I don't even know how to title the following update-- I write this out of habit but out of want too. I have not been checking the messages daily, but am thankful to find words of encouragement when I do. It is more difficult for me to express the true feelings I experience in a given day and it is probably not meant for me to do so anyway. However much I struggle, I eventually come back to the comfort and the grace of Christ.
Travis began back to teaching this week and I will resume my place in the classroom on Monday. It will be difficult for me to leave A.J., as we have just begun to become reacquainted with one another. I am very hopeful that I can muster the thought, nerve, and heart to contribute something valuable to the education of my students before the year is through.
I saw Brian walk by when I was at the school yesterday collecting some materials to start back to work on Monday. I am thankful that the Harmans are home and hope to see them soon.
Thank you for your continued thoughts and prayers.
March 6, 2007 Home at last
It has been over a week now since he left us. Now, in the comfort of our own home, it is hard to believe we spent all those days and nights in the hospital hoping, praying, fighting alongside our son who was so, so ill. Really, it seems very unfair to say that we "fought" compared to what he did-- this is one of the thoughts that can still trouble me greatly. All we did was stay by his side because we promised him we would. He did the rest.
Many of you may assume that we've shared all there is to share about this journey. We have attempted to be honest without being offensively raw, which is why parts of our trial we have kept private. I feel the need now to share something that happened several weeks ago-- something that you may consider when you speak to your children of heaven, as I understand the situation has probably demanded recently.
See, we had never talked to Joshua about death. We never even talked to him about heaven before his diagnosis. At first, we felt very strongly about excluding him from any conversation that involved such terms as "cancer", "oncology", "survival rate", etc. It was eventually pointed out to us by a kind Child Life Specialist at Duke that these were words that were scary only to us-- not to Joshua. We then got the courage to use them more freely. Then something big happened. Joshua wound up in the PICU requiring emergent radiation over the weekend of January 27-28. At that time, we became aware of just how aggressive and threatening the disease was. We were so scared, but it was clear to us that Joshua was more confused than ever, so we finally got the courage to tell him:
"We know that this turned out to be something bigger than we thought. That means it will take a little more to get you better, BUT we promise you'll get better. We don't know if it will be here with mommy and daddy or in heaven with Jesus, but we promise you'll get better." Then we told him about what a wonderful place heaven was.
Do you know how relieved we all felt after that was said? I realize that "death" and "dying" are unpleasant words in our vocabulary, but I have considered that maybe-- just maybe-- they are only as scary as what we associate them with. Is it goodbye's? Perhaps funerals that come to mind when we hear these words? What if instead we associated these words with healing? What if we celebrated the day that our loved ones were meeting their Creator? What if?...
I can also report from experience that, happy as I am that he is no longer suffering, there is still a void in our lives with immeasurable pain. The absence of one who brought so much life to our home is felt constantly and in every place. Still, we know that he is healed and we know that he is home. The delight we will take in being reunited with him will sustain and motivate us during our existence until God calls us home too.
Thank you for sharing this journey with us. We will continue to check the website and post updates or journals from time to time, and of course, to support the causes that have become of utmost importance to us. God bless you all!
Laura & Travis
March 5, 2007 LET YOUR LIGHT SHINE
As Joshua has touched all of our lives, we will forever be grateful to him and the Cantrell family for sharing their courageous son with Floyd County and the rest of the world. We will always remember how softened our hearts and souls became as this little one walked his journey. As a way to show rememberance and gratitude, we ask of you not to let the candle in your window burn out, but to simply change one of the bulbs to blue. As we drive along our journey, we will always be reminded of his journey. We will remember to live each day of our life to the fullest and to recognize every one of those "little miracles" around us everyday. Again, we thank everyone for their love, support, and most of all prayers throughout the last two months. As Travis mentioned Thursday night, if Joshua has changed your life, make it a permanent change so Joshua's light will forever shine....through all of us!
Bulbs are available at Target, for sure, possibly other department stores as well.
