Even though you haven't heard from me on this website, I have been writing almost every day. Sometimes I write letters to Vincent, sometimes I write to God. Most times I just rant.
I've finally decided to make some of that public. I know I can get good feedback, and you guys who care will know how we're really doing. I have to say though, it's really, really hard for me to visit this caringbridge page. In fact, I just don't want to do it, at least not often. So I started a blog.
So for those of you that are used to checking this website for updates, please accept my apologies, I know that you have all been so wonderful to keep up with what's going on with our family. For those of you who are still interested, you can check out my uncensored grief blog. It's called "Sermons I Never Preached." Here it is.
Here is the text of what Vincent's paternal grandmother, Linda Stringer, shared at the memorial service last month.
Remembering Vinny: A Grandmother's Reflection
When Vinny was born, I thought about changing my e-mail address. For years it had been firstname.lastname@example.org, but as time went on and the family got larger, it became outdated. I considered changing it to luckypopo, “Popo” being the Chinese word for grandmother, because how lucky is that to have two grandsons? Not everyone gets to be a grandmother. I decided against it, as every time you give your e-mail address, “lucky popo” sounds too weird, especially if you’re on the phone with a Mainland company.
One of the advantages of having your grandchildren live with you is that you have access to them every day. I wanted to teach Vinny to use all of his five senses to learn about the real world. I knew the day would come too soon when he would have earbuds in his ears, listening to whatever music would be popular when he became a teenager. His eyes would become glued to a computer screen, playing video games.
I made it my mission to teach him about the real world before the virtual one set in. I taught him how to listen to the chirping birds and barking dogs outside his bedroom window. Every day when I came home from work, we’d take a “tour” around our yard to see the colors of the pink bougainvillea and the red ginger. We’d smell the fragrance of pikake and lechoso flowers. Then I’d lift him up to feel the bananas hanging down from our tree, checking to see if they were ripe yet. I wanted him to know that fruits came from trees, especially those in our own yard. Vinny brought such simple joys into my life.
When Vinny was diagnosed with liver cancer shortly after his first birthday party, I thought to myself, “Good thing I didn’t change my e-mail address.” How unlucky is that, to have your grandson get a type of cancer that is rarer than one in a million?
We think we’re entitled to live a long life, to have our kids outlive us, to see them grow up, get married and start out on their own lives. We assume we’ll live to a ripe old age, and when we don’t, we get mad. But life does not come with any guarantees. We only have today.
Vinny taught me to live life one day at a time, to appreciate and revel in what was right in front of me, to enjoy the pink and orange sunsets in Mililani. I’m glad that my husband Ron, who died five years ago, went ahead first. That way, Vinny will know someone when he gets to heaven. I had Vinny for 18 precious months. I still consider myself a lucky Popo.
Merry Christmas everyone!
Thanks to all of you who have stuck by us this year, through good news and bad, all the way up to Vincent's passing and beyond.
In spite of all that has happened, we've been able to celebrate our Saviour's birth with joy. Although our electronic items have not yet been returned, and we don't really have any leads, we've been happy to discover that many of our favorite pictures have not been lost. Good news indeed!
So many thanks to you, dear friends, for hanging in there with us, we are thankful to God for you this Christmas season.
Oh, and a soon as we get a camera we will post some pictures of Theo enjoying his train table - so cute!!
I came home from Costco today with Theo to find something really, really sad.
We wanted to listen to some music, so I went to get my laptop from the bedroom.
That's when I discovered that someone had broken into our house. All my jewelry from my dad is gone.... there were coins scattered around our bedroom floor, all the drawers were opened and emptied. (They only hit our bedroom and Amy's, everything else was untouched...)
But the WORST part is that they stole our camera, and all our laptops (mine, Dan's, and Amy's...) so all our pictures and videos of Vincent are gone. We had some backed up on a external hard drive which they ALSO took. (This is also bad news for all of Dan and Amy's school assignments which are on their laptops).
Yes, I have a number of pictures of Vincent left on facebook, as well as videos. But our most personal, most special ones (including ones from the days before his passing & even one video of him after he passed) are gone. Gone.
I notified the news, and one reporter came to our house already and did a video interview. Hopefully that'll run soon, as well as a newspaper article that will come out in a few days.
