Elvis Lives

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about Elvis. No, not because he’s been suddenly sighted wandering the halls of my home now 32 years after his death or even because I’ve recently spent too much time reading tabloids in the checkout lane of the local grocery store (which I have considering how many ingredients Brooke failed to get for the holiday parties). Instead, I’ve been thinking a lot about Memphis, Tennessee and whenever you think of Memphis is always hard to ignore Elvis. He’s part of the history, part of the tourism, even part of the local menu as you order everything from Elvis Waffles to Elvis Hamburgers. He’s even part of the bus line.

 
Visiting another city without any preparation is never easy, especially when you come to that city after discovering your daughter has cancer. But instead of coming for the sights, the music and the culture, we came for another thing: hope. And on that cold November morning, it was the only thing that kept us going. And so Elena and I began our journey, starting with a bus ride to a hospital we never hoped to visit. At the time it represented depression, loss and sadness. After all, how inspiring could a hospital that treated children diagnosed with terminal cancer be? Instead, at St. Jude Hospital we discovered the impossible. We not only found that hope, but we rediscovered our determination and love for life as well. And in doing so, we discovered Elena and the lessons she left behind.

 
At a recent book signing, people stroll by and ask us what our book is about. I used to tell them it was about my daughter, her fight with cancer and the lessons she taught us. In return they’d thank us for writing the book, comment on how they couldn’t read such a sad book and continue on. Refining our synopsis we’d tell the next person it was about learning to be a parent, how our daughters were our heroes and how the proceeds benefited cancer research. They’d too offer some sort of blessing, a tilted head and a comment on how they couldn’t read a sad book. So when the third person asked, Brooke suggested we simply tell them it was a book about a cute and cuddly dog. I told them I had no idea what the book was about and they’d have to buy it to find out. And thankfully, we ultimately sold the book.

 
The first 20 pages of the book are sad. I can’t help it. Still, it is a journal ultimately written for Gracie and no one else. And for this reason, it also teaches lessons. So while the first 20 pages are about cancer, pages 21-248 (or in her case, pages 21-684, since she has the original version) are about hope, about life and about the joy that Elena taught us each and every day. Those that make it beyond page 20 know this to be true. Those that don’t simply tell us how they cried.

 
In the end, the book is no more about sadness than St. Jude Hospital was to us the first time we walked through the front doors. But where we thought we’d lose ourselves, we instead rediscovered our family and our hope. And it is the happiest place I can imagine still today. For there, in the heart of Memphis, families from around the globe rediscover that life and childhood is all about.

 
But there is more, much more to learn about Memphis than just a hospital; there is also a bus driver. Complete with sideburns and a slightly overweight appearance, you’d swear he was Elvis’s younger brother. Later, as we would get to know him, we discovered that in earlier times he and Elvis had actually spent time together as teenagers, ultimately becoming part of the traveling entourage of the hometown hero. But for now, he was a bus driver to his own special group of heroes. And so greeting us each morning on our lonely trip to the hospital, he reveled in the challenge of making Elena smile through the steroids, sometimes commenting on the stuffed animal she’d brought with her or even joining me in renaming her “Fred” in honor of the steroid frown patterned across her face. Most times he won the battle, finally earning her love after joining her fight for the pink cowboy boots that Mom offered as a prize for successfully completing her first awake radiation treatment. And from there on, he would always be known as “Elvis” to her.

 
When I look back on Elena and reread the book, all I can think of is Elvis. The tears still come, but they are also frequently accompanied by laughter as we talk about the bus ride, the boots and her smile. You can’t help it. So the next time someone asks us what the book is about, I’ll reply that it’s about Elvis. Maybe I’ll even tell them he had it all wrong when he wrote the song too. After all, who says you need blue suede shoes when you got a pink pair of cowboy boots?

5 Responses to “Elvis Lives”

  1. Nicole says:

    To Keith, Brooke & Grace

    THANK YOU for allowing the world to meet Elena. She is an inspiration to me because of the fight she went through and everything she did prior to leaving this world for the next.

    I bought your book online as i live in Australia and i cried when i read it… Your words that you wrote and the way you wrote it, made me feel like I knew Elena in person and i saw her go through all she did.

    Grace is privileged to have parents like yourselves that would write this journal so she could understand all that Elena went through and what Elena thought of the whole process.

    I hope Elena continues to inspire people through your book and I wish you all the most happiness in the world.

    Kind regards

    Nicole

  2. Wendy Krickovic says:

    Continuing to keep you in my prayers, and praying that there will be a cure in our lifetime. In the meantime, Elena and her family’s unbelievable story adorns my coffee table, and provides me with the inspiration to be the best mother I can. Random notes written by my children that would have been disposed of before are now cherished, just as random moments are…

  3. Kerrie says:

    Hi,

    I stumbled across your website one day in November. I always read your posting on Mondays. It inspires me to be a better person. I actually asked for this book for Christmas and my brother has sent it to me. I can not wait to read it. If it is anything like your blog it is going to be a sensational work of art.

    I have an almost 2 year old daughter and work in a hospital on the neonatal intensive care unit. Life is so fragile and at times it is hard to remember this. However, you have inspired me to be a better parent and not to waste a moment of time with her.

    Merry Christmas and have a blessed New Year. My daughter and I pray for your family nightly and look for the hidden beauty in each day. I can only hope my daughter has 10% of Elena’s beuaty. She is an angel in Heaven looking down on you and smiling.

    Praying for you and your family,

    Kerrie

  4. I also bought the book online, as I live in Holland. I have read already about the book a bit before buying it, so I know it is sometimes sad to read, but it also taught us how to appreciate what we all have, how lucky we are.

    We can be those naive people, rushing to get our Christmas shopping done like you said in the book, and complaining endlessly about how busy our child(ren) are, etc.

    Once again, thank you for reminding us this. And may you and your family find the peace inside you, knowing that Elena is always there with you in your heart.

    Greetings from Holland

  5. Lana says:

    Keith, Brooke, and Gracie,

    I read your book and continue to follow your journal on here. It has taught me to value the little moments I have with my son and not take anything for granted. Your little girl should be an inspiration to anyone. She was wiser than most people I know. She was taken away from you far too soon, but her legacy lives one forever. When I purchased your book people asked me why I chose to read something so morbid, but as I started to read, it was more about life than death. It was about the miracles that we are presented with every day. I wish you and your family much luck, love and happiness. Please keep on writing and showing the world the true meaning of life! Happy New Year!

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