The 12th of March to me is “The Hollow Day” and it always will be. 15 years ago on that day I was asked by the Chief Radiologist at Keller Army Hospital to come to his office and saw my son’s brain MRI for the first time. Even though I didn’t know much about the brain at that time, I knew immediately that it didn’t look right. At that moment, everything left me. I suddenly felt nothing. Everything that had filled my life for so many years – worries, fears, joy, pain – completely left me…hollow.
The doctors spoke to me and I could barely hear them as my mind screamed “OH MY GOD. PLEASE SAVE MY SON!” I remember telling myself to breathe, but don’t remember being able to do so. I must have seemed oddly calm but was so hollow that I didn’t know if I could stand to go to my son. I tried to think of what to tell him, but I had no thoughts other than the screaming prayers racing in my mind and fear.
I took Michael outside and turned to him. Even though he was only 13, he was 6’2” already and looked me in the eye. I made a decision immediately to tell him everything – though I have known many parents in this situation who do the opposite. I am not sure what is right, but I can tell you that you don’t have long to make that decision. I told him that he had a brain tumor and that he had to know that he might die from this. I told him that I loved him and that I would be there for him forever. I also told him that his mother (who was serving in Korea at the time) would be coming home soon to take care of him, too. He had tears in his eyes but later he would say that was only because I did. And I hugged him.
I made phone calls to my boss Mike, then to John and Chris. I told them that I needed but couldn’t explain all that I needed. I didn’t have to. They all knew and they jumped to action without guidance. Within seconds they raised the forces of good against this evil. Caroline, Debbie, Ron, Mike, Bonnie, Ed, Betty, Dan and so many more stopped what they were doing, quit their jobs for the day and jumped to fill the need. Their friendship at that time is something that I will never forget and can never match.
Michael wanted to go back to studying his homework. He told me he had a test that day. We walked through the rest of the appointments to setup the appointments and then it was time to leave. We started the drive home and I still could not feel anything. Michael shook me out of it. He said, “You know, this is actually a good thing.” Stunned, I turned to him and said, “How on earth can anything about this be a good thing?” He smiled and said, “Well, at least now we know what it is and now we can focus on fighting it.” For 14 years, I tried to show my son how to be a man. For the next 14 months, he would show me.
He wanted to go to school so I dropped him off but I didn’t want to. I wanted to go home and hold him. I wanted to never let him go. But I dropped him off and went home alone to make the most difficult phone call of my life. I had to call Brigitte and tell her that she had to come home and take care of her son because his daddy couldn’t protect him and care for him. That was the first time I really cried that day.
I remember that day when God made me hollow only to refill me during the next months with my son and during the years without him. In that time, I was filled with hope, with sorrow, with pain and with joy; with friendship, with loneliness, with courage and with despair. All that I knew that day left me only to learn new lessons from my son, my wife, my daughter and my friends. I will never be the same person I was on March 11th, 2002 because the next day I became hollow and on that day each year I become hollow again only to be filled with the lessons of strength and love from those around me.