital functions.”

“Which vital functions?”

“He could lose his ability to speak or the operation could leave him blind. He might even lose the ability to walk. The worse case scenario is that the operation could leave him in a vegetative state or even cause his death.”

“So, you’re saying there’s nothing we can do for him?”

“I’m saying Eric has what is referred to as glioblastoma multiforme, and I regret to inform you that there is no cure for it. There are, however, things we can do to slow the growth of the cancer, but there are likely to be side-effects that may result from the treatment.”

“And what are the side-effects you’re referring to?” Gavin and I demanded at nearly the same time.

“There may be several side-effects and some are similar to the symptoms you have observed prior to bringing him here. I’m willing to go over the side-effects he’s most likely to experience in the future, although he may only have to deal with some of these side-effects, not all of them.”

“We can deal with side-effects if it will prolong his life,” Gavin stated.

“I’m glad to hear that, because Eric will need your love and support. In addition to the headaches, Eric may also experience nausea, vomiting, extreme tiredness, and weakness. You may also notice that he’s experiencing hearing loss, skin and scalp changes, diarrhea, constipation, difficulty with memory and speech, and he may also suffer from depression,. The recommended treatment for his condition may also result in him having to deal with significant hair loss.”

“Is that all?” I said jokingly, mostly out of concern, rather than humor.

“Don’t worry. As I’ve already stated, he most likely won’t experience all of these side-effects, but I want you to be aware of the possibilities, and hopefully he’ll only show signs of a few of them.”

“So, what does the treatment include?”

“We’ll treat the tumor with a combination of chemotherapy and radiation. We’d commonly administer the chemotherapy drug temozolomide every day during his radiation treatments, as well as the six cycles during the maintenance phase. However, there is another option that may be more beneficial for Eric. That would be for us to use what are called carmustine implants. This is a newer method of administering the chemotherapy in some high-grade tumors, which is exactly what Eric has.”

“And what exactly are you talking about when you refer to these implants?”

“They’re glial wafers that are directly implanted into the brain.”

“So, you’ll have to cut his skull open to do this?” I gasped.

“Yes, that is how it’s done, but we’ll only be as invasive as the situation dictates.”

“If we chose the wafers, would he still require the radiation treatments?” Gavin asked.

“Yes, in his case the radiation and chemotherapy will go hand-and-hand no matter which method you choose.”

“Is there any advantage to inserting the wafers into his brain, instead of taking the chemo orally?”

“Unfortunately, there is no empirical evidence to prove it. However, the wafers will apply the chemotherapy directly into the brain where it’s needed, rather than relying on the oral capsules to break down in the stomach and then make its way to the brain.”

“How long do you think Eric has?” I wanted to know.

“I can’t tell you precisely, but the average life expectancy for a person with glioblastoma is 12 to 15 months, although a few patients have survived for up to 5 or 10 years. In Eric’s case, he’s young and that should work in his favor.”

“Will you give us some time to talk this over?”

“Certainly, that won’t be a problem. I have to see other patients that need my help and advice, so you can just leave a message on my phone to let me know what you decide.” He then handed us one of his cards with the needed information.

“What do you think?” I asked Gavin as soon as we’d left the doctor’s office.

“It’s a tough call, but I believe we should go with the implants. From what the doctor said, they may give Eric the best chance of enjoying a longer life and we’ll have him around for as long as possible.”

“That’s true, but I have a problem with the idea that the doctors will have to cut open his skull to insert the implants.”

“I know, but it’s not like this is the Stone Age. They’re not going to do it with a hammer and chisel. They have an outstanding team of doctors here, as well as the best medical equipment, and I’m sure the neurosurgeon they use will have plenty of experience with this type if operation.”

“Yes, I suppose you’re right and I’m willing to agree with you if it will give us an additional day, a week, a month or hopefully many years to spend with him.”

When we finished discussing this, we called and left a message for the oncologist advising him about our decision, and then we waited to hear from him about when the operation would take place. We were surprised that it was scheduled to take place the following afternoon, because we didn’t think it would take place that quickly. Now, we had to prepare Eric for what was about to happen.

