February 2, 1995, was both a blessed but confusing day. I gave birth to my first beautiful baby, however, I also received the worst news of my life. My son Alfred William Lee, III was born happy and healthy. I was surrounded by family and had all the medical staff I needed to feel comfortable and safe giving birth. Jazz music flooded the room with laughter mixed in, and everyone was happily anticipating the arrival of our new prince. But shortly after delivering him, a sense of doom washed over me while he was being passed to everyone in the room – seven people before he got to me!
As I watched him move from one embrace to the next set of waiting arms, I heard the voice of the Lord say to me, “He is not yours.” I turned my head to see if anyone else heard it. The voice spoke again, “He belongs to everyone.” I tried to shake it off, but I heard it again, “He won’t be here long, he is mine.” I panicked, reached for Will from my husband Al, and laid him on my chest. But the damage was done; those words would haunt me for fifteen years.
I never told a soul what I heard that day until after Will passed away. I had heard the voice of the Lord before, so I knew I wasn’t hallucinating or hearing things. Up to this point, my relationship with God had been on my terms, yet after that day I knew our relationship had to change.
As Will grew up, when I couldn’t physically see him, panic would grip my heart. The words were constantly with me. Whenever it happened, I wanted to be there.
For fifteen years, I watched my child blossom into this gregarious person that attracted people from all walks of life. I never heard anyone say an unkind word about Will; he was just so compassionate and caring. Will was never ashamed of his faith or beliefs. God’s words at his birth would always come to mind when I saw him talking to perfect strangers. He belongs to everyone.
I loved and nurtured Will the best way I could. We bonded over his love of basketball, and I coached him for years. All the while hoping that God would change his mind and not take him back. When Will started getting headaches and struggling with fatigue in 2009, I couldn’t help but wonder if my time was running out.
I took him to doctors and specialists but there was no indication that anything was wrong. On March 9th, 2010, Will had the most amazing basketball tryout I had ever seen. He complained of a headache before we left, and I asked if he had eaten and did he wanted a Tylenol. He advised me that he had eaten, but didn’t want any medicine, and would rest later. In those two hours, he did not miss one shot. He glided up and down the court with ease, shooting shots that made my jaw drop. It was as if he knew this may be his last time playing the game he loved so much.
On the way home, little words were spoken. He drank some water and went straight to bed. I woke up early the next day to get him and his younger brother Aran ready for school, but Will was slow to move. When he finally emerged downstairs, I could see the pain in his eyes. He didn’t want to miss school, but I knew he couldn’t go. I sent him back to bed and left for work, bothered that he wasn’t feeling well.
I scheduled an appointment for Al to take Will for an examination and went on with my day. When I got home from work, they had still not returned. Distressed, I sat in my office and began to pray. I finally let the words from his birth seep into my mind. I prayed to God, not today, not now. I prayed, pleaded, and begged God as I wasn’t ready, he wasn’t ready. Then the phone rang.
Al called me from a local Wendy’s as Will wasn’t ready to come home yet. I only remember hearing the words lesions on the brain, cancer, and hospital. Will had been sent for an MRI. After the pediatrician received the results, he called a neurosurgeon at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia who was expecting us. Will was defiant, and I didn’t expect him to respond to the news any other way. He was determined to live. I, on the other hand, knew his time had run out.
After hanging up, I screamed at the top of my lungs. I began pacing, arguing with God, crying, begging, pleading not like this God, not like this. Why did he have to suffer? I thought back to all those days I worried every time he stepped over our threshold and out into the world, and this was how he would leave me? In pain, his body giving way to sickness. Why make him suffer Lord? I just didn’t understand it. How could I explain to my husband that I knew he would not make it? How could I hold onto hope? How could I be strong? I decided at that moment that God was testing my faith. I would prove to Him that I was righteous and His child. This would not be the end.
