This is the strongest writing I have ever been given to write. The words are harsh and raw. But there is value. And it is not by chance that I share this today on Easter. The power of the Blood of Jesus is far reaching and has greatest “Impact”. The main title of all these writings is “Impact”. It started with the original page ( https://impactgreenleaf.wordpress.com/the-impact-of-the-life-of-james-matthew-greenleaf/ ) and all the following posts contribute to this same theme of “Impact”. I do not wish to share this but I am hoping that there is some value to someone. See the original page of the link above to see what my mission statement for these writings. If the mission statement is honored in this then I have accomplished what I have set out to do.
Were You There? Did You See?
This is the final writing that I include. It was written in December 1999. It was written in a dark moment. It was written as a plea. It was written with some anger. It was written in response to stones that were being cast. The stones were cast at the one I love more than myself. This was written to defend.
Why be sad over James? He is in heaven. He has received the ultimate reward. Why mourn so for the loss of this little child? He was used by God for God’s glory and the many lives changed for the better. These are questions posed after many months of deep grief and sadness.
The following questions I pose to you. I am the father and I was there to watch an innocent child lose the battle of life. What I present to you is from my heart. I was there for a portion of all the tests and hospital stays. I saw only a portion of the suffering. I mention this because there was someone that was there for James through all the bad, all the hurt, all the hospital stays, and yes held him close when he breathed his last. The mother was there and grieves much more deeply because she did see it all.
So what are the questions I ask?
Were you there? Did you see? Did you hear?
Were you there to see a child suffer and then die?
Have you ever seen a child suffer and then die?
I have and I do understand the grief and pain, the sorrow and hurt. Yes, and I do know that he received a great reward in Glory.
Have you ever seen your child relapse to cancer and take him to the surgeons and have them put a life line, rubber tubing in his chest that feeds into his heart? Did you know that the tubing was to be first used for the poison that feeds into the heart for the killing of cells, mostly good life cells and then also the cancer cells?
Have you ever felt your child’s hair and have handfuls of strands fill your hand?
Have you ever smelt the chemo on your child? It gives a distinctive odor.
Were you there when they strapped him onto the cold scanning table for hours of scans? Did you see him there when they pulled the scanning machine within an inch of his nose? Have you ever heard your child plea and cry for those hours because it was constricting and scary? We look back at that and remember how strong he was at the beginning to fight that.
Have you ever seen your child get weaker and fight less the doctors and chemo? Do you know he even looked forward to going to the hospital because of a special doctor, play lady, and nurses that loved him.
Did you ever see your child’s face turn pale? Low counts on blood cells change the complexion.
I share the following with you. I wrote this when he relapsed. I wrote it the night his line was placed in his chest. After everyone was asleep. When James was in our bed sleeping next to his mother.
His name is James. His blonde hair bounces as he trots along playing in the
summer breeze. His fair complexion and hair give a radiance in the glow of
the sun. Energy abounds in this young boy and his smile lights all those around.
He is also given the names of kindness and gentleness. Joy is what he gives back.
But this is for a season only. Fair complexion turned to pale complexion. Energy
that once abounded now is used for fighting and maintaining. His names of
kindness and gentleness cannot be taken, but added to his name is sadness, grief,
and suffering. His smile can still light a darkened room but these new added
names are shared by his family and friends. Courage is there but cancer fights
These words I wrote that night were the first I had ever written about James’ cancer. It was unfinished because the words were not there. I did revise these words and the first part was used at the funeral in ‘James’ Story’. It is significant that the last words written, the last words given to me to write were ‘but cancer fights harder’. Do you know that it snowed that day in uptown Charlotte. When James was recovering after surgery, I looked out the window and saw the large, fluffy flakes float down. Do you know that when you read a book or watch a movie that snow or rain is symbolic of sadness and or sorrow.
Did you ever have to give your child a shot?
Did you ever have to give your child a shot when he is sick from chemo?
Have you ever given your child a shot when he is sick from chemo after many rounds of chemo and he is at his weakest because it is the last day of the seven consecutive days of shots?
