Discolor Online

Weblog of the sweetest person you never want to piss off.



My friend's little nephew succumbed to leukemia earlier this year after quite a fight. More than once she broke the news to us that it didn't look good for little Heiko and we set about to praying or meditating or wishing well across the miles in the hope that things would turn out differently. We followed along when there was anything to report and cheered when Heiko went through two miraculous, if short-lived, recoveries. Las Friday Heiko's father's tribute to his son appeared in The Globe and Mail. I'm reposting it here because it's such a vivid and loving testament to their son.

Son, brother, nephew, grandson, dragon-slayer, preschooler, beloved little friend. Born April 26, 2003, in Toronto. Died Jan. 3 in Toronto of acute myeloid leukemia, aged 4.


March 14, 2008

We almost lost Heiko last May. Over the course of one weekend he went from being an ordinary four-year-old to a leukemia patient on life support.

Again in July we were told he might only have hours to live, ravaged by a brain infection brought on by chemotherapy. All we wanted was to see him conscious and aware of us.

Our prayers were answered; we were lavished with almost four more good months. Heiko regained most of his strength and spirit. We went for fall walks and bike rides, played at the wooden castle in High Park, and when snow came went tobogganing and skating. He learned to switch from his left hand to his right because of brain damage, and soon resumed his magical drawings and kindergarten letters.

He was a real boy, with a boyish love of pirates, spaceships, knights in shining armour and dragons. Yet he had a gentleness more characteristic of a younger child. For Halloween, friends donated Batman and Spider-Man costumes, but he insisted on being a bunny. "I don't want to be scary," he said.

Heiko loved details. When I read him stories written for older children and paraphrased the more complicated parts, he gently corrected me and filled in the missing words from memory.

He loved fairness. When someone won a bingo game, he would not allow us to stop playing until everyone had won and all the spaces were filled in.

When his strength returned, so did his pranks. Putting on his pyjamas always meant chases around the house confronting imaginary barriers for which we had to learn secret passwords. He loved hide-and-seek. Sometimes my car keys would turn up in his pockets. Or he might pull off my slippers and I would find them days later in a random drawer.

The only time sadness welled up for him was when he saw old friends. It pained him to see them run and play so effortlessly while he had to relearn how to hold a crayon, climb stairs and walk.

If Heiko struggled with his illness he never talked about it. Instead, we sometimes got the feeling he was more concerned about us; he would cover up his sores, tell jokes if we looked at him with concern, and as a last resort try to tickle us out of our seriousness.

There may have been moments of prescience. Once he told us, "You will have to get another Heiko." He knew we would miss him grievously and felt sad for us.

We will never have another Heiko. So soon after celebrating Christmas, a time of hope and new birth, we and his older brother Langton turned to grieving the death of our child, our star of wonder.

Even as a distant bystander to the family's ordeal, I was very sad to hear of Heiko's death. I've been reflecting on how very fortunate I have been: my family is intact, we have our health, we are reasonably secure, we live in a beautiful city, in a safe and healthy home, with food and clothes and belongings that would not be considered extravagant in American terms but are a wealth of riches and luxury when contrasted with much of the world. Yeah, I have my share of problems and stresses but I can only hope I'm fortunate enough to keep my own troubles and continue the relatively smooth sailing I've enjoyed up to now. I am afraid to face the depth of grief something like the death of a child or a spouse.

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