Sometimes, it’s hard to say ‘everything happens for a reason’ and believe it. Your beloved pet runs away and you just don’t understand why. You boyfriend cheats and you wonder if you can ever trust again. Cancer takes the life of a loved one and you ask yourself over and over – ‘what else could have been done to prevent this?’ Sometimes, it’s hard to tell yourself that ‘everything happens for a reason,’ but there is one thing you can never do and that is ask yourself ‘why.’
Conner ‘Heartbreaker’ Newcomb passed away on July 25th to walk alongside Matthew Graham and to watch down on us. I’ve had quite a few campers from Camp Good Days pass away from this awful disease, but Conner was different. Right when he stepped off the bus the summer of 2010, he asked me to give him a nickname (after hearing one of my former campers being called by one). Instantly, I noticed he had blotches of blond hair and big blue eyes and ‘Heartbreaker’ came to be. For that entire week, he was my shadow. He’d sneak up on me from out of no where and try to jump on my back or tackle me to the ground – showing me his strength. He attacked me numerous times with shaving cream, even knowing it would drive me insane. I teased him about his crush on another camper at CGD and he would blush and ask me to talk to her for him. During nightly Tuck-In’s, he’d run and jump on me, giving me the best hug in the world. From the start, Conner proved to be an energetic, entertaining ten-year-old who would always stay with me.
After CGD ended, I knew he was still sick, but truly hadn’t seen his sickness at camp. I had seen a loving, excited and enthusiastic child – not a boy with cancer. After Conner’s mother contacting me on Facebook, I began checking her FB religiously, reading updates and messages about Conner. At first, they weren’t too bad – he got to go on the Florida Trip and even Bella was there (his CGD crush). However, he got worse over the winter seasons and that was when my checking FB got crazy. I began to worry and when I discovered they had stopped chemo for him, I had to go see him.
Another CGD volunteer and I went to Rochester to visit Conner. He was not the wild, energetic boy I remembered and I constantly kept telling myself he wouldn’t be. He was sick, he was terminal – but he was strong. We spent forty-five minutes with ‘Heartbreaker’, watching Duck Tales and talking about his time at CGD. We met his Mother, step-father and little sister – all who seemed so loving and amazingly strong. I held myself together, but when he reached for my hand and held it for a minute, that was when I almost fell apart. I hugged him goodbye, thanked his parents and was glad we got to visit him.
It’s sad to say I’ve dealt with death numerous times in my life, but every time feels just as tough as the time before. I think about the families and how they can possibly cope through times like this. I still have not come to terms with my brother’s death and in truth, I don’t know if I ever will be able to. I’m waiting for him to call me or walk through the door. I’m waiting to wake up and for all my campers to be alive and there to be a cure for this dreadful disease. People ask me how I deal with this – dealing with death, especially with people so young. The thing is, these children have taught me more than any class could possibly teach me. They have taught me what really matters in life. We need to stop complaining about superficial things and relying on materials to make us happy. People are what make us happy and our lives, and the memories, we have with them is what really counts.
‘Heartbreaker’, I know you are out of pain. You are with other CGD’ers: Teddi, Angela, Mike, Tristan, Amber and lots of other amazing people. Most importantly, you have the most amazing man in the world looking over you: my brother. He will make you laugh everyday and help you watch over us. He can be your mentor and he will be a dang good one.
Thank you for changing my life. You will never be forgotten.