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Jennifer Hartline: In Memory of Noah Wilson

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As I approached to meet Noah's mom and dad for the first time, I was struck by the palpable grace they both wore like an invisible robe. Both of them, despite the horrible weight of grief etched into their faces, were absolutely beaming with pride.

Noah loved baseball, especially the Kansas City Royals. He loved superheroes, Legos, Ninja Turtles, and making the silliest faces for everybody. When he began his chemo, and blood tests and needles became a frequent, regular part of his life, he decided those boring brown Band-Aids the hospital used just weren't gonna cut it anymore. He thought the kids at Children's Mercy needed something more fun, to at least put a happy end on a painful experience. Just a little smile. But there was nothing little about Noah's heart. His idea for fun Band-Aids became Noah's Bandage Project, and soon people all over were buying boxes of fun, colorful, kid-friendly Band-Aids and sending them to Noah. Even his favorite baseball team has gotten in on the act.

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Highlights

KANSAS CITY, MO (Catholic Online) - Walking into the foyer of Sacred Heart Church, I saw long tables filled with all sorts of interesting items: baseball jerseys and caps; hand-drawn, colorful pictures; awards certificates; a large glass jar stuffed to the brim with hospital bracelets; boxes of fun and unusual Band-Aids; and photos too numerous to count of smiling faces and happy, priceless moments. They were tables filled with life, love, joy, hope, triumph, struggle, courage, and faith. It was a beautiful sight.

Inside the sanctuary, a few hundred people stood in single file in a line that wrapped around the entire perimeter of the room. Ever so slowly, that line inched forward, and for hours people stood and waited.

We were moving toward a sight that set my insides into revolt. There are a few things in this world that, when we see them, we instinctively react with resistance. We know we should not be seeing this thing. It should not exist. It is just wrong. At the top of that list is surely a small casket. A child's casket.

I never had the blessing of meeting Noah Wilson in person, or even his parents until that night. But he'd been close in my heart for over a year, in my family's prayers, as he fought a battle with cancer. I got to know Noah through the posts on his "Team Noah" Facebook page, where his family kept everyone updated on his progress, through all the ups and downs.

Noah loved baseball, especially the Kansas City Royals. He loved superheroes, Legos, Ninja Turtles, and making the silliest faces for everybody. When he began his chemo, and blood tests and needles became a frequent, regular part of his life, he decided those boring brown Band-Aids the hospital used just weren't gonna cut it anymore. He thought the kids at Children's Mercy needed something more fun, to at least put a happy end on a painful experience. Just a little smile.

But there was nothing little about Noah's heart. His idea for fun Band-Aids became Noah's Bandage Project, and soon people all over were buying boxes of fun, colorful, kid-friendly Band-Aids and sending them to Noah. Even his favorite baseball team has gotten in on the act.

After a year of fighting -- bravely, patiently, generously -- and enduring all the suffering that cancer and chemo brings, it seemed Noah could finally do a victory dance. His original tumor was gone, and he'd beaten Ewing's sarcoma.

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Then out of nowhere, leukemia began to ravage his little body, and it seemed in the blink of an eye, he was gone. It was an earthquake-like shock.

The crowd that filled the church that night was eclectic, to say the least. Young children; old men and women; moms and dads; folks in jeans and baseball caps, and folks in suits & ties; and fellow cancer patients.

There was a motorcycle club there -- about 20 or so riders, all leathery-skinned and hardened, tattooed and tough. Their black jackets said The Brotherhood for Children on the back. Every single one of them left the church in tears.

As I approached to meet Noah's mom and dad for the first time, I was struck by the palpable grace they both wore like an invisible robe. Both of them, despite the horrible weight of grief etched into their faces, were absolutely beaming with pride.

Then those who had gathered knelt down to pray the Rosary for Noah, with all his family and friends. It can be difficult to describe what it's like to be in the presence of crushing sadness and pain, along with uncrushable hope and faith. The two seem to be held in tension, one edging out the other for a moment, and then the other surges again, and on it goes. Underneath it all is the unseen Hand of grace, carrying and holding steady those in His unfailing grip. It is both awesome and overwhelming.

The next morning at Noah's funeral Mass, it was the same scene: those wonderful tables filled with precious mementos; those same priceless photos of Noah and his family; the Band-Aids; the same eclectic crowd of people who'd been forever touched by Noah's life, his valiant struggle, his generosity and love, and now his death. Even the motorcycle club was there again. (It turns out The Brotherhood for Children had helped Noah collect over 800 boxes of Band-Aids!)

I've never attended a more beautiful, hopeful, and life-affirming funeral. When St. Paul speaks of grieving with hope, this is surely what he meant. There is no avoiding the grief, and no numbing the pain of loss, but we do not grieve like those who have no hope.

While we had to accept that most terrible sight -- a beloved little child lying in a casket -- Noah's vision is the Beatific. Because of the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, Noah lives forevermore. Death has not had the final word. Cancer has certainly not had the victory.

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Finally everyone gathered at the graveside where Noah was laid to rest, and the sky was suddenly animated with blue and white balloons as they danced and floated up to heaven. 

Of all the treasured pieces of Noah's life on display on those tables, my favorite by far was a handwritten letter from Noah to God. He'd written, "Hi God, I love you so, so, so much. Thank you for everything you've done. Love, Noah."

Thank you, Noah, for everything you've done, and for leading us all with your pure heart and childlike faith. We miss you so.

Well done, good and faithful servant. 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Please visit Noah's Bandage Project to learn how you can keep the smiles coming for other children who are still fighting cancer.

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