My son in the ICU: …and then LOVE came in.

Late September, 2013: Cory made an amazing turn. He stopped hurting, we started Hoping, he came back to us mentally and was weaned off his pain medication. Doctors used words like “Miracle” and “Never been seen”.

And Love exploded.

cory & anna cropAnna, his love and friend,…who the moment she got word that he was dying, up and left her home and job in Arkansas, drove 9 hours straight, and came to him. The moment they saw each other brought the hospital room of men and women to tears. The connection, the pure  love witnessed there was more moving than any novel ever written. I can’t even begin to describe it. He came back to life like nothing we had seen so far. She saw beyond his pain and sores and scabs….it’s like none of that was there. And he looked at her like an angel arrived. Charlie even joked, “He’s never looked at me like that!”. Her arrival on the scene brought joy and healing and agape love to Cory and to all of us that witnessed the most tangible connection of two souls we had ever seen. And she stayed with us and with him. Now there were three of us rotating chairs and parent beds at night….and Cory or we wouldn’t have had it any other way. This was Love.

wpid-img_20130917_155114_312.jpgAnd his friends came, all drove, walked or wheeled in and sat around him at what they thought were the end of his days and cried and held his hand and brought cookies and notes and reminisced for him when he couldn’t respond, This was Love.

cory familyAnd family and cousins who used their saved pennies traveled for miles and miles from Seattle, Arizona, Alaska, Tennessee, and North Carolina, and the Uncle who poured his heart and talent into writing and recording Cory’s Song…and the grandparents near and far who held vigil for days, or sent communication and prayers across the miles, or made sure we ate and slept, This was Love.

His brothers and sisters, who sacrificed so much during this time (schooling, time with friends, absent parents) or had countless family meals in the hospital cafeteria or countless hours at their dying brother’s bedside or made wallets out of duct tape for Cory’s lottery money  cory lottery money……This was Love.

Dave&Debbie who stepped up and ran the whole Home Show solo and those family, friends, teachers, and leaders who pinch hit in my other children’s lives when I was absent from my (and their) life while I cared for Cory…This was Love.

wpid-img_20130916_180134_516.jpgAnd the laughter in the room when the crowd was there, piled up literally on top of chairbacks and arms of chairs and all over the floor (I’m sure the PICU team questioned allowing us the go ahead to let family/friends “come thru”, because they surely came but didn’t necessarily go “thru” ), the jumping to their feet and to his bedside to hear Cory muster a word and do anything at all we needed to help.
This was Love.

And the endless emails and texts and care packages and visits from my little friends and big friends and new friends and old friends…This was Love.

And those who sent essential oils and did Reiki and sat silently and peacefully beside Cory and delivered us homemade meals…This was Love.

And the doctors who treated us like family– who showed up on their off days, pulled up a chair and spent their precious little free time with us and chatted with Cory about his adventures, or who offered to personally go pick up our dog from our home to visit Cory, or promised to make a trip to Utah to hike with him when he was on his feet. And they meant it…

This was Love.cory dr. mary (Dr. Mary <3)

And a group of my dear women friends:  daycare moms, church women, old and new friends showed up one day  at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and brought me snacks and gift cards and written sentimentscory sheyna moms and they went in the church chapel and grasped my hands and prayed with me. Prayed for my family and for my son. They showed up and lifted me up and held me up when I felt like I couldn’t fake my way through one more day, with their lasting embraces. If I shut my eyes, I can still feel it. This was Love.

wpid-img_20130917_131120_441.jpgAnd Jenny….the nurse who jumped through more hoops than I knew to make an Outdoor Trip happen for Cory. 8 people transferred him to a stretcher and rolled him and his lines through a maze of doors and units to get him out to the patio.

And Brian, the music therapist who brought us the blessing of guitars and egg shakers and music to Save Cory. They knew him . They knew he loved outdoors and he loved music, so they made it happen for Cory. From love, not from their duty of their job. wpid-img_20130917_103127_272.jpg

And the close friends of his who gathered around his stretcher that day, grabbed an instrument and played music with him for an hour while he laid horizontally and could barely strum….This was Love.

And his old high school friend who was there that day and in tears asked me…”I just need to know, does he know Jesus?” and I said, “Would it make you feel better if I directly asked him?” and she said, “Yes.” So I went to Cory, outside breathing the first fresh air he’d breathed in months, and I said, “You know how much she loves Jesus, right?” and Cory said, “Yes” and I said, “She wants to know if you love Jesus.” and he said after a moment of thought, “Yes, yes, I do.” and I told her and she looked relieved and took a deep breath and smiled. This was Love.

And his very best friend, who was his sidekick for many years and they took care of one another endlesslywpid-img_20130918_133741_111.jpg ,that Lost her Job for staying at Cory’s bedside for days on end. This was Love.

 Then Abby , Cory’s cousin in Colorado, started a Love Cory Day (that lasted weeks) on September 19th…. she said “Hi guys! we want to celebrate Cory (my cousin) tomorrow. He’s a cancer fighter and a truly amazing kid. To show some love everyone please wear anything red and post a picture. Please support♥” HUNDREDS across the Ohio and the country donned red shirts and made signs and smiles cory abbycheering him on….

