Ollie

Yesterday I witnessed something that no parent should go through. The burial of their son.

On Saturday morning, Ollie Cedric Tan lost his battle with leukemia. He was three years old.

Ollie was the son of my good friends Greg and Margie. He was a younger brother to Zackary, age 7 and Adrianna, age 5.

When Ollie was in the womb they found out he had an extra chromosome, Monosomy 7. They knew that adults sometimes found out they had this extra chromosome when they tried to get pregnant and couldn’t. They were hopeful that would be his only symptom.

Two years ago Greg and Margie invited us to stay with them in the house they rented in the Hamptons. We met Ollie for the first time. He was small for his age. At the time they were worried that his speech was delayed, another possible side effect of the extra chromosome. Margie told me how he didn’t grow for ages, how he had terrible rashes his first year of life.

It wasn’t until another vacation, this time in the Cayman Islands with our friends Andrew and Karen, that we learned that Ollie was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia. It was rare. It was aggressive. And the survival rate was not great.

Margie started a blog so all her friends and family could hear what was happening with Ollie. I read it faithfully. I read it, helplessly, as they had to face each painful decision.

They started him on chemo and looked for a bone marrow transplant match. Three months later, in October of that year I was in New York to visit Greg and my friend Tom, who was in town from Japan. Greg explained to me the process. Four rounds of chemo, each round 100 times more powerful than the last. Then a bone marrow transplant. I asked him what would happen if the transplant didn’t take? He told me each successive transplant had a much lower success rate. So after the first one, they would see.

I didn’t see Margie that weekend. Ollie had a fever in the hospital and he didn’t want her to leave.

The first transplant did not take. They decided to do a second one. I’m not even sure if the second one was covered by insurance. All I know is these determined parents did everything in their power to save him.

In the end it did not help. No amount of love or money could save him. He passed away Saturday morning.

I booked a flight out and was there for the funeral. Greg was waiting at the entrance of the chapel. He greeted me and thanked me for coming. I didn’t have any words for him. Just a hug. I knew anything I could say would have no effect on the grief he was feeling at that moment.

I sidled up next to Andrew, Tiffany and Randall Wong in the pew. I was already teary seeing the impossibly small white casket come down the aisle, but the sight of Greg behind it effected me so badly that my face was twitching with sadness.

In the end Greg made a speech about Ollie. Measuring his life not in length but richness. He spoke of his love of dinosaurs and his thoughtfulness to others. His speech was eloquent, and even had a bit of humor to it. He was so composed up there at the pulpit. I always admired him for his dedicated work ethic, his humor and his loyalty, but I was never more proud to call him a friend until I watched him talk of Ollie that day. Behind me I heard a chorus of sniffles.

“He will keep Margie safe. He will protect her and be her rock through this.” I thought.

After the speech he held Zackary and Adrianna up to the microphone so they could each say “good bye” and “I love you” to Ollie. It was the only bright hope I had in the entire day. To see them up there, smiling their wishes to the crowd. I hoped that their innocence would protect them against this cruel twist of fate. That they would not walk away from this with the scars that will no doubt live inside Margie and Greg’s hearts forever.

After the service some of the friends and family went back to Greg and Margie’s. It was the first contact I had with Margie. I half expected her to be drugged and out of it. But behind the puffy skin around her eyes I saw clear, alert eyes. Later I sat next to her while she put on videos of Ollie dancing, eating his favorite Costco chicken, playing the piano and rolling over as an infant. She laughed about his silly dance moves. I secretly wondered who the rock in the relationship actually was? Certainly she bore the worst of it, she was by Ollie’s side all the time, day and night and she somehow managed not to neglect her other kids either. It was an impossible situation but she never gave up, she never shut down. When it got tough, she rose up. I realized I was lucky to call this amazing woman a friend as well.

Rest in peace, Ollie. Rest in peace.

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