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By: Melinda Sue Sligh Kerns
My son, Chuck, wanted very much to own a toy soldier. He and I looked and looked, but could never find one just like he wanted. (The traditional -- red, black, white, and gold -- standing at attention -- toy soldier.)
Chuck was a very special child, born with a fatal disease (Cystic Fibrosis). I knew that his life span was limited, so I really wanted to give him all I could, within reason, to make his life full and happy, no matter how short. I wanted him to experience as much in life as possible in the short time given to us.
When Chuck was first born, the doctors had told my husband and I that his chances of survival were very slim. Even to reach the age of one year was to be a struggle. We did the best we could to accept this fact and leave it in the hands of the Lord.
Chuck did very well…… considering. He was in and out of the hospital every month or two for a couple weeks at the time with pneumonia, but at least he was alive and happy. We performed special treatments and breathing exercises four times a day, each and every day, to help him get over these “bouts” with pneumonia. And medicine -- oh my -- Chuck had to take about 40 - 50 Viokase pills a day just to help him digest his food. Not to mention all of the antibiotics, and several different kinds of vitamins, breathing pills, it just went on and on. He took about 60 pills a day, counting everything.
When he was almost four years old, Chuck was hospitalized with double pneumonia, one lung had collapsed, and he went into congestive heart failure. The doctors caring for him said that they were very sorry, but there was nothing more they could do for him and that he would probably not survive the night. They said that we shouldn’t even leave the room, or we might not be there when he needed us most. We had asked people to pray for us, and the word had gone as far as France where my husband’s family lives. Our prayers were answered!! Chuck woke up the next morning and his pneumonia was gone, his lung had re-inflated, his heart was back to normal, and he was up out of bed and ready to play; I knew he was better when I heard that same old statement that I had heard so many times a day -- “I’m hungry, Mom, could I have something to eat?”!
The doctors, of course, told us that there was no medical way this could have happened over-night. We all knew what had happened. It was a miracle! God had reached down that night and touched our boy and made him well and had given us more time together. Even though he was only four now, he would tell everyone about how God had reached down and touched him that night. He knew the truth!
Chuck was an extremely smart young man, and very talented. He could draw like an artist - - - loved to design cars, boats, and airplanes. Put models together in minutes. He was always so thoughtful and kindhearted. He loved people and could not stand to see anyone hurt - - - physically or mentally.
Chuck was a little small in frame because of the Cystic Fibrosis (C. F.) and some of the neighborhood kids really ridiculed him about it. His father and I would ask, “Does it hurt you when people say thoughtless things like that to you?” and he would answer - - “No, it just proves that they don’t understand!”
He was such a good boy! He seemed to always leave a good impression with everyone that he met, because he was always thinking of others. The clerks in the stores all knew him by name and he always made it a point to stop by and talk with them each time we went into a store, even if it was for only just a minute or two.
When he was in the 4th grade, he was out of school, sick more than he attended. He would attend school for a couple days, get sick, and spend a week or two getting well again. He had gotten to the point that he could no longer go to school because of all the illnesses there, and the fact that if he was exposed to anything, he "caught" it. (The C. F. caused his mucus to be very thick and sticky, and any germs floating in the air, would “stick like glue”. Then there we would be again - - in the hospital, with pneumonia.) He managed to keep his schoolwork done and his grades up. When he advanced to the 5th grade, we didn’t want him to stay sick, so we made arrangements to have a “home bound teacher” come to our house.
As the months went by, we could see that as long as we isolated ourselves, he could stay fairly well - - - only being hospitalized on the average of twice or three times a year now. He did well, and when he was in the 6th grade, he was actually doing 8th grade work. His “home bound teacher”, Mr. Donahoo, took time to let Chuck go over to the school (after the school was closed in the afternoons and the other children had gone home) and teach him woodwork. Chuck was very good with his hands. He made animal shaped cutting boards, key holders with different designs, and pencil holders, wooden games, and a boat for his father on Father’s Day. This little wooden boat was in such detail ! This little wooden boat, sat on top of a big wooden wave. It had masts and sails and a very detailed rail fence around it. Everything about it was perfect!
In August, Chuck got sick. Just another “bout” with pneumonia, we thought. He was in the hospital for about 4 or 5 days and he asked us to please take him home. We did not understand, because he had always enjoyed the attention from the nurses when he was in the hospital before. (His favorite nurse was “Kathy”.)
He was to the point now where he had to take 8 - 9 liters of pure oxygen per minute, just to survive. When we questioned him about wanting to go home, he answered, “I want to be at home in my own bed”. (Later, we recalled that about three months before this, he had told us, “When it’s my time to go, I want to be at home in my own bed, I don’t want to die in a hospital”.) Well, we made arrangements at once to have oxygen at home so we could make him comfortable. (He could not survive without the oxygen tanks.)
He had several things that he wanted to accomplish while he was still here on earth. He had some models to put together that he had gotten while he was in the hospital. He wanted to see all of his cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents; and he wanted to play his ColecoVision that he had saved and saved his money to buy.