This was Love.cory love cory day

love cory day laraIt spread across the nation, literallycory kids, and a friend who’d never met Cory made a Facebook emblem- that people we knew and lots we didn’t- shared on FB and posted as their profile pic in solidarity and support for the miracle we were witnessing ….it said, “Go, Cory, !!” …This was Love.cory go cory

And the prayers, and the pictures, and creativity came rolling in…..Cory once said to me, “Those Prayer Warriors are a real deal, aren’t they? They aren’t messing around.” ….This was Love.

I could go on and on. It all helped. It was all was provided at the exact moments it was needed, because no doubt about it…..God IS Love and it’s the only thing that matters. I didn’t just read it on a page, I lived it. It was overwhelming and precious and it truly carried us.

At times like this, everything else falls away, and you just see hearts…it’s the most beautiful thing.

Cory’s last Facebook post on October 8, 2013, while fighting back mentally and physically from his brush with death.

“Can you get me on Facebook?”-C

“Sure, do you want me to read or type?”-Me

“No, I will do it.” -C

It took him 45 minutes to type this one finger at a time while I held the iPad up on his torso.

First time being on here here in
quite awhile, and my activity will likely remain minimal, but my mom has been keeping me up to date with all the Love, so I wanted to acknowledge and return some of it really quickly. You all kick ass.” –Cory Jay

Silver Lining…..Friends

The Best Summer was ironically created by the fact that Cory had three bone marrow matches pull out on him. It postponed and postponed and postponed his transplant. And worried and worried and worried his family.

He remained in remission (praise God) the whole time, so his transplant wasn’t compromised, and he became stronger and healthier every day. His hair and his goatee started to grow back in, his muscle mass was evident again, and his color was Cory Color again. He had energy and smiles. He was beautiful and happy.

He also had precious Time with close friends and close family.mary, cory, venessa

Above: (Mary, Cory, Vanessa, and Jason…it was the summer of ’13)

In the words of some of his collection of big-hearted people who called Cory “Best-Friend”:

Mary Parker: “My favorite memory of Cory is him being at my graduation from college. I remember sitting there, and being terribly bored, but looking up to where my family was sitting, and seeing him sitting there. It meant the world to me that me took the time out of his summer to come sit through a three hour graduation. He was the only person besides my immediate family that even bothered to come. I will never forget that, ever. We had a lot of fun that epic summer, but that’s the one that I hold closest to my heart.”

Vanessa Bauer: “Attitude was everything. I had read about how keeping a positive attitude was the best thing for friends and family of someone with cancer. The crazy thing was, Cory was always the strong one, keeping me together, holding me in place. Even when he was sick and struggling, he told me often not to worry and that everything would be okay. To him, there was no option to complain or whine or throw a fit (as I surely would have done).

It was unlike me to be spontaneous, and it was Cory who showed me how.The summer fell between his last chemotherapy treatment and his transplant and we decided to go all out. We wanted to make every minute count while he was “free”. We did everything we possibly could in that time, only separating when he had to go to the hospital for tests. I remember one day we went and did some light day-hiking. He flinched when jumping across a creek and said something along the lines of, “Oh yeah, I had a spinal tap and bone marrow biopsy earlier today” like he had forgotten and it was no big deal. I had done my research, I knew how serious everything was, but Cory didn’t allow himself to be worried about it, so I tried not to show concern either. There was no reason to dwell on the “what ifs” at that time. We just did what we could to have fun.

We played card games and board games and listened to music and  teased each other relentlessly. We drank coffee all day, and Cory’s favorite beers when we weren’t drinking coffee. We planned out all of the things we’d do following the transplant and his arm surgery. We laughed a lot. We hung out with friends, made a lot of pizza and ate all of the food in his grandparent’s house. The time to have fun was now because all we really knew was that the next 6-12 months wouldn’t be pleasant for him. After my initial questions, we never addressed the transplant as anything but a hindrance; a speed bump in his plans. In our plans. There was never a doubt in my mind that Cory would beat the odds and come out on top. He was the bravest and strongest man I knew and if anyone could beat the odds, there was no doubt it would be Cory.”

cory annaAnna Dailey: “Cory, it’s pouring rain and there is no high ground, where do I set my tent?” “Cory, I can’t start this fire- here’s what I have to work with.” “Cory, I hear animals and I’m scared.” We were thousands of miles away at times during that summer but Cory was always just a phone call away. He never said he was busy or needed to call me back. He never got off the phone until my worries or problems were comforted.

The year before that summer we had BIG dreams that we talked about, obsessed about, constantly. We were going to travel the world, money or no money, with gear or bear, it didn’t matter- but it WAS going to happen. We made dramatic changes, and working very hard all year to make this a reality. We sold all the belongings in our apartment, saved every penny we could manage, slept on the floor, found our cats homes, and made due with only the necessities in order to reach our goal. We wanted to be on the road as badly as we wanted to breath. We ached to be lost in the middle of no where. We were very passionate about our plan… and We Made It Happen!

