“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you're there.
It doesn't matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that's like you after you take your hands away.
Numerous organizations have been founded by parents after the loss of their child. One of the best known is Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). MADD was founded by Candy Lightner in 1980 after her daughter Cari was killed by a repeat drunk driving offender. Today, it's one of the most widely supported non-profit organizations in America. It's an excellent example of a parent taking a tragedy and turning it into something with the potential to benefit many in the future.
I have two friends who have lost daughters to different forms of pediatric cancer. You may not know this, but cancer is the #1 cause of death by disease among children. I have learned much from my friends Reba Ferguson and Karen Gerstenberger. Karen's 12-year-old daughter Katie died five years ago this past August from adrenocortical carcinoma. Reba's 12-year-old daughter Hannah died of an anaplastic medulloblastoma brain tumor in August of 2010. Both Reba and Karen (and their husbands) are involved in raising people's awareness about pediatric cancer, and both have been involved in raising substantial amounts of money for the cause. They are particularly excited about a thrilling development in pediatric cancer research taking place at Children's Hospital in Seattle, WA. The Ben Towne Center for Childhood Cancer Research at Seattle Children's Research Institute is devoting millions of dollars "to accelerate the pace of pediatric cancer research--changing the way childhood cancers are treated and cured." The Ben Towne Foundation was started by parents Jeff and Carin Towne after their three-year-old son Ben died of a neuroblastoma. Through their parents' efforts, the legacies of Katie, Ben and Hannah will live on forever and hopefully eventually eradicate pediatric cancer.
When Matthew died, we too were faced with how to honor him. He didn't have a disease that we could raise money for, and yet days after he died we were beginning to be asked where people could donate in his honor. After much deliberation, we decided that the best way to honor Matthew would be to ask for donations in his name to the school he had been attending: Western Washington University. Matthew had just started his senior year up at Western when he got sick, and it's a place that he had truly come into his own. He loved WWU and we thought it would be appropriate to suggest that as a place where people could make donations in his name. Imagine our surprise when just a few weeks later someone from the Development Office at WWU called to say we should consider endowing a scholarship in Matthew's name. The response had been so great that we were very close to having this become a reality. We were blown away.
The scholarship was endowed, and we've now had two well-deserving young people receive money towards their first year of tuition at WWU. Both recipients-Christopher and Macy-are paying their own way through school, and the money they received from this scholarship is money they don't have to borrow and repay. We know Matthew would be proud that he is helping them fulfill their dreams of a higher education at a school he so dearly loved. We also have a bigger goal in mind for the scholarship and that is to fully fund tuition for someone for a year. It may take years to get to this point, but we hope to continue to add to Matthew's scholarship so that one day, a student will be able to say that it was because of Matthew Gaphni, that he or she was able to attend Western.
On October 22nd, it will be two years since Matthew died. And while it's difficult to see a silver lining out of our tragedy, I can honestly say that the scholarship has been a gift for our family. We are grateful to everyone that has helped make this a reality for future students.
Here's a link to WWU. Or you can send a check into:
516 High StreetBellingham, WA 98225-9034
The gift should be designated for the Matthew Gaphni Scholarship.
Here are some links to organizations supported and/or founded by my friends Karen and Reba to fight pediatric cancer:
Katie's Comforters Guild
The Pink Polka Dots Guild
Pediatric Tumor Research Fund
Ben Towne Center for Childhood Cancer Research