About the Book
Jacob is a healthy fourteen-year-old from Massachusetts, an athlete who lives and breathes for baseball, football & hockey, when he is stricken by an awful and mysterious illness. What begins as a typical childhood malady swiftly proves to be anything but routine. Jacob’s folks, Keith and Alethea, the busy parents of four other children, find themselves thrust headlong into the trial of their lives. Their entire world is suddenly torn asunder.
From his doctor