Please pray that the people who did this will hear what the items they stole contained and will give them back. There will be a cash reward for the returned items (provided they still have the pictures on them!) The police came to our house soon after I called, and told us that this has been happening in our area... and apparently the burglars have also been coming back to the house after the initial entry. That doesn't make me feel safe at all.
Also, please pray for us. I'm feeling that this is the last thing I can handle at this point in time. I'm so incredibly angry. And sad.
Some day soon I will write about Vincent's Memorial Service & the private burial that followed the next day. For many reasons, I can't do that right now. So instead, I have the eulogy that Cheryl, (Dan's sister) read during the service. You'll see later how the whole service fit together. Have a blessed day everyone!
Vincent Wing Seun Stringer was born on Mother’s Day, May 10, 2009 at 8:41AM at Kapiolani Medical Center. Weighing 7 pounds, 7 ounces and measuring 20 and a half inches, Vincent was born full-term after 8 hours of labor and was in perfect health.
Vincent is a name of Latin origin meaning “victorious” or “one who prevails.” His middle name, Wing Seun, means “eternally kind and generous” in Chinese. Over the course of his life, Vincent was affectionately known by a variety of nicknames used by friends and family including Vinnie, Vince, Vinnie Boy, Mr. Vin Vin and Vinnamon Bun. His mother called him her “pumpkin” and his father referred to Vincent as “the good baby boy.”
At just 5 weeks old, Vincent took his first airplane trip to Tampa, Florida for his Aunty Esther’s wedding. He was extraordinarily well-behaved during the 12 hour flight and charmed the extended family. Vincent loved to be near mamma, and as long as he had his nursing cover and pillow, he was very happy.
In spite of a few feeding and reflux issues, Vincent thrived over the next year. He went everywhere with Mommy: to work and back again, to three different conferences, to church services, music practices and meetings. He made friends, both young and old who loved to hold him and be near his wrinkly nosed smile.
As he grew older, he loved playing with his brother, which consisted mostly of Vincent shrieking with delight while pulling on Theo’s hair and face. Surprisingly, Theo would oblige by placing his head close to Vincent’s hands, saying “Vincent, here I am!” to initiate the hair-pulling game. One of his other favorite things was reading touch-and-feel books, especially “Pat the Bunny.” He read “Pat the Bunny” so often that he had two copies, meant to withstand the wear and tear of his love. His Aunty Cheryl and Uncle Blake came over every week to play with him and his brother, and he loved to go for walks with Popo, listening to the birds. He met his Grandma and Grandpa Holmes, and loved his Auntie Amy, who later moved back home to help take care of Theo.
On May 6th, just a few days before his first birthday party, Rebecca was rubbing his belly when she felt what seemed to be a lump. She brought him the very next day to her trusted pediatrician. Vincent didn’t like the examining table, and started to cry, and in doing so, tensed up his body, which made it very difficult to detect any anomaly. Rebecca was instructed to keep an eye on the area.
On May 16, a few days after the birthday party, Rebecca was changing Vincent’s diaper when she noticed something unusual. In the abdominal area where she had originally felt the lump, there was now a distinct bulge. Apparently, it had grown quickly in just a few days. Rebecca met immediately with a surgeon at Kapiolani Medical Center who ordered an ultrasound, confirmed the presence of a growth, and admitted Vincent as an inpatient. His MRI showed a large tumor in his liver, although his blood test results were negative for the most common type of liver tumor. The biopsy samples were sent to several places on the mainland until it was finally determined to be an extremely rare extra-renal rhabdoid tumor.
He began chemotherapy in June and responded very well during the first several rounds. Our Vincent was a champion and seemed to have even more energy than before! He crawled, stood up, played with trains and matchbox cars, pulled his brothers’ hair, and even learned a new word “kitty”. Over the next three months Vincent continued to grow, eat, and explore his world.
One of his favorite things to do was to grab a toy and then hand it to you. Then he’d grab another one and hand it to you. Then he’d grab yet another toy and hand it to you. He was very giving. He loved to give Theo his toys, sometimes accidentally destroying a carefully placed train track in his eagerness to reach his brother.
He was on track for the tumor to be removed on September 7. However, it was discovered through a CT scan and confirmed through a biopsy that the cancer had mutated into a chemo-resistant form which had spread throughout his liver and to his lungs.
Vincent’s final two months were filled with ups and downs. He had a few good days, going to the beach, kicking the waves and digging his feet into the sand, and visiting the dolphins at the Kahala Mandarin. Vincent was fearless during the dolphin encounter - when he saw the water he got right into it and petted Hoku the dolphin on the nose. Another highlight was a four day trip with his mommy and daddy to Bethel Church in Redding, California.
Soon after that, he began having to receive morphine every day to lessen his pain. The tumor’s growth made it impossible for him to crawl, but he would still sit up in bed to read stories or play with trains. One night, he couldn’t sleep because his feeding tube was getting infected and itchy. Vincent surprised everyone by pulling the entire tube out of his nose, removing the only source of nutrition from his body. He was admitted at Kapiolani and once there, his breathing became increasingly labored and the CT scan showed considerable new growth in his tumors.
By that point, Vincent had endured 6 rounds of chemo, had spent a total of 60 nights in the hospital, and had made 52 visits to the out-patient clinic. Vincent spent his last 11 days at home receiving hospice care. His final hours were filled with love from friends and family members. Present at the time were his grandparents Linda Stringer, Norman Holmes and Linda Holmes, as well his Aunty Amy Stringer, Aunty Esther Shin and Uncle Yoon Shin.
On the evening of Saturday November 20th at 8:25 PM Vincent died peacefully at home in Mililani, just after Rebecca had been holding him. As she put him down, God picked him up.
So today I realized that as of yet we have not mentioned anything about how Theo is doing since Vincent's passing. All our blog posts have been about Dan and me! Oops!
It's so much harder to write about Theo's reactions to everything than it is to write about one's own feelings. As open and readable as Theo is, it's still hard to put a finger on exactly how he's doing.
After Vincent relapsed, I spent hours online searching through child psychology websites, counseling websites, christian websites, even homeschooling websites, amazon lists, you-name-it websites looking for books dealing with issues of sickness, death, and heaven for preschoolers.
Turns out there really aren't many!
I found dozens of good books, some of them even put in lists of books for preschoolers, only to find that they were way over Theo's head. Some of them had paragraphs of words written on each page, even whole chapters of just words with barely any pictures.
I wonder when the last time any of those reviewers had read any of those books to a rambunctious 3.5 year old.
In the end, I did find quite a few books that are accessible to Theo, even if a bit over his head. Books like "The way I Feel" and "God Gave us Heaven" as well as classics like "Dragonflies and Waterbugs." I got him activity books, books by odd indie publishers (with really poor graphics!) and books with slick shiny covers.
We read them all.
After he read "The Way I Feel" he turned to Popo and said, "I feel sad when my mommy and Vincent go to the hospital. I want to see them." Then he wanted to read the book again.
When we came back from the hospital on hospice this last time, with Vincent only on oxygen, we all snuggled on the bed together and we told Theo that Vincent's body would be dying soon, and that his spirit would be going to be with God in heaven. We had talked about death on a number of occasions. Theo seemed most concerned that Vincent would not be able to play with him, and angrily left the room, only to return a few moments later with his arms full of toys. He pushed them onto the bed towards Vincent, and said, "There Vincent, you can have these." We let Theo know that Vincent wouldn't need to take any toys with him, because heaven's rooms have a lot of things to play with!
Theo was concerned that one of us may be going as well, and so we got to explain exactly how none of us had a sickness that couldn't be fixed. Then he wriggled off the bed, and declared, "I'm going to shut the door" and started to walk off. I caught up with him, curious at to what was happening, and together we walked to the front door where Theo closed it loudly, and said, "There. Now no one can leave." Apparently he thought he could keep Vincent with us as long as the door was shut... (I guess we hadn't done such a good job explaining death as we thought!) And of course, he cried, so we cried with him.
The thing about children is that they can enter into their feelings very completely. They can be very angry, or very sad, or very happy. They are completely in that emotion in that moment. And I think that in a way that can be more healthy than us adults who tend to shove our feelings away, into cracks and crevices of our soul, building alcoves and walls to hide our pain. Theo, on the other hand, will cry for five minutes, because "I miss Vincent" or "I just want to play with him." Then, he'll be very happy, laughing and running around the house, coloring pictures and painting and squishing playdough everywhere.
Two days ago Theo was playing quietly when he suddenly ran to his room to get away from me. When I asked him what was the matter he said, "I just want to punch and kick everything. I want to break it!" (and as he says this he's just sitting in the middle of his room, behaving quite nicely.) I asked him why he was mad, and he didn't have a reason. He just felt very, very angry.
I think I know why he feels angry. In a way, he's mad that Vincent left him, even though he knows that Vincent didn't get to choose to leave. He feels angry that even though he has lots of family here now, they're going to be leaving soon. Today he didn't want to think about his favorite out-of-town relatives coming tomorrow and Friday, because he knew that meant they'd also have to leave. Theo's a smart kid, he knows what's going on.
Sometimes at night he wakes up crying, missing Vincent. But it doesn't happen every night. And each day he always wants to look at pictures and videos of himself and Vincent. Sometimes over and over again.
Theo was a great big brother, and still is. Protective, kind, giving, and thoughtful. I won't let him forget that as he gets older, and as his memories of Vincent grow increasingly faint. Together we'll keep his memories of Vincent alive, telling stories of how they used to play together, talking about what Vincent might be doing now, and, of course, watching little videos of them interacting with each other.
And that will help me with my grieving as well. So thanks Theo, for giving me a chance to respond to this awful situation in a childlike way. Together we'll be OK.
Even given everything that has happened to us this year, we still have a lot to be thankful for.
After going to the mortuary with my mother-in-law on Monday we ran to Walmart to do some errands, and I realized while walking in the store that a worse thing than picking out your son's casket would be to be filling out a missing persons report instead.
Because I know where Vincent is. He is safe. He is happy. He is loved. And because of that, I can have some peace. I'm not happy, but I'm not throwing up all day long with anxiety either.
So I'm thankful for heaven. I'm thankful for my husband and my family. I'm thankful that Theo has been well taken care of while I've been in the hospital with Vincent these past 6 months. (Thanks Amy & Mom!) I'm thankful that I can spend Christmas with Dan and Theo. I'm thankful that I'm a mom. That hasn't changed. I still have two sons. One's just not here.
Today Vincent went to the hospital... again. We woke up around midnight with him vomiting, and he did that all night long, I think around 7 times in all (after a while I lost count).
He had an x-ray done, and there are no obstructions! This is probably just a crummy virus. Unless it has something to do with the TPN that he's on every night (it's like a nutrition IV). This helps him to get the calories that he needs.
He did great all day long - no puking, and scattered nursing, until around 10:30 tonight when he started puking... again. Poor kid.
You'd never know he's battling such a life-threatening illness. Today he was so happy, crawling around the house, taking a long nap, playing with his brother's toys. Life is good when you're 13 months old! What a trooper.
Keep praying that his white blood cell count comes up, and that this darn tumor shrivels up and dies. And that Vinnie will have a healthy, long life.
We appreciate all you guys for praying and for keeping updated on how he's doing!
Welcome to Vincent's website! You can get started by reading his story and the latest journal entries. There's also a photo gallery and a place for you to write in our guestbook.
If you are on Facebook, you can visit Vincent's profile for additional updates.
To avoid confusion, please be aware that any Tribute Donations "in honor of Vincent" are sent to the CaringBridge organization and not to the Stringer family.
One day in early May 2010, Vincent seemed to be a bit more fussy than usual, and Rebecca was rubbing his belly when she felt what seemed to be a lump. She brought him in the next day to the pediatrician, but since Vincent was crying on the examining table, she couldn't feel anything unusual, but told Rebecca to keep an eye on it.
Ten days later, Rebecca was changing Vincent's diaper when she actually saw the lump - which had grown significantly in a short amount of time. Even though our pediatrician was out of the country at the time, we managed to get an appointment in shortly thereafter with an excellent surgeon.
He couldn't feel anything out of the ordinary either, because once again, Vincent didn't like the feel of the examining table... but since Becca was so worried, he ordered an ultrasound.
The ultrasound tech was such a sweet man - he made us comfortable while Rebecca held Vincent, and then said these words - "....Mom, you were right, there's something there." That "something" turned out, after weeks of tests sent to the mainland and to various cancer specialists, to be a extrarenal rhabdoid tumor in the liver.
After an initial 15 weeks of agressive chemo treatments, the tumor shrunk before growing back and spreading to Vincent's lung. Due to concerns about the lung lesion, a liver transplant was not an option. As of late September, Vincent was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer and was put on some experimental chemo to try to shrink the tumors.
During the months of October and November, Vincent's health declined rapidly. He died November 20th, 2010, at home, surrounded by his family.
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