SPECIAL REPORT: Bereaved families discuss grief after losing child to cancer

SPECIAL REPORT: Bereaved families discuss grief after losing child to cancer

CENTRAL COAST, Calif. - Three years ago, Enrique Carrillo Jr. and Julie Hart said goodbye to their first and only daughter at the time.

Emily was six years old when she lost her battle to cancer. Julie says Emily's diagnosis came out of nowhere, with Emily passing away a year within her diagnosis.

"She loved all her family," says Julie about Emily. "She was up and down and had all of this energy that made her glow. She was full of life, always healthy and never got sick. Then all of a sudden she got hit with this type of cancer."

Another Central Coast family suffered a similar tragedy in 2018 with the loss of their son Charlie.

Sara and Kelly Moore described their son as someone who was full of life and made friends everywhere he went.

It was that reason that when Charlie was officially diagnosed, Sara and Kelly wanted to do their best to make the best of the situation as Charlie went through treatments by still doing all the stuff he loved to do.

"It's one thing to hear your child has a terminal diagnosis and you have this little amount of time," says Sara Moore. "For me I just didn't want to spend a second of that time focused on his death."

Local experts on the subject of grief say there's a myth which suggests these type of tragedies end in divorce.

However, Julie and Enrique remain together, as well as Sara and Kelly. Experts say these, along with many other similar outcomes, prove that myth wrong.

"The research doesn't even support that," says Lori Butterworth with Jacob's Heart. "There's no statistically significant research which indicates parents who lose a child are more likely to divorce."

Meanwhile a report by UCLA's Mattel Children's Hospital finds having a child after the loss of another also happens quite often and could help strengthen a family.

The study goes on to say doing so requires enough time to grasp that concept that your child has passed away, however.

For Julie and Enrique, it was a tough decision. It ultimately took two and a half years or so before they finally decided whether or not to have a kid again after Emily's death.

"What if my next kid gets sick?" says Julie. "What if I can't be the mom I was with Emily. What if I can't be a mom anymore?"

The day Julie found out she was pregnant she still had those doubts lingering in her mind. Once she gave birth to Sophia, however, the doubts faded but the way she cares for Sophia is different.

"People probably hate me because I'm just so paranoid and overprotective," Julie says. "I don't want to let her go. She's definitely a gift to all of us. Honestly, I think Sophia is a gift from Emily."

Meanwhile Sara and Kelly Moore, along with their two other children, continue grieving the loss of their oldest son Charlie.

"He was walking one day and was totally fine and then the next day he couldn't use the right side of his body," says Kelly Moore.

His loss is fresh on their mind, as it was just months ago. They honored the 11 year old's life with a "Paddle Out" at Capitola Beach.

"It was really important for us to get down there and still see the same people and do the same thing...just Charlie's not there now," says Kelly Moore. "We go there and think about him every week."

One of the influential parts of their grieving process, as with Julie and Enrique's, was Jacob's Heart in Watsonville.

The organization aims to provide care to those grieving the loss of their loved ones to cancer and has done so for more than 20 years.

"The parents I've known over the last 21 years who have lost a child are the best parents in the world," says founder Lori Butterworth. "They've learned parenting in a deep and meaningful way in which that unconditional love is stretched in a way no one can ever imagine."

Leigh Fitz is the Executive Director of Arms of Angels and agrees with Butterworth. Fitz says couples like Enrique and Julie or Sara and Kelly have shown great strength through loss and it's stories like those which should be highlighted and also listened to with an open mind.

"Not trying to fix or compare or explain theories on how things should be handled," says Fitz. "Just be present in their lives and let them know you're there for whatever they need whenever they need it."

Sara and Kelly have found strength in themselves and also in the people who rallied for them when news of Charlie's death spread.

"Losing a child is obviously the worst," Sara says. "As tragic as a situation can be, there's blessings to uncover that you never could have imagined."

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