Henry's Blog

Thursday, January 01, 2009

New Year's Day 2009

We had a family over for dinner shortly after Christmas. It was bittersweet to see kids playing on Henry's wii - we felt closer to him just hearing the familiar sounds and tunes, but ultimately we longed for him more than ever. Nonetheless, it was a comfort to be with friends and we had a very nice evening.

The following morning, Mrs. F, of our previous night's guests, called to thank us for the dinner. Then, with a hint of hesitation in her voice, she asked, "Have you seen today's paper?"

No, we hadn't.

On the front page of our Sunday paper was a color photo from the Middle School's Hats for Henry:

The paper featured one of those year-end memorial tributes to locals of note who had passed away during 2008. You can read the article here. Tucked in between stories of community giants who championed charitable causes, built churches, schools and community developments was this:

Also this year, we were moved by the death of 12-year-old Henry Cermak, whose attitude in a two-year battle against brain cancer was told through newspaper articles and the gripping "Henry's Blog." Henry especially touched his classmates at Hilton Head Island Middle School and Hilton Head Island International Baccalaureate Elementary School. They did what they could to help, paying to wear "Hats for Henry" to school, or contributing coins. And at the arts center, where his father, Terry, works, a stage full of performers put on a benefit show.

Henry touched a lot of lives.

Indeed he did. What is it about this gentle young boy - whose most visible accomplishments included high video game scores along with his high aptitude test scores, whose mind and spirit shone more with potent promise than actual deeds - that, in two short years, earned him a place among the seasoned, high-profile movers and shakers who shaped this little community during the last few decades?

During the last few months, so many people who barely knew, or never met Henry, have told us how much he touched their lives. One friend poignantly told us that although he did not know Henry at all, knowing about Henry has changed his life profoundly. He told us:

"I sincerely believe that some people are sent to this earth briefly, to teach the rest of us how to live."

The life-lessons Henry taught by example are simple and basic:

Courage - Henry faced his disease and treatments with an astounding lack of fear. When confronted with continuing setbacks and new and strange treatments, he always managed to turn them into adventures. He accepted all the challenges head-on, and expected the same of everyone else. We have called him a little soldier, a gentle warrior and a hero.

One of Henry's weapons was humor. When schoolmates speak of him, one of the most frequently heard descriptions is "funny." Henry sometimes said that he wanted to be a comedian. His sense of humor, however, was not so much about telling jokes as it was the unexpected, disarming expression of whimsy and fun.

Once, we were meeting with a couple of Henry's radiologists, assessing the status of his treatment. As one of the doctors finished his thoughts, Henry, who had been making his own assessment of the colorful silk knotted around the Doctor's neck, blurted: "Where did you get that tie? The guy at the fair couldn't guess your weight?"

As the Doctor was stunned into silence, his colleague literally fell out of his chair.

Acceptance - Despite being a fighter, Henry had the clear-headedness to accept the reality of the here and now. Taking it "one day at a time" is a tired cliche, but Henry knew how to do that in a positive and pro-active way. As the disease and therapies took their tolls, Henry accepted the ramifications while never shaking his will to survive. He adapted to his left ear deafness by noting how it helped him to sleep if he slept on his right side to block out any noise.

Henry's journey left him with an abundance of scars, the first pre-dating his brain cancer. At age three he had a dog bite to the face that knocked out a front tooth and nearly cost him his nose. Later, after enduring four cancer-related surgeries (which all left their own tell-tale markings), Henry brushed aside concerns about a new small scar on his chest that would accompany a new port.

"I like scars," he said. "They tell people who you are."

Faith - Certainly Henry had tremendous spiritual faith, but he also recognized that all people are the tools that God uses to take action on this earth. He also had faith in people to act in good will and in institutions to fulfill their promise of good works.

He had continued faith and, yes, the overworked word: hope, in his eventual recovery. He never stopped planning for the future, even as he made the most of every single day.

Love - Much has been written on this blog about Henry's endless capacity to love, and more will be written later. He unashamedly and freely loved his family, his school, his pets, and his friends.

One of the most painful aspects of Henry's short life was that he was denied the joy of reaching maturity and experiencing romantic love.

Compassion - Henry's third grade teacher gave the class a special assignment right before the Christmas of 2004. The assignment was to write about what was the greatest gift one could give or receive. Here's what Henry, then age 8, had to say:

The Greatest Gift
The greatest gift I could ever receive is no one gets left out. One reason why I would want this gift is because lots of times people get left out and I don't want that to happen. Another reason is that I want everybody to be together and not apart. I hope this is a great Christmas.

As a slight, decidedly non-athletic type, Henry knew very well the effects of being left out, but his counter was remarkably free of anger or self-pity. He found his own true friends but also discovered how to deal with the bullies and loners. He treated them with courtesy and respect, frequently leading them to a point of self discovery. Some of these kids were among those most affected by Henry's passing.

In the last weeks of his life, Henry confronted again the spectre of isolation. While Mama and Dad routinely changed Henry's dressings and prepared him for bed, he usually listened to his iPod, loaded with video game music and Disney tunes. One night he said, "I was just listening to that Jordan Pruitt song, and it made me a little sad."

The song? "Outside Looking In."

Henry tried to define for us what it means to be human.

As caretakers of this gift, Mama and Dad hold the blessing and heartache of bearing this treasure.

As a recipient of the lessons, I have a ways to go.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This was a beautiful post. Happy New Year, I can't wait to see the new bench at Dolphin Head.


9:14 AM  
Anonymous A.Papp said...

Just wanted to wish you a blessed 2009. As I read the new post since Henry's passing, I get a lump in my throat an tears in my eyes as I remember the times that I treasure at the hospital with Henry. Then, A smile comes across my face as I know that he has touched not only my life but many others-He was a remarkable little boy!!

4:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for that post.So many people still think of Henry many times a day and we pray that you both find comfort this holiday season. I will never forget Henry's big smile in 4th grade reading class~
Peace & Love
Mrs.Kristin Thompson

11:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Such a beautiful post. It's only a shame that God must take a child so young and brilliant to teach us all how to live our lives and be better to each other and to ourselves. I'm thinking of you often and hope you find joy, comfort and inspiration in 2009 through your memories of a cherished and special gift you received 12 years ago by the name of Henry. Time will make your pain more bearable, but will never erase your memories you hold dear to your heart.

Elizabeth Napolitano

12:26 PM  
Blogger theatreknitter said...

Henry taught so much to so many. By you continuing to share these moments you teach us more. Thank you Terry. There are so many of us out here who wish you and Cynthia support every day.

2:41 PM  

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