A Healing Journey

I really did not know what to expect when I journeyed down to Memphis last weekend for the Day of Remembrance Ceremony. I read my Bible most of the flight. I prayed for God to use me to help others. And when we landed in Memphis, I saw the FedEx planes and I knew that I really was in Memphis. Even though it was hard to imagine going back there, I was there. Before the plane pulled into the gate, I made myself realize that I was not coming to Memphis to see Bennett. I fought back tears.

I exited the plan and saw a toy for children to play with. I remembered seeing it the first time John, Bennett, and I flew to Memphis for Bennett’s first resection. I made a b-line to restroom. Tears flowed freely, and I re-reminded myself that I was not here to see Bennett.

I found a taxi to take me to the hospital. The driver drove erratically through the traffic on the expressway to downtown Memphis. He was driving fast. I wanted to drive slower, and his driving scared me. He did not say a word to me. I reminded myself to breathe. Before I knew it, we were pulling up at the hospital gate.

The security guard that we saw nearly every day for a year was there to greet my taxi. For the first time, I had to utter “Elizabeth Sterling” instead of “Bennett Sterling”. I tried to say I was here for the Day of Remembrance Ceremony, but I choked (really choked) instead. The taxi driver said “you coming back”. I burst into tears and barely managed a “yes”. He finally got it and said, “I’m sorry.”

I exited the taxi and headed over to a bench outside the hospital. Breathe…. I cannot go into the hospital and fall apart. Too many people are hanging onto a thin thread of hope in there, and they do not need to see someone falling apart. We walk in each other’s shoes enough as it is. They don’t need these tears.

I worked up the courage to enter without Bennett’s legs kicking up and down because he is excited. I looked up at the big mural that Bennett pointed to everyday with a big smile on his face. I faced another security check and again cannot say the words “Day of Remembrance”. I made another b-line to the restroom. My face was so red, and my eyes were so puffy. Okay, I just have to accept that right now I have no control over my emotions. I remembered to breathe. That always helps.

This grieving comes in waves. Walking into the hospital was like facing a tsunami. I go to the chapel next. I sit on the back pew where I nursed Bennett so many times. I ask for God’s help. Breathe.

I finally face the hospital and see familiar faces. Parents, all with one less child who have gathered here for the same reason, hug and find strength in numbers. I got through reception breath by breath. I decorated a board with all the beautiful pictures of Bennett and beautiful blue butterflies.

Memory Board at Day of Remembrance Reception

The hospital staff came over to the reception, and many tears were shed. It’s hard for them too. I cried over and over again, mostly because I can sense their sorrow for our outcome. It is hard to look at those pictures of Bennett with a cutie-pie smile on his face. It is hard to believe that he is not able to light up the world like that anymore. It was good to see all those folks again. I wanted to tell them all how honored I am to know them. Usually a hug was all I could manage.

I woke up Saturday joyous. It was beautiful. The trees were blooming. The sun was bright and warm. The morning was spent in small groups discussing our journeys with grief. Despite the day before being so tough, Saturday I was happy for my place in this world again. I survived the tsunami. I was wet but not washed away!

The day ended with a remembrance service. It was very beautiful. Each family made up a bouquet of flowers, and at one point, we all went up and placed our bouquets together to form a giant bouquet. There was a slide show presentation of all the little heroes. The service ended with us on the green lawn releasing butterfly balloons. You can imagine how awesome that was for me.

Balloon Release

The next morning I got a taxi to the airport. I asked the driver how he was doing. He told me that he had a rough start because he forgot to set his clocks ahead. We took the slow route along the river. We talked about St. Jude. He drives kids from the Target House a lot. He told me about losing his mother a few months earlier. I sympathized with his loss, but think to myself no one can really understand losing a child unless it has happened to him or her. Then he told me how close he was to his mom. He remembers telling her once that he hoped that he would die before her. She told him ‘no parent should have to bury their child.’ I’m relieved. He does get it.

The driver told me how he got really attached to one little boy at Target. He knew the boy was a sports fan, and one day he was driving the boy to the hospital when the boy noticed and got excited about a Titan’s neon in the window of a bar. The driver happened to know the owner of the bar and arranged to get a Titan’s neon for the boy’s birthday. The driver was invited to the Target House for a surprise birthday party for the boy. The driver told me that he cried because he felt so good about being a part of this little boy’s party. It is amazing how these sick children touch the hearts of people in such a special way. I told him that when people did that sort of stuff for us, I viewed it as the love of God radiating through the hearts of the people involved.

We pulled up in front of the airport. I got out of the cab. The sun was shining. I felt great. The driver told me that I had made his day and gave me a great big hug. It felt like God and all the angels were saying “You did it!” And that made my day.


“The cords of death entangled me,
the anguish of the grave came upon me;
I was overcome by trouble and sorrow.
Then I called on the name of the Lord:
“O Lord, save me!”
The Lord is gracious and righteous;
our God is full of compassion.
The Lord protects the simplehearted;
When I was in great need, he saved me!” –Psalm 116:3-6


“Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.
Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.
And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy;
And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields.
And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.”

–Kahlil Gibran, from The Prophet


Most gracious Father, you are always there for me. In my weakest moments, you are always there to turn to. You keep me under your wing. You shelter me from the storm. You keep me from being washed away by grief and despair. And I emerge stronger and stronger. Your love radiates through others to lift my spirit. You heal me with your love and light. And I am blessed over and over again. Thank you Lord God. Thank you for saving me! Amen.


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