We were then to meet up at Burning Man – Cory, Vanessa and I. We 3 had the most magical time at Burning Man- there is no other word I can think of to describe it. We 3 have the most intimate connection, have gone through so much, an unbreakable, unconditional friendship, we fought The fight together, we cried together, we had a true love and respect for one another. Cory, Vanessa, and I. For those of you that don’t know, Vanessa is the only reason I know Cory. Vanessa is the reason I have him in my life. I owe everything to her for this.”

ashlyn coryAshlyn McFall: “No matter what the circumstances are, no matter what crappy treatment we knew he was facing. We. Had. Fun.  Concerts, movies, walks in the woods, and just sitting around doing nothing- I’ll never forget any of it. Hanging out at his grandparents house, at Vanessa’s house- where ever we could. We made the most of what we all considered his “free” time culminating (I think) in the Bunbury Music Festival.

Cory and I went to the festival the year before, but having the rest of the group with us made it that much better. Jimmy and Sarah came, as well as Vanessa’s brothers and some friends. We sang, we danced, we laughed. We were a rag-tag bunch bent on enjoying some music with each other and a handful (or 100 handfulls) of hipsters (;. I’m so thankful for the time I got to spend with Cory and everyone else last summer. I have memories to last a lifetime and then some. We certainly did it right.

cory terriTerri McDonough:”I hadn’t seen him for quite some time but it was just like old times. We talked and debated about things a lot (just like old times). It was always the same. He would try to end it by saying “whatever,” to which I always replied “fine then I win.” Of course that just started the whole thing over again. We liked sharing our old memories the most I think.

One day when he was out of the hospital we decided to go to a park and grill out. We had tried doing this once the summer we had first met (that didn’t go so well) but luckily this time we had a better idea of how to set a fire to actually grill. Cory played around with my camera. I still have the random pictures he took, and after that we went for a walk towards the creek. When we left he asked if he could drive my car home. I never let anyone but my brother drive my car but with Cory I didn’t even hesitate and threw him the keys. On the way back a My Chemical Romance song came on so naturally both of us started belting it out and laughing. That was the last time I really got to hang out with him outside of the hospital.

During that summer we never really talked about him being sick. We just talked about our memories we shared, what we had planned for the future and places we wanted to go. I’m very blessed to have gotten to spend that summer with him and I’ll cherish those memories forever.

jason coryJason Kaiser: “I picked them up sometime after 5. In my excitement I had planned to sleep in my van for ease, but in my excitement forgot to grab a blanket. Of course Cory provided. That is a statement I can make more times than just about any other. Cory was a provider. He was a fixer. We’ll touch on this more in a moment.

We arrived at our destination sometime later and set up camp. We had pizza, and an endless supply of conversation. We were ready. The mosquitoes were ready too, though they seemed to be interested only in Vanessa. Cory and I both remained unscathed.  It was a crowded night on the campgrounds. Filled with Ohio’s most colorful characters. This only added to our amusement. The root beer didn’t hurt either. (root beer was the astonishingly clever  codeword for the beer we smuggled in.) The heat only seemed to intensify as the nightt drew on.

At some point in the night a Man, whose sobriety is questionable, warned us of some ravenous and troublesome raccoons that were loose on grounds. They never graced us with their presence that night. Someone else did, though! As were chatting, eating our pizza and enjoying our root beer we heard a strange sound. A high pitched whine.  At first I wasn’t sure where the sound was coming from, then we all saw it at the same time…

A lost, crying child standing in the dark. Scared and alone. We all froze for a second. Me especially.

Then Cory shot up. Instinctively went up to the kid and asked what was wrong. He couldn’t find his daddy. Cory introduced himself, asked the kid`s name and if he remembered where his camp was. He didn’t. Cory began making conversation with the scared child, trying to calm him and maybe gain some helpful clues as they headed in the direction that would likely lead the little lad home. Of course it all ended well. Cory led the kid back to his oblivious parents. And returned, smiling as always commenting on how ridiculous the whole situation was. But that’s the kind of person Cory was. Where I froze and hesitated  Cory sprung into action.

It was just as true in that moment as it was at the end of his beautiful life: It was never about Cory. It was about everyone else. He was nothing without us and we were lost without him.

Me again: 

These, my friends, are a Few Good Friends

They played with him when he could play; They talked with him when he could talk ; They walked and hiked with him when he could walk and hike; They ate with him when he could eat; They sang, danced, and laughed with him when he could sing,dance, and laugh; They invited him when he could come; They camped with him when he could camp; They planned with him when he could plan.

Then…

They kept him company when he couldn’t play; They talked to him when he couldn’t talk; They sat with him when he couldnt walk or hike; They held his hand when he couldn’t eat; They listened to music beside him or played music for him when he couldn’t sing,dance,or laugh; They came to him when he couldn’t come to them; They reminisced when he couldn’t camp; They hoped and prayed for him when he couldn’t plan.

I loved them before because Cory loved them. That was enough. I love them now because I know them. I am better for it and ever-grateful for their giving Cory their Time, Laughter, and Love in his last days.

Because at the end of the day….