He had left the hospital on Thursday and now it was Sunday. He had seen all the relatives and they had left and gone back to South Carolina and Ohio. He finished his model that night, too. And even tried to play a game on his ColecoVision, but his heart rate was over 250 beats per minute (so fast that I could hardly even count it) and he didn’t play but a few seconds because, he said, his heart was just going too fast!
It was August 21st now and he kept asking me what the “date” was. My father, “Pop”, Chuck called him, had passed away very suddenly the year before with cancer and had died on August 26th (my sister’s birthday - - just three days before his own birthday, August 29th). Chuck had told us, after “Pop” died, that he wanted to have the same songs at his funeral as “Pop” had had, and he wanted everything to be like “Pop” had it.
We were beginning to wonder now, because he told us that if anything happened to him, we were not to cry or be unhappy, because he would be happy in Heaven with God and Jesus, and he wanted us to be happy, too!
Chuck had experienced a trip to Heaven. He described Heaven, and told us how wonderful and peaceful it was there. He talked with Pop while he was there. Pop told Chuck that he was fine and that he liked it there. God asked Chuck if he was ready to live in Heaven? Chuck answered that he wanted to come back here and stay with “Mom and Dad” for a little longer if he could. God told him, “Yes, you can go back home now and come back to stay here when you are ready”.
Chuck didn’t quite make it to the day on which “Pop” died, he just couldn’t hold on any longer. He “Changed Skies” the next morning, August 22nd (my Mother’s birthday). Chuck’s father, his doctor (Dr. Hodge), and I were the only ones with him when it happened. It was very strange that Dr. Hodge was here at that time of the morning, but I’m sure Chuck planned it that way. Usually, Dr. Hodge would have already seen Chuck and been gone by this time, but he had gotten held up in traffic and arrived about 10 minutes before Chuck’s death. Chuck was such a good actor and a brave young man, that until the actual moment of death, we had no idea that he would never live to see the age of 13. (He had just barely turned 12 in May, the 27th.) Just five minutes before his death, he was taking medicine and shaking his head to tell me - - “Yes, Mom, I’m all right.” The last thing I said to my boy was, “Sunshine, I love you and God loves you, too!!” He held my hand - - - gasped for air - - - and was gone. For 12 years, he had struggled and fought for his life, and now the battle was quietly over. He was at Home and at peace.
He had written the words that he wanted on his headstone. They are: “Gone To The House On The Highest Hill”. He also left his father and I a note that said, “Dear Mom and Dad, Stop and consider the wondrous works of God. Love, Chuck.”
This year when Christmas neared, I had an extremely hard time shopping. Every time I went into a store, I was reminded of my “Sunshine” (his nickname) and everywhere I looked - - - Toy Soldiers! Why! Why couldn’t they have had them last year or the year before so I could get one for my “Sunshine”? I wanted so much to do things for him.
I tried to have “Christmas spirit”, but it was extremely hard to come by. There was such an empty, empty spot in my stomach, aching to see and hold and kiss my Sunshine again. Just one more time!Just for a few minutes!!
My husband, Frank, came in one evening with Christmas gifts in his arms (we had decided not to buy anything this year since we didn’t have our boy) but he had two gifts. “This one,” he said, “is from Chuck, and the other one is from Chuck and I”. When he let me open the first one, I was very surprised! There pinned to the robe that he (and Chuck) had bought me was a little “Toy Soldier”. Frank said that he himself, did not understand why he had bought it. (He did not know that Chuck and I had looked high and low for that “Toy Soldier”.) When I told him about how we had searched, he said how strange it was - - then he said, “Go ahead and open the other one (from Chuck) because I bought it without knowing my reasons also.” I opened it up and there to my surprise was a music box that played “The Parade of the Wooden Soldiers”. There were two Toy Soldiers standing on a big red and green drum with gold cord all around, a cannon and cannon balls on top. One soldier was playing a horn and the other one, a drum.
Chuck did this for us! Even though he is in Heaven now, we still get messages from him and he is patiently waiting to greet his Daddy and Mommy into Heaven. We love him!! He has made what I thought would be a very, very sad Christmas into a loving “Toy Soldier Christmas”. And he has helped me to understand that he is having the most wonderful Christmas possible this year. Not only is he with “Pop” now, but spending Christmas with God and Jesus!- - - That has to be the most wonderful, ultimate experience!!
Chuck told me that if he could, he would communicate with me from Heaven and he sends me “Pennies from Heaven”. When I get extremely sad or depressed, I’ll look down, and there is a penny…. what I call a “Sunshine Penny”. I know that this will be hard for anyone to believe, but the very first penny I found after Chuck had gone to Heaven, had the entire Lord’s Prayer engraved on it. I always carry at least one of my “Pennies from Heaven” in my pocket along with my small gold Guardian Angel, and my Sunshine is always with me.
My Toy Soldier Christmas!!
Written on December 20
Love is .......
"Stop and consider the wondrous