By Shirley Prihoda
As I sit in my writing studio, which is a euphemism for an adapted shed in the backyard, my mind goes back to another April Fool’s Day 51 years ago.
The weather in south Texas that day would have taken the prize from the overly publicized California weather by a wide margin. The sun was shining, and the temperature hadn’t reached the point that our legs were sticking to the plastic seat coverings used to protect the fabric in our 1968 Chevy Nova.
It was 1971, and most of south Brazoria County had one option for traveling to the medical center in Houston, a two-lane road currently named FM 521. State Highway 288 with its fast-moving four lanes was still a gleam in the engineer’s eye and wouldn’t open until July 9, 1982.
Traveling the route was simply business as usual since we didn’t have anything to compare it with.
The scene along the route seemed almost pastoral with grazing cows and Indian Paint Brush flowers casting a tangerine haze in the fields. Looking back over the tranquility of that day and the news we received from the doctor, there should have been thunderstorms.
Upon arrival, we were ushered back to the exam room, where the doctor delivered the words that would forever alter the course of my life. He looked at me totally devoid of emotion and said, “Your son is dying.” The exam room and my world were caught up in a massive vacuum that sucked all the sound and air from the room. My mind was silently screaming, “It’s April First, and someone is going to jump out and say, “Got ya’, April Fools.” No one did. Time had lost its meaning, and I don’t know how long I sat there before asking the doctor how long. In the same deadpan way, he answered, “A few days” before abruptly leaving the room.
Five-year-olds are not supposed to die. But then, there’s no discriminatory age for cancer. We had been fighting this battle since he was two-years old, when a tumor was found in his mouth and an unfamiliar word, “Rhabdomyosarcoma” entered our vocabulary. Upon removal, the tumor quickly returned, as this type of cancer is prone to do. The second surgery required radical removal of his cheekbone, teeth, and some of the palate and throat.
While recovering, another tumor was found in his leg. The removal was successful, and we had two years without chemotherapy and radiation. Then came the day our pediatrician in Lake Jackson, Dr. Johnson, walked into the room with tears flowing down his face and chest X-rays in his hand, saying, “It’s back.” Surgery revealed the cancer had metastasized from the lungs to the heart and was inoperable.
Now, here we were, six months from that inoperable diagnosis, and headed home to Brazoria County while wondering how we can crowd a lifetime of memories into the days that are left.
Hospice was not available in 1971, so we checked back into our Community Hospital, where five short years prior he was born. There were few things I could promise him. One was no more shots. When a nurse wanted to draw blood for research, I exploded. My son, ever the compassionate one, said, “It’s O.K., Mommy. She can do it.”
On the sixth day, he turned to me and asked where he was going. I wasn’t a believer in Christ and tried desperately to remember what I had overheard in my limited exposure to church. He asked if me and his dad would be there later. I told him yes, and it didn’t feel like a lie. Six short days later, Dr. Johnson laid him in my arms, and he breathed his last breath.
The pastor at First Baptist Church in Freeport asked if he could do the service, and this was the first time anyone who said they were a Christian had ever shown any kindness that indicated it to be true. I don’t remember a lot about that day in April, but I will never forget the pastor’s tears flowing as he read 2 Samuel 12:23, “But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.” That was the hook the Lord used to turn my eyes toward accepting His gift of salvation. Within a month, I went forward and stepped into a new life with Christ.
I love celebrating the birth of Christ at Christmas, but if Easter hadn’t come, the story would have a different ending. My little blue-eyed son left this earth the day after Easter, and as every Resurrection Day comes and goes, I am one step closer to fulfilling my last promise.
One day soon I will get to see Christ and thank Him for giving His life for me. Then I will turn to the little boy who has been patiently waiting for his mommy to fulfill her last promise and say: “Mommy said I would come. I’m home.”
(To contact Shirley, please send emails to firstname.lastname@example.org or write to The Bulletin, P.O. Box 2426, Angleton, Tx. 77516)