The Most Heartbreaking and Beautiful Story You’ll Hear Today

I just spent the past hour looking through the Facebook page of Leif Greening-Hamlin and my eyes have this weird liquid-y feeling now…

This past March, two-year-old Leif was diagnosed with a rare kind of bone cancer, Ewing sarcoma. The chemotherapy that he went through made things much worse, leaving him with liver failure. The fact that he was born premature didn’t help matters… but Leif’s fighting through it and he’s making slow, steady, gradual progress.

Just look at some of these pictures (in chronological order) and try not to fall in love with this kid:

Leif in early June

Leif wearing a duck mask in late July

That last video is from a couple of weeks ago. Just a lovely, joyful child.

The reason I’m posting about him here is because a friend of mine, who heard about the family through a mutual friend, wrote to me about them. Leif’s parents, while not explicitly atheist, are simply not religious, a fact that stands out on their Facebook page.

What you see are their raw emotions and pictures and videos… what’s missing are appeals to God to fix the situation and requests for prayer. They know those things aren’t going to help. They’re placing their faith in Leif’s doctors, where it belongs. Sure, some commenters will say they’re praying for Leif, and the parents (Mary and Eric) acknowledge that and appreciate the sentiment without being combative about it, but they themselves aren’t joining in.

You know how some people say “There are no atheists in foxholes”?

Well, here they are, experiencing the worst thing any parent could go through, and God isn’t in their thoughts at all. That’s bravery for you. They know there’s no afterlife where they would ever see their son again, so they’re making the most of the time they have with him, hoping that it’ll be extended another hour, then another week, then another month, then more.

My friend, inspired by the family’s fight, wrote this:

The string of posts on the Facebook page are truly heartbreaking, but they also serve as an object lesson in facing the worst hardships the universe can throw at us without resorting to magical thinking… [also,] the advocacy and love that these parents have shown for their child throughout — coupled with Leif’s will to live and their trust in the doctors, science, and modern medicine, even when it fails — is something that should be modeled everywhere.

I couldn’t agree more. Just go to that Facebook page and look at how powerful the family’s love for each other is. If only we could all be that strong when going through something that difficult.

And through it all, they maintain a sense of dry humor, sarcastically mentioning a “call a bishop” button and joking about how their lives are ultra fun:

As you might guess, Eric and Mary haven’t been working through this ordeal and insurance isn’t going to cover all the unexpected expenses. If you’d like to help the family out, consider chipping in a few dollars.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.