Have you seen the tears and heard the pleas from a young child saying “NO Daddy” to the shots and him looking to his mom as she holds him down? What you really want to do is give him the biggest prize for enduring so much.
You know a question was posed to us that goes like this: ‘If you could bring James back, cancer free, would you bring him back?’ We both thought hard on this. She could not answer this. I could. One of the deciding factors was that I would never want to see him go through any moment of suffering. Now that’s impossible on earth.
Have you ever packed up the family when school is out for the summer, when many families you know are packing up their families for summer vacation at the beach, and taken them up to Durham “The City of Medicine” for the summer?
Did you ever take your child down to radiation first thing in the morning when he is at his brightest and lay him on the table and you and the nurses and doctors evacuate the room because of the doses of radiation? Have you ever seen your child come out of sedation and see how nauseated he looks? After several hours he starts to feel better and then you take him for the second round and do the same thing? Have you ever done it for five straight days? Each day seeing your child get weaker and sicker. In the midst of it all he still played with toys while he lay on the floor.
Have you ever taken your child into the hospital after five days of radiation knowing that he is about to receive the strongest chemo he will ever receive? They started the chemo Saturday morning and it ran through Monday. He played some Saturday, less on Sunday, and then never again. He ate some Saturday, less Sunday, and then never again. He entered the hospital Friday evening. It ended 67 days later.
Have you ever seen your child take weeks to recover and slowly make progress? It was the week of July 18th that we saw him sitting up in bed. When we filled the basin for his bath, he dunked his face and head under the water. It must have felt so good to him. This was his best week. He had recovered some energy. He was given the privilege to eat ice chips and popsicles. It wasn’t food but it was progress. Of course this was taken away because his body wasn’t ready. It was this week that he had strong pains in his abdomen. After a full month of recovery there is little progress in his digestive tract. A simple procedure was ordered to take a look at the GI tract.
Have you ever had a sinking feeling in your stomach that something is wrong? We had that feeling since the day he relapsed. But you choke it down because you have to. But on this Friday July 23rd it was so much more.
The Shedding of Blood
I was not going to include this portion because of the strong content but there is too much significance to ignore it.
No one knew that after the simple procedure, the simple endoscopy and biopsy of his GI tract that James continued to bleed. When they had trouble weaning him off the ventilator they thought it was just a breathing problem. No one knew. It wasn’t until the labs were drawn, when the nurse drew blood, when she saw the blood being drawn out, she could see how thin the blood was. She knew it was so wrong. Were you there? I was not. I left the hospital to go back to the apartment for a change of clothes for Terri and me. I walked back to the hospital feeling worn out from the drain of waiting for James to come off the ventilator. I walked around the corner heading to PICU and there is Doctor Martin and Terri coming towards me with a terrible look. He lost almost all his blood from the continual bleed. James’ body holds three units of blood. They replaced three units of blood.
It was later that evening when we could be by his side that it happened. All the blood had collected in his intestines. I didn’t even think about that. It would be released. It all came out. The large clots at first disturbed me the most. I did not know what this was. I had to ask the doctors because it terrified me. I have never seen anything like it. There was so much. And then after the clumps of clots, the liquid blood poured out. Do you know the nurses had to hold up the edges of the pad underneath him so the blood would not spill out onto the floor?
Have you ever seen your child in a pool of blood before!!!
Were you there?! Did you see?
Did you hear?
Did you feel the despair?
God! God! Have Mercy!!!
Do you know that even with being heavily sedated he opened his eyes and looked at me? Do you know what that looks like?
The shedding of blood were the words ringing in my ears.
Why do I share this with you? Because I saw Christ crucified like never before. The shedding of blood, my son’s blood from bleeding all day. An innocent child that knew no evil. Blood was shed that day and I knew that the shedding of innocent blood could bring life. I was hoping that this was a sign of shedding blood to bring new life. That is what Christ did for us. His blood spilled out. Innocent blood was shed for me with Christ crucified.
James would not recover from this. I believe if they had not done the procedure or if they would have caught the bleeding earlier, that James had the strength to recover. But fighting two battles in a weakened condition leaves little hope.
