Caleb wore Eli’s shoes on Sunday. We couldn’t find his, so since it was past time to leave for service, I just grabbed Eli’s shoes that we had, sort of, tucked in our closet - not put away, but just sort of separated from the general shoe closet that we have downstairs at the door. I could sense he wasn’t quite comfortable with wearing them, and I, too, felt a little twinge of something sad when he put them on. Not sure why since he has been wearing Eli’s jeans, pants, shirts, underwear, and has even worn the special socks that only Eli wore. Caleb has grown a bit in the last year, and is now as big as Eli was when he was diagnosed. When Eli started treatment at just turning 7, he was Caleb’s size at almost 10. But, he grew less than an inch from the time he was diagnosed until his death at age 12, and though his weight fluctuated, he gained no more than 8 pounds since original diagnosis. I didn’t buy hardly any clothes for Eli over the last six years, save a t-shirt here and there for fun, or maybe a warmer coat. But he didn't out grow any, his activity didn’t destroy any, and realistically I knew he
would not need any more than what he had. So, the clothes that we have of his are very much his. Still, Caleb wearing the most general of the hand-me downs hasn’t been a big deal, until we faced the shoes.
Today, December 28th, is the sixth anniversary of the last day our family was ignorant of childhood cancer. I went about this day six years ago continuing to clean up Christmas because Eli finally felt well enough to open Santa’s gifts after being too sick on Christmas Day, the past Sunday. Maybe he had finally turned a corner from that nasty “virus” that had kept him sick off and on since the first of October, I thought. But, on that day, in the blissful state of ignorance, I was mostly concerned with getting the kids dressed back in their
Sunday clothes for a picture since Eli was unable to go to church and take the picture on Christmas Day. You’ll notice Caleb without shoes, which I’m sure is because wrestling a three-year-old Caleb for shoes just for a picture was not worth it. Eli’s excitement to be asked to stop playing - notice the Hot Wheels in his hand - with gifts he was finally able to open, and put on his Sunday clothes for no more than five minutes for a picture is obvious. (He is wearing the same Sunday shoes in this picture as the ones I asked Caleb to wear this past Sunday) The girls taking care of themselves in order for this to be quick is evident by Abbey’s twisted tights, and also me not noticing the twisted tights a sign that I was trying to rush the picture due to the subjects’ discontent. So, we took this picture, not on Christmas Day, not on a Sunday after church because the kids had on their best, not because it was convenient, but because Eli was finally up.
It’s been a busy time for us since Eli’s birthday efforts with the Boys&Girls Club earlier this month.
Straight from that “event”, Eli’s foundation cranked up to close out the year. A small part, but fun part of our foundation’s work is to collect Santa letters as part of the Macy’s Department store campaign by which it donates $1 for every letter to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. We don’t have a Macy’s locally, so last year we started a collection program involving schools and businesses with a goal of collecting 10,000 letters. Thanks to our community, we put mailboxes in all the local schools, and collected 9,753 letters. We drove those letters to the Macy’s in Birmingham last week, and continued that trip over to Augusta, Georgia, to deliver a check to Dr. Johnson from Eli’s Block Party Childhood Cancer Foundation for $20,000. It’s a drop in the proverbial bucket, but I am so proud of it because I know what it took to raise it, and I am confident as to where every hard-fought cent of it is going. We are just three years in as an official 501c3, starting with $100 and nothing more in the
bank or in the garage. We are growing as an organization, initiation by fire most of the time because we are learning as we go and we are all
volunteers. Nevertheless, we continue to get our name out there, continue to add the right people in the right places, continue to need the right people in the right places, continue to need more of what it takes to be successful and increase funding for childhood cancer. So, I’m excited for what we can do in 2018 to continue Eli’s fight against this monster.
After dropping off the check to Dr. Johnson, we took a day extra before coming home for Christmas and drove to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. It’s not the trip I had hoped to take the kids on, but it was fun even though it was just a day. Still the hole was and is painful and obvious.
Though the kids talk about Eli easily, often saying “Oh, wow, Eli would have loved that,” or “Eli would have said….”, something Sunday morning gave Caleb pause when I handed him Eli’s shoes. Something about him, as precious as he is, putting on Eli’s shoes made us both a little uneasy. He didn’t say anything exactly, but when I got them out, he just said, “You want me to wear Eli’s shoes?”
Though I am a sentimental person, I am practical about sentimentality. Just as none of the other clothes or toys that Caleb has been wearing or playing with were favorites or expensive, these shoes were not favorites, nor were they expensive. So, what was it about Eli’s shoes.
Shoes are richly representational, of course, and one can’t help but think of the journey that the feet that wore the shoes traveled. Caleb couldn’t verbalize it, but I almost think he felt unworthy. I said, “Sure buddy. They’re just shoes.” But, he knew they weren’t “just shoes.” And, I knew, they weren’t “just shoes.”
Still, not a day goes by that I am not thankful for your support and interest in Eli, our family, and childhood cancer.