Bereaved Parents, teen death

This Star Still Shines

by Lori Earl
This Star Won’t Go Out

Our daughter Esther was born on August 3, 1994 in Beverly, Massachusetts. She was the bridge between two older sisters, Abby and Evangeline, and two younger brothers, Graham and Abraham. In November 2006, Esther was diagnosed with metastasized papillary thyroid cancer in Marseille, France, with extensive tumors already in her lungs. Following a thyroidectomy and seven months of treatment, our family moved back to New England for her continued treatment at Boston Children’s Hospital.

My husband and I had made a commitment early on in our relationship to confront and work through conflicts and problems, and not to run away from them.  We carried this approach into how we raised our children, and into our dealing with Esther’s cancer.  We talked together about the fact that she might die too young.  We encouraged her to speed up high school and work towards her GED. We made a family trip to the cemetery, so that she could pick out her gravesite.  We refused to let the fear of death take away the days we had together.  Through it all, Esther kept on loving her friends and writing in her journals.  She made her last YouTube video just a few days before she died, on August 25, 2010, just a few short weeks after her 16th birthday.

I didn’t have many regrets after her passing, but that didn’t make losing her easy. I grieved, and I was angry, and I had to consciously remember that I had four other children that needed me too.  I knew intellectually that the stages of grief are neither short nor linear—that there’s no right way to mourn loss.  I stood waiting for my first-grade son after school and wondered at the petty conversations of mothers around me in the schoolyard.  What did those problems have to do compared to life and death?  I felt angry shock toward the teacher who patted my arm in sympathy and leaned over to say, “I know how you feel.  I lost my grandmother last summer.”  But I focused on living gratefully.

It was during the week of Esther’s funeral that a young man rode up on a bike and knocked at our front door, hot and sweaty on a muggy August morning.  “Is this the place where I can give a tribute to Esther Earl?” he asked.  With teary eyes I said yes, thanked him, and gave him one of Esther’s bracelets from her Make-a-Wish event in July.  He put it on and said that he would wear it everyday.  That young man’s gift of five dollars led us to start a foundation with the same words found on the bracelet, created for Esther by a close friend: “This StarEarl kids300 Won’t Go Out.”

This Star Won’t Go Out continues to serve families with children diagnosed with life-threatening cancer.  Because caring for a seriously ill child creates tremendous stress on the family system, TSWGO’s goal is to help families through financial grants.  By helping relieve the worry of paying for a rent/mortgage payment, utilities, or other important bills, our goal is that parents will be able to concentrate on spending time with their child.  To date, TSWGO has given away over $135,000 to make a difference in the lives of children with cancer.

On January 28, 2014, our daughter became a published author—something she had always dreamed of!  A portion of her journals, fiction, letters, and artwork were published in a beautiful memoir-style book, This Star Won’t Go Out: The Life and Words of Esther Grace Earlcurated by her father, and produced by Penguin Books.  Her words inspire, motivate, and encourage teens and adults alike with her message to love others, and to live life fully, no matter the shortness or length of days.

About the Author: Lori Earl is the Director of This Star Won’t Go Out, a non-profit that financially assists families with a child living with cancer. In 2011, the Earl Family founded TSWGO in honor of their daughter Esther, who died at age 16, four years after her diagnosis of thyroid cancer.

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