“Eric, the doctors are going to operate on you tomorrow so they can put some medicine in the part of your brain that is diseased,” I told him.

“Will it hurt?”

“No, It will be similar to the last time they did this, at the other hospital, and they’ll put you to sleep again, so you won’t feel a thing,” Gavin assured him.

“Will I be all better after they do it?”

“You may have to deal with some problems for a while longer, but it should make you feel better eventually.”

“Ok, I’ll do it.”

We stayed in his room that night and I held his hand until he was wheeled into the operating room. The operation lasted for four and a half hours, but then we had to wait a couple more hours before we could see him. The neurosurgeon met with us prior to that happening and assured us that everything had gone well.

“After I performed the craniotomy, which means I removed a portion of Eric’s cranium to expose his brain, I was able to insert the implants. There were no complications and you should be able to see Eric as soon as he comes out from under the anesthesia.”

“Thank you, doctor. We appreciate everything you did for our son.”

When we were allowed to go to Eric’s room, he was still a little groggy, but at least he was alive and breathing. We stayed with him the entire night, as we sat in the high-back reclining chairs that had been placed in the room. We lowered the chair backs later, so we could sleep for awhile, because we wanted to be there for Eric when he woke up in the morning.

Eric had to remain at St. Jude for a few more weeks, and he was confined to bed for the first couple of weeks. After that, we were told he’d be required to have physical therapy before he’d be released, and this was to ensure the implants hadn’t affected his mobility and dexterity.

We were with Eric almost contantly during the first two weeks, but one day while he was sleeping, Gavin and I used our laptops to look for the highest rated bicycle helmet we could find. We were planning on purchasing one to protect Eric’s head while he was taking physical therapy, as well as when we left the hospital. We did this because we knew it would take time before the piece of bone that had been removed during surgery would reattach to the surrounding bone. The bicycle helmet was meant to protect him from further trauma, should he fall or merely bump his head on something.

When Eric was released from St. Jude, we took him home and he seemed fine, except he was a little self-conscious about no longer having any hair on his head. A large patch had been shaved so they could perform the operation, and then the rest of it fell out as a result of chemotherapy. The bicycle helmet would cover most of that area for now, but Gavin and I were going to look into the possibility of getting him a wig, as soon as the bone in his skull had fused.

Eric would also continue to have headaches every now and then, but it was to be expected after a surgery of that nature. The medication kept the headaches under control, but his head would itch where he’d been operated on. We had to keep him from scratching that area, and the bicycle helmet prevent it most of the time, but Eric would frequently try to take it off. The doctor told to use an ice pack from time-to-time and it would numb the area and stop it from itching. It seemed to work, because Eric stopped complaining.

Eric also made a big decision after we got back from St. Jude. “I’m getting too old to still be calling you guys Daddy Gavin and Daddy Danny. From now on I’m going to start calling you guys Dad Gavin, and Dad Danny. I hope that’s all right and you don’t mind.”

“No, that will be fine and we both approve,” we replied.

Since we didn’t know how much longer Eric would be with us, we made a big deal out of every birthday and we’d do something special each year. We’d have a party and allowed him to invite six of his friends, and the first year after his operation we took them to play miniature golf. The number worked out fine, because four of the boys formed one foursome, and then Gavin and I went with Eric and another of his friends to form the next foursome. This allowed us to keep and eye on him and make certain that nothing went wrong.

The following year we took them bowling, and the year after that we took them to a local stable so they could ride horses over a gentle trail. The next year we took all of them to a go-kart track, since Eric was basically back to normal by then, and I think doing this was the most exciting party for them, but it wasn’t his last birthday. It was just that the boys were getting older and they had other things to do, rather than attend a birthday party.

We would also make a big deal at Christmas as well. We would go out together and select the largest tree that would fit in front of the picture window in the living room. As soon as the tree was secured in the stand, we’d start decorating it. We’d allow Eric to help us put the lights on the tree first, followed by the ornaments, and then we’d lift Eric up so he could place the angel on the very top branch.

We also bought lights to put up outside as well, and Eric would help one of us steady the ladder while the other one climbed up to attach the lights. We also purchased a lighted nativity set for the front yard, and both Mary and Joseph were about the size of an average fifth grader, and Eric would get a big kick out of standing next to each of them.

