Caleb Tristan van der Westhuizen was a normal, beautiful little curly-haired young lad of 4, whom his parents were very proud of, when he was diagnosed with Stage IV Neuroblastoma in September 2015.
Caleb underwent various treatments for his cancer, including various operations as well as undergoing Chemotherapy and Retinoid Therapy (Retinoids are chemicals that are related to vitamin A. They are known as differentiating agents because they are thought to help some cancer cells mature into normal cells. In children with high-risk neuroblastoma, treatment with a retinoid called 13-cis-retinoic acid [isotretinoin] reduces the risk of the cancer coming back after high-dose chemotherapy and stem cell transplant.)
Things generally went well for Caleb, with the usual ups and owns that are part of fighting childhood cancer. Unfortunately Caleb relapsed in December 2016, and he was readmitted to hospital for pain-control.
Just before Christmas the family got the devastating news that Caleb was terminal, after which he received Radiation Therapy and Pain Control Treatment.
Unfortunately, Caleb lost his fight with cancer on 16th January 2017 and was laid to rest on Saturday 21st January.
Today I want to share with you some of the emotion surrounding a child’s funeral ~ something none of us ever want to attend and which happens too often due to Childhood Cancer.
Below is a post published on our Facebook Page on 23rd January, by Mandie from LFCT:
It simply cannot be back to business as usual this morning.
On Saturday morning, we arrived at a local church to pay our last respects to one of our #LittleFighters and as a show of Support to his Parents and Family.
In some communities, the viewing before the actual funeral is a big thing, and we stood in the very long line, probably 300-400 people around us, slowly progressing forward to a small white coffin, with his Mommy and Daddy standing close by.
White drapes all around, photographs in pretty picture frames, flowers, and candles….it was heartbreakingly beautiful.
The line crawled forward slowly but surely, every person stopping with his Parents for a word of encouragement, a hug. In all honesty, I did not want to be there. I could, from afar, see the raised lid of the coffin, and promised myself, that I would not look. I merely wanted the Parents to know we were there, even if nothing registered and even if they might not remember.
It is difficult to explain what goes through your mind when you shuffle in line, closer and closer to somewhere you really don’t want to be, but you suck it up and stick it out, because of the two pairs of hunched shoulders which you catch glimpses of through t-shirted backs with the #LittleFighter’s photograph and name printed on, old ladies with tissues too small to dry up the tears.
The smell of church hall floors mingling with various scents of musk, carnations, and warm candlewax. And then your heart stops, almost as if from fear, because you realise that you are almost in the front of the line. You realise, you have four seconds to say something because the line behind you is softly pushing up against your back.
You know that your tears are useless, so you breathe very deep a few times and try and slow down your heartbeat. A heartbeat which aches with every heavy thump, because the stinging behind your eyelids are not only for the loss of a sweet, innocent Life…but because you know that what those parents feel right now, they will carry with them for the rest of their Lives.
And then, you are in the front of the line. I did not look. I raised my hand slightly, lay it gently on the bottom left corner of the shiny white, small coffin. I closed my eyes, and merely wished him a safe journey, free from pain and suffering, and Eternal Peace. When I opened my eyes, I was in front of his Parents.
Words failed me. Words very rarely fail me, but they did this past Saturday morning.
I first held his Mommy n my arms, briefly, too briefly, because I wanted to keep her there, shield her, protect her….but that was not within my power to do, her heart was already broken. All I could manage, in her ear, was a trembling whisper that they will always be part of the Family. She is so small, and seemed even smaller; the loss of her only child bearing down on her with visible pain.
His Daddy got the same few whispered words, rigid in my arms, not with unwillingness to be held, but with evident strain and effort to keep standing, keep up straight, be strong, be the man and be the Father.
We went to sit outside; the funeral service was starting in 30 minutes, and to our surprise, we saw some more of our #LittleFighters and their Families. I wish we had sat under that tree, chatting under better circumstances.
These Families made my heart swell with pride, because they got up that morning, knowing that they are Blessed to have their own #LittleFighters still Fighting, even through the loss of limbs and continued difficulty after remission, as treatment had wrecked so many abilities which other parents, myself included, take for granted. They got up and chose to go to a funeral of a little boy, who, in their realities, could very well have been their own child at some point.
We talked about The Journey, while we were sitting under that tree, on the cracked little cement bench. We talked about the after-effects of chemo and radio therapy. We talked about how the journey never really ends, the fears are always there. We talked about how much worse the word “relapse” is than the original diagnosis….because when our child is diagnosed for the first time with cancer, you are petrified at the unknown…but when you hear the word “relapse” your fear is based on the hell which you already know too well.
The service itself was peaceful and it was clear just how many people were touched by the Life of this #LittleFighter. The words of the familiar children’s song, “Jesus loves me, this I know” got stuck somewhere in my throat as it got to the line, “Let his little child come in”.
Beautiful tributes were given, and amazing testimony as to the dedication and selfless love of his Parents.
As the little white coffin was carried out of the church, his Mommy and Daddy following close behind, Daddy carrying a large candle, and their hearts visibly heavy at this last, hard journey to a mound of Earth, the Pastor’s words rang loud in my mind and heart.
“If your Life has been touched in any way by this small little boy, who had such a big message of Hope for the World, your Life cannot go back to business as usual”.
Please keep Caleb’s parents, Anneeva and Warren, their Family and Loved Ones in your Hearts and Prayers.
God looked around the garden and saw an empty space.
He then looked down upon the earth and saw your tired face.
He put his arms around you and lifted you to rest.
God’ s garden must be beautiful for he only takes the best.
He saw the road was getting rough, and the hills were hard to climb.
So he closed your weary eyelids and whispered & Peace be thine
It broke our hearts to lose you, but you did not go alone
For part of us went with you, the day God called you home.