March 2, 2007 IN LOVING MEMORY
Joshua Alan Cantrell
Born September 17, 2003 - Returned to the Lord February 26, 2007
Survivors Parents Travis & Laura Pratt Cantrell
Brother A.J. Cantrell
Maternal Grandparents Joel & Saundra Pratt
Paternal Grandparents Alan & Gayle Cantrell
Aunt Melissa Cantrell
Aunt & Uncle Heidi & Jason Harman
Great Grandparents Margaret & Lewis Viars Erma & Frank Cantrell Ardena Pratt Lou & Betty Lovitt Barbara Lovitt
Cousins Tori Pratt Hunter Harman
When Joshua entered this world, he was surrounded by a multitude of love from friends, old and new. He was bright eyed and active from the moment that he [finally] decided to make his big entrance, and he lived every minute to the fullest ever since.
From Ohio, where he was born, to Colorado, back to Virginia, where he called "home," and finally to North Carolina where he left us, we have observed that Joshua has made an impact on those who have known him. He had a special way about him that captured hearts.
People have showered Joshua with love in every phase of his life, and we are so grateful that even in the later, darker times, there was an overwhelming amount of support for him. God has used you to touch our lives so that we may "walk and not be faint" through our saddest hour.
We now know that God's plan for Joshua in this world was for a very short three and a half years. We will never know the extent of that plan, but we feel obliged to ask the following when you generously ask us, "How can I help?" ... Just pass on a smile to a few extra people each day. Be patient with others. Wave at someone - even if you don't know if they'll wave back. Give an extra hug or two. In any way that you can think of, spread around the same love that you have enveloped our Joshua in.
March 16, 2007 Travis' Words from Joshua's Memorial Service
Following are the words that Travis prepared for the Memorial Service:
I know that this is probably a little different than what some of you were expecting – I know that parents would usually not get up here and speak.However, there are a couple of reasons why Laura and I thought it was important for one of us to stand before you today.The first reason is we want to verbally and in person tell you all Thank You!
I know each of you are sitting there and saying to yourself that it isn’t necessary to tell you that and you would probably say that we would do the same for you and that will always be true.But the fact of the matter is; we need to be able to tell you thank you and know that you understand how important each one of you, this community and the surrounding communities are to us.There’s no way that we’ll ever be able to repay you or for you to know exactly how appreciative we are or for you to truly know how much you all helped us, so the least I can do is say thank you.It’s also important for everyone here and for everyone that followed our lives for the past couple of months to know how much your prayers have helped.We were all praying for the same thing and that was for God’s healing hand to bless Joshua and cure his body from that wicked disease.Skeptics could say and point out that those prayers were ignored or that God chose not to answer those prayers but that’s not how Laura and I and our family feel.Those prayers were heard and they were answered.They may not have been answered in the way that we wanted most but they were answered.Each prayer has given Laura, me, and our family strength during this time.Each prayer gave Joshua strength and comfort that we’ll never be able to understand but we know it was there.Those prayers have allowed me to come here today and tell you how much you have meant to us.The prayers were not answered in the way that we wanted most but they were answered.People tell us that Joshua changed more lives and affected more lives than we’ll ever know.We hope that is true because we believe that for whatever reason, Joshua and Chance were chosen to help this community and the surrounding communities pull together and do things that no one could have ever thought possible.
We always told people that we met that we live in the best community in the world and I believe that to be true.Part of me thinks that there are few if any other communities that could have done the things that you all have done.However, I pray that I am wrong in that thought.I hope that there are multiple towns and communities that would do the same thing for their family, which is what we all are, family.I hope this because that’s how we see God’s work.We didn’t see it heal Joshua but we saw it pull communities, people, and families together and we saw it give our family the strength that we need so desperately during this time.So again, I want to stand here and tell you, on behalf of my entire family, thank you from the bottom of my heart.
In conclusion, we are not naïve enough to think that every person who has encountered Joshua should remember him forever as vividly as we do—that’s just not realistic.But we do hope that if it is true that you have made some change, big or small, in your own life as a result of having known him, that you would make that a permanent change.Thank you and God bless.