Maybe you’ve already figured it out, but Eric beat the odds and lived longer than 12-15 month average. In fact, he lived nearly seven more years and got to be a teenager before he lost the battle with cancer.

When he turned thirteen, he no longer wanted us to invite his friends for a birthday party, since it was no longer cool. Gavin and I wracked our brains to think what we could do for him instead, and we arranged our vacations so we could take him to the UK for his birthday. We spent a week in London and another week in Scotland, and then for his 14th birthday we took him to Italy to visit Rome, the Vatican, and Venice.

During the trip to Italy, we could see that he was beginning to have problems. At first, we noticed he was having trouble walking and he’d frequently bump into different objects or merely stumble. He was also having trouble with his hands and arms, because he would often drop things or knock them over. And his fine motor skills with his fingers were slowly deteriorating.

By the time we retuned home, he was having trouble speaking and at various times he’d either have difficulty thinking of the words he wanted to use or he just couldn’t pronounce them correctly. It was not only difficult to watch, but whenever this happened Eric would become very upset and impatient. Because of this, Gavin and I were spending a great deal of time talking to him about the problems he was having and trying to calm him down.

Eventually, it got to the point where he was having trouble chewing and swallowing his food, and several times either Gavin or I would have to perform the Heimlich maneuver on him while we were eating. When this started to happen more frequently, the doctor decided it was time to have him admitted to the local hospital so they could administer his medications and feed him intravenously.

At this point, Gavin and I had to talk with our employers about what we were going through and they were very understanding. In fact, they agreed to let us use any vacation time we still had coming, along with any sick, family, and personal days that we’d accumulated so we could stay with Eric in the hospital.

This allowed us to be with Eric both day and night, and when we wanted to eat, one of us would go out and get the food so we could eat it in his room. This way, one of us would always be there with him, and fortunately we were both there when he took his final breath. It happened the summer between 8th and 9th grade.

We were surprised by how many people showed up for his calling hours, in addition to our extended family members on both sides. It wasn’t just the friends he had invited to his birthday parties and their parents either. Many of the other kids he knew at school and their parents came as well. A large number of the teachers he had over the years came as well, and a couple of the principals also showed up.

On the day of his funeral, the school district allowed the kids in his grade who wanted to attend the ceremony to be able to take a half day off from classes. The school also agreed to get substitutes for the teachers that wanted to attend.

It was a very moving service, as the minister talked about Eric and what a kind and generous boy he was, and he also spoke about Eric’s struggle with cancer. The minister emphasized that Eric had remained optimistic and that he was a fighter until the end. He also talked about how Gavin and I had chosen him to be our son and it was evident that we loved him very much.

When the service ended, the pall bears carried the casket out to the hearse. The six boys that Eric had invited to his birthday parties a few years before had asked us if we’d allow them the honor to serve as pallbearers, and we happily agreed to their request.

When we arrived at the cemetery, there was another short service, and before they lowered the casket into the ground, Gavin and I each placed a white rose on top of it, as did Eric’s six friends.

                                    *           *           *           *           *          

I hope you now understand why this Thanksgiving was so difficult for us, because it was the first Thanksgiving that we’ve celebrated since Eric left us. And thinking back upon all of those memories took their toll, so we had to dig deep to keep from breaking down, and we relied on each other’s strength to get through the rest of the day.

The day after Thanksgiving was normally the time when we would’ve gone out to select our Christmas tree, put it up, and then added the lights and decorations. We had always done it that way because we wanted to give Eric as much time as possible to enjoy the simple acts of the holiday season. Now that Eric was no longer with us, we didn’t feel in the mood to even put up a tree, let alone decorate it.

When my mother found out about how we were acting, she gave us some of her motherly advice. “How would Eric feel if he was looking down on you at this moment? He’d be very disappointed in his Dad Gavin and Dad Danny. He wouldn’t want you to be moping around the house and acting as if Christmas didn’t exist any longer. He’d want you to be doing the same things that you always did with him. He’d want you to be enjoying yourselves and thinking of the wonderful Christmases that you’d shared with him.”

