As a parent, I love introducing my children to people. It’s one thing to tell others about my sons, but another thing to introduce them personally. The fun part for me is watching the interaction between my sons and my friends.
There’s a unique joy that comes from bringing worlds together, initiating connections between persons who are important in my life. Not only am I enriched by their interaction, I’m also liberated from the limits of my own words. I no longer need adjectives to describe my kids because their energy fills the room. Their presence says it all.
But how do you introduce a child who is no longer with us? What kind of interaction remains possible?
In the four years since Vincent died, we’ve made many new friends who never had the chance to meet him. And because he only lived 18 months, Vincent has many relatives (including a younger brother) who never got to meet him.
This is part of the heartache, part of the loss.
So allow me to introduce Vincent again, perhaps for the first time.
Vincent Wing Seun Stringer was born on Mother’s Day, May 10, 2009 at 8:41 am at Kapiolani Medical Center in Honolulu. Weighing 7 pounds, 7 ounces and measuring 20.5 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 “eternal kindness” in Chinese. Over the course of his life, Vincent was affectionately known by a variety of nicknames including Vinnie, Vince, Vinnie Boy, Mr. Vin Vin and the Vinnamon Bun. Rebecca called him “pumpkin” and I often referred to him as “the good baby boy.”
Vincent took his first plane ride when he was five weeks old, visiting Tampa for Aunty Esther and Uncle Yoon’s wedding. He was extraordinarily well-behaved during the 12-hour flight and charmed his extended family. Despite some minor feeding and reflux issues, Vincent thrived during his first year. He went everywhere with Mommy including work, and many friends loved carrying him to be near his wrinkly-nosed smile.
One of Vincent’s favorite activities was playing a hair-pulling game with his big brother Theo, who would oblige by placing his head close to Vincent’s hands saying, “Vincent, here I am!” He also loved touch-and-feel books, especially Pat the Bunny, which required multiple copies to withstand the wear and tear of his love. Vincent enjoyed spending time with his three grandparents, three aunts and two uncles.
On May 6th, 2010, a few days before his first birthday party, Rebecca was rubbing Vincent’s belly when she felt what seemed to be a lump. She brought him the next day to her trusted pediatrician. Vincent resisted the examining table and started to cry, which tensed his body and made it difficult to detect any anomaly. Rebecca was instructed to keep an eye on the area.
On May 16, a few days after the party, Rebecca was changing Vincent’s diaper when she noticed the lump had become 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.
An MRI showed a large tumor in Vincent’s liver, although his blood test results were negative for the most common type of liver tumor. Biopsy samples were sent around the country until it was finally determined to be an extra-renal rhabdoid tumor, extremely rare.
Vincent began chemotherapy in June 2010 and responded very well during the first several rounds. Always a little champion, he initially seemed to have even more energy than before! He crawled, stood up, played with trains, pulled his brothers’ hair, and even learned to say, “kitty.” Over the next three months Vincent continued to grow, eat well, and explore his world.
One of his favorite things to do was to grab a toy and 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.
Everything was on target for the tumor to be removed on September 7, 2010 However, it was discovered shortly beforehand through a CT scan, and confirmed through a biopsy, that the cancer had mutated into a chemo-resistant form, and had spread throughout his liver and to his lungs.
Vincent’s final two months were filled with ups and downs. He had some good days; going to the beach, kicking the waves, digging his feet into the sand, and visiting Dolphin Quest. Vincent was fearless during his dolphin encounter, lunging directly into the water and petting Hoku the dolphin’s nose. Another highlight was a four-day trip with his parents to visit Bethel Church in Redding, CA.
Soon after returning home, Vincent began receiving 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 his 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 back to Kapiolani and once there, his breathing became increasingly labored, with a CT scan showing 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 outpatient clinic. Vincent spent his last 11 days at home receiving hospice care. His final hours were filled with love from friends and family members, many of whom traveled great distances to be present.
On the evening of Saturday November 20th, 2010 at 8:25 pm, Vincent died peacefully at home, just after Rebecca had been holding him. As she put him down, God picked him up.