March 16, 2007 Laura's Words from Joshua's Memorial Service
We thank each and every person who was able to make it to Joshua's Memorial Service and hope that you received the blessing from it that we did. We are indebted to the pastors, David Taylor and Stuart Childress and to the wonderful musicians and readers who made it exactly what we had planned to honor his life. Following are the words that I (Laura) prepared and Travis delivered at the service. God bless you all.
It is a tough job to try to decide what you want people to remember most about a child, but no one could be more qualified for this job than his parents.Like all parents, we have tried with everything we have to make the right choices for our child in his life.Like all parents, we have felt like a failure at times.But we have always given it our all because Joshua brought so much to our lives from the moment we found out he was to exist.
What stands out to me the most about Joshua is his willingness to waste no time.The first time we saw him he was (as his Nana puts it) “all arms, legs, and eyes”—he was ready to get down to the business of living.He fit so well into our family and we enjoyed his company so much that we decided to give him a brother pretty soon after.In fact, around the same time we moved him across the country and expected the “adjustment” issues that people warned us about.He was typically pretty easy to adjust, though, and embraced whatever we threw at him. He became such an independent fellow.By the time he was to start preschool here in Floyd in Miss Kathy’s class down at Floyd E., we gave him the big talk expecting there to be crying and separation pains and all that parents usually encounter when they drop a kid off for their first day of school.Instead, to our surprise, before we could even finish the sentence, “We will drop you off, but remember that we’ll come back…” he was letting go of our hand and taking off toward the toys and waving bye!
There are countless wonderful memories that we have of Joshua just as all families treasure memories of their children.We feel very fortunate that in his little life, Joshua experienced life in different areas of the country.He got to go to games, meet new friends, attend playgroups and little classes.He enjoyed the simple things that most children do, like taking walks and runs in the jogger, visiting friends, and attending VBS.These are all simple things, but not to be taken for granted in his life or in any child’s life.They are all important.
If we were honest, there are things that Joshua never did that we always wanted him to.He didn’t attend "big" school; didn’t get to play on a team; didn't ever fall in love or experience the joys of grown-up life... Though he lived life to his fullest, there is only so much time in three years.There are many things a parent wants and expects to watch their child do and experience as they grow up, and when we faced the tough possibilities of Joshua’s diagnosis back in December, these were some of the things that caused great grief to us.We then asked ourselves, well, what then is it that we most wanted Joshua to experience in this life?My answer for that would be, generally, the relationships that we have formed over the years with people—people from all circles and communities of our lives.Family of blood, our beloved community here in Floyd; teammates; coaches; players; college classmates and sorority sisters; our Air Force family; church friends; sometimes even those special friends that we only ever meet once or twice—all of these people have made our adult lives what they are and what we are now able to contribute to our children.Why then, we wondered, couldn’t Joshua have the same opportunity to meet and make friends?
What we failed to realize in lamenting this concept was that Joshua has accumulated more friends and loved ones than his daddy and I put together.We underestimated the impact that this child could make on those who got to know him and-- thankfully because of the website and some of the other publicizing of his circumstance-- even many people who did not know him in person.Joshua did not lack for friends. Though he never played on a team, we feel he has been an important member of a couple of teams including the AF women’s basketball team and of course, our own Lady Buffs.Though he will not enter FloydCountyHigh School as a student or an athlete, he found and established himself pretty well in this community for one who lived here for less than a year.
It seems, then that the task of figuring out what people should remember about Joshua is kind of irrelevant.He did that for himself, I guess.There are still things to be said, though, about the experience in general.We all wonder why—nobody more than his parents.But we have learned more in the past two months than we did in all of our other years combined about this life.We felt more painful things than we have ever known, but we also felt more grace.We learned that no matter how much we try and fail and try again, God is still going to be the one in control.Every step we take, every move we make is important to God’s plan.We have learned that we cannot ignore that because we have a better idea of what heaven is like after having had Joshua for three years.
Whatever your heaven is, we pray that you have learned through our experience how important it is to work toward that heaven.We thank you for doing exactly that by blessing our beloved child and his family with gifts of compassion and most of all love.We thank you all for what you’ve done for us in this life and the everlasting one.