We didn’t dare ignore her advice, so we decided to get a tree and decorate it. Once the tree was up, we went to get the boxes with the lights and ornaments, and as usual, we put the lights on the tree first. When I opened the box with the ornaments, I saw something that I didn’t recognize. It was a plastic bag, the type you might find in a gift shop, and there was something inside it.

“Gavin, did you put something extra in the ornament box last year?”

“No, and I have no idea what you’re talking about. I certainly didn’t add anything to that box.”

Gavin came over to see what I was talking about, so I picked the bag up and looked inside. There was a small paperback book titled: “Love Makes a Family”, and with it was an envelope, which I assumed contained a note or a card.

When we opened the envelope, we discovered one of the cards we’d been sent from some organization seeking a donation, so Eric must have taken it out of the plastic container that we keep extra cards in. I was expecting to find a Christmas card, but it was a card that said, ‘Thinking of You’, and I knew it had been blank inside so you could write your own message. I opened it, not knowing what to expect, and this is what we found.

“Merry Christmas Dad Gavin and Dad Danny. If you’re reading this, then it means I’m dead. I bought this book at a book fair when I was in fourth grade, and every year since then I’ve pulled it out of the ornament box before we started decorating the tree. I bought the book and wrote this card to let you know that I love both of you and we really were a family. I know you did everything you could to help me get rid of my brain tumor, but the doctor said there was nothing you could do. We just didn’t know how much time I had, but it’s ok and I know you did your best. I guess it was just my time to die, but I’m glad you adopted me and gave me a very happy life. I just wish that I could have been here with you even longer. I really love both of you a lot and I’m glad that I got to be your son. Love, Eric.”

Needless to say, I had to grab a box of tissues after I read the first few sentences, so I could dry my eyes. The tears were flowing freely and Gavin was experiencing the same problem.

Just so you know, the school district has a book fair every year before Christmas. Eric obviously put the bag with the book and card in the ornament box shortly after he bought it and then removed it from the box each year after that before we decorated the tree. He apparently put it back after we took the tree down, since he wanted us to find it after he’d passed away.

 

Now that we’d read the card, we decided to read the book, and that was nearly as emotional to get through. To sum it up, the book uses words and illustration to explain that it doesn’t make a difference what your family looks like; it is love that makes a family. The illustrations depicted diverse families doing special things together, things that Gavin and I had often done with Eric, and it stated that those things were all done with love. Each child could probably find at least one illustration that depicted a family like theirs, or one close to it.

What we found slightly amusing about this was that Eric had been just about to ener high school, and although he stated he’d bought this book in 4th grade, it was obviously written for pre-schoolers. However, the thing that wasn’t funny was that we knew it was given from the heart and with a great deal of love and affection.

We have a great many photos and videos we’ve taken throughout the years and some are from past Christmases, and of course Eric is in all of them. I think Gavin and I will spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day looking at the photos and watching the videos as we reminisce about the good times we had with our son. The only thing better would be to have him here with us.

Thank you for reading this story. I would appreciate it if you would leave a comment or click on an emoji to let me know what you think of it.
Copyright © 2023 Bill W; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
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This is a beautiful, sad Christmas story, Bill. Writing this was a very brave thing, but it is a wonderful reminder that the quality of life is much more important than how long the life is lived.  Eric's life was filled with the love of his two fathers and many friends.  His note shows he never took that love for granted.  

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1 hour ago, raven1 said:

This is a beautiful, sad Christmas story, Bill. Writing this was a very brave thing, but it is a wonderful reminder that the quality of life is much more important than how long the life is lived.  Eric's life was filled with the love of his two fathers and many friends.  His note shows he never took that love for granted.  

Thank you, Terry.  I'm glad this story touched you, and you're correct.  Eric never took Gavin and Danny's love for granted and loved them just as much to 

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On 12/19/2023 at 4:43 PM, bjrh008 said:

@Bill W That was a very sad yet wonderful book. Hope you have a wonderful Christmas and a blessed New Year. 

I'm not sure why I didn't respond earlier, but I hope you have a wonderful Christmas and a fantastic New Year as well.  

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