Why is blood the price to pay? What does it represent? It represents life. When we look at James’ life it is priceless. It is the most valuable treasure when you love someone. All the wealth in this world could not replace it. There is nothing of more value. Is there anything you can think of that holds more value? The price that Jesus paid by the shedding of blood was for the great debt of our sin. That night we received a small glimpse of what God allowed in the sacrifice of His Son and the shedding of blood.
The battle at PICU was the deciding factor in the war for James’ life. The update I wrote at 3:00am on his webpage was simple but written in despair. The last line was ‘Pray for mercy either way’. I could not continue to see how awful things were in PICU. Have you ever prayed for mercy for your child? I did not want to see James suffer any longer.
The doctors called it acute renal failure. His kidney system was conquered. For the next month the other systems would be conquered also.
Have you ever suffered a great loss?
Have you ever suffered a great loss after a long war with cancer, chemotherapy, and an endless list of tests and medicines and procedures that are too long to list?
We asked a lot of a little brave soldier to fight two major battles in a weakened state.
Have you ever walked out of the hospital without your child?
Do you know what that is like?
Do you know the agony of defeat? We lost. This wasn’t a game, it wasn’t a battle, it was the war. We suffered the greatest loss of our lives.
I was sad for James. I was sad for Terri. I was sad for our kids. But I was also sad for all those who had pulled for James. We had people from all over cheering for James and praying for James. I was sad for them. For all the little ones who prayed bedtime prayers for James, for the classmates of Paul and Brittney, for the teachers at their school, for all the mothers and fathers who loved our James and for our close friends and family.
Have you ever had to make the calls to loved ones saying it was over?
‘James has finished his fighting’.
Do you know what it is like to pack your van after suffering a great loss and drive away from Duke to your home without your child? Do you know the emptiness and abandonment we felt? We felt like we were leaving James behind.
Do you know what it is like to pull into your driveway and walk through the door and know that your child is not there?
It’s the next morning. You wake and it all hits and you realize yesterday’s nightmare really did happen and your heart sinks. Then you get up because you have an appointment with the funeral home and cemetery. The cemetery is beautiful. The funeral home is wrenching.
Do you know what it’s like to go down the hall and turn the corner and see two child’s caskets? You choose! Terri fell to the floor. Do you know that this was probably harder than when we went Friday morning when James was there. I know what you might be thinking: James is in heaven and not in a casket at a funeral home. That’s right and that’s the point….James wasn’t there. His little body that held our James is lifeless.
Have you ever gone to the funeral home to look on your little one in a casket? Have you seen the peace on his beautiful face and know that that peace was achieved after a great battle had been fought? ‘James has finished his fighting’ and now peace has finally arrived. James, James how we loved you so!
Have you ever knelt next to that casket and sob and tell your son how sorry you were that he was gone and that he had to face such great suffering?
Yes, these words we said were for our benefit because he was not there.
“You do not associate the words courage and bravery with such a small frame” were the words Pastor Poplin said in regards to James at the service. He went on to explain that these words are the words that we say in describing James fight with cancer. As parents we hope to hear these words in honor to our child for some great deed of service or for some great project that they were part of. We hope to hear these words at some ceremony or awards banquet where afterwards we can embrace them and tell them how proud we are of them. But to hear these words spoken of your child in memory and as a tribute is yes honoring but so wrong. Yes, it was indeed a beautiful service but how we did not want to be there. Saturdays are the family days when we go as a family to a park or some outing.
Have you ever wanted to open the casket one last time and hold your little one just one last time and tell how much we loved him? These thoughts were there but thank God we didn’t. James was not there. Have you ever left the cemetery and again are acquainted with the feelings of abandonment? How could we leave our precious child? He needs us to be by his side. But no, the cemetery is for us. We need to be by his side to honor the brave little soldier who was not asked to fight a battle for life but was required to fight because of a disease called cancer. ‘But cancer fights harder’.
The tears we cry, we cry with pride in memory of James. The hurt we feel we welcome because we knew a boy who hurt so. The mourning we do is from God. There is comfort in our sorrow knowing it is in memory of such a beautiful life. James O’ James, how we love and miss you so!