On March 13th, Will had his first brain surgery. Even though he fought really hard, the surgery left him a shell of his old self. He recovered and next came chemotherapy and radiation. He came home after a week, and we took care of him as the chemo left him weak. We bathed him, dressed him, and forced him to eat. My husband prayed like I had never seen him pray. Our family and friends rallied around and held us up.
Sadly, the cancer was rare and aggressive. It spread to his spine and a few weeks later he was back in the hospital. He entertained visitors and charmed the nurses. We then started to get ‘the look’ from others. You know, the ones where pity is embedded, and the interactions are light and somewhat condescending.
I stayed with Will in the hospital, and he looked at me with both love and fear. He assured me he was okay and advised my husband he was ready. I spent nights in the shower crying, hoping he didn’t hear but I was inconsolable. I put on a brave face, although I knew what was coming.
The doctor wanted to do one more surgery. My husband, my youngest son, and I discussed it. Did we want him to suffer anymore? They both held me, assuring me that he would pull through and be okay. We went to Will’s bedside and informed him about this last surgery. He held Aran’s hand and told him he loved him. It was so tender. Will smiled. I cried. As they wheeled him away, we had a sweet exchange.
“I love you.”
“I love you more,” he responded.
That night as we left the hospital, we all knew this might be the last time we saw him alive. My brother-in-law stayed at the hospital while some friends visited Will. Al, Aran, and I went to a local diner. There wasn’t much talk, knowing it would soon only be the three of us.
The next day Will was awake but unable to eat. It was torture watching them struggle to unsuccessfully insert the feeding tube. The doctor asked us to step out to the hall and advised us that it was the end. My husband was stunned and refused to believe it. I stoically walked across the room to a rocking chair trying to gather my strength. Finally, I decided to give in to God and allow him to hold me up.
I called a friend to pick Aran up from school and bring him to say goodbye. Will started asking for people and I called them all, praying each would make it in time. At one point Will looked off into the distance as if talking to someone and said, “not yet, not now,” like he knew we needed more time. What a comfort to know that Will was a child of God. I climbed into bed with him, wanting to feel his very last breaths across my face. While my husband bargained with God, I just held Will. As his breathing slowed and the machines beeped around me, I told him, “It’s okay to go.” I told him we loved him, and we would be okay. He took a deep breath, then he was gone. The beeping stopped, and the nurse turned off the machines. My little prince, my baby was gone.
On May 19th, 2010, seven weeks after being diagnosed with Glioblastoma, Will went back to God. I could now tell our story. God had kept his ugly promise, but I knew it was not for naught. At Will’s funeral, I saw people from all walks of life. I saw kids that I would have never in a million years thought were his friends show up. There were over three thousand people there and most of them were children.
That day I finally realized the purpose of Will’s life. Over eighty-two young people accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior. Eighty-two! I couldn’t help but smile. My heart was torn between praise and sorrow. But at least I finally knew. I knew this happened so I could tell the story of a young man who worked hard, wasn’t ashamed of his faith, touched everyone he met and fulfilled his purpose with every breath.
After Will’s passing, I became more involved in church as I wanted to support all those youth that had started coming after his funeral. This is my story. This is Will’s story. This is the story of the time God spoke to me and said my son was His. I understand now but it still hurts.
I always say it was a blessing to know. I purposely cherished every moment with my child because I didn’t know when my last day on earth with him would be. Now I look forward to seeing him again one day in heaven.
Encouragement for Moms:
To other moms who are dealing with the loss of a child, give it over to God. Your grief is an opportunity to listen to God. He will hear you, but you must listen to Him. Be faithful. It’s okay to be angry with God. It’s okay to want answers and to know why. If you listen to Him, He will give you the answers. It won’t be easy, and you will never be satisfied, but have faith that He knows what He has done and what He is doing.
Prayer for Moms:
Bless the reader of this story that they may open their hearts, minds, and ears so they may hear you and be comforted. Grief is a gift of memory of what is not here, but it is also a time to be close to you and learn. Bless them, hold them, and comfort them. May they feel your presence.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
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