Remembering Matthew

By Evon Shounia

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Born on March 28, 2005, my son Matthew Shounia was a healthy baby, which is why it came as a surprise to us when he got very sick. Shortly after becoming sick, he was diagnosed with Wilms, a rare childhood cancer.

Matthew never had any kidney issues and was born a perfect healthy baby boy. There really is no explanation as to how he got so sick, so fast.

According to the American Cancer Society, “Wilms tumors are the most common cancers in children that start in the kidneys. About 9 of 10 kidney cancers in children are Wilms tumors.” These tumors are commonly “unilateral” or affecting only one kidney.

Following his diagnosis, a series of surgeries were required in addition to chemotherapy and radiation treatments. The cancer cells proved to be too aggressive, though and did not respond to the rigorous treatments. A mere seven months after receiving his diagnosis, Matthew passed away. He passed away on February 7, 2015; he was 9-years-old.

Before his diagnosis, Matthew was a kind soul with an energetic spirit. He was an amazing young boy with a big heart. He was very genuinely compassionate, caring, kind, respectful and a beautiful child. He would always put others before himself. I always say I had an angel on earth.

The second born of four children, Matthew enjoyed life in ways most children do. Some of his favorite things to do included riding his bike, swimming, going to the movies and eating ice cream. Overall, though, Matthew enjoyed being around his friends and family.

Three years after his passing, I want to tell his story in hopes that I will be able to pass on some of the things I have learned while trying to cope and live in a world without my child, while keeping his spirit alive.

Living each day without Matthew proves to be an incredible struggle, but since his passing, I have found great comfort in those that surround me. From my family, to other women, and parents in general, who have experienced similar losses.

The most comforting has been the people who surround me with lots of true love and compassion. I am fortunate to have wonderful sisters and close cousins who have been of great strength for me. I have also met other mothers who lost children, we lean on each other for support and it has been so comforting to form a bond with women who understand my pain and my struggle.

For me, it was simple gestures of kindness that resonated most with me during my family’s struggle and I believe these small, but meaningful gestures go a long way when one is grieving a loss, especially that of a child.

One way family and friends can better comfort a mother or father during a loss would be to simply reach out once in a while and ask how they are doing. A simple text or phone call would go a long way. People may think we need our space but actually it’s comforting to hear from family and friends who truly care.

While my family and I were certainly met with kind and sympathetic friends and family, we were also met with insensitive and thoughtless sentiments. I want to offer a bit of advice for these people, think before you speak. Someone once told me, “‘at least you have other kids.” I did not find that comforting in the least.

There are a lot of insensitive things that are said or done when someone is going through a loss. My advice would be to really think about what you say before saying it, especially to a grieving mother. A lot of things or topics are very sensitive during this time and any little remark can be hurtful.

While we continue to heal, my family and I have decided that we will keep Matthew’s spirit alive and establish his legacy through a number of causes that would warm his passionate and caring soul.

Each year around the date of Matthew’s birthday, we host a blood and blanket drive in conjunction with the American Red Cross in his honor. We work with the American Red Cross for blood donations and the blankets go to a local charity that hands them out to terminally ill children in local hospitals.

In addition to the blood and blanket drive, our family hosts a golf outing in Matthew’s honor. The proceeds of this fundraiser go to children with cancer in Iraq and other countries abroad who are not able to afford treatment.

As for our time apart from Matthew, I know we will eventually be reunited with our loving son and brother.

Matthew will be forever missed and never forgotten. I know he is in heaven rejoicing with the Lord and one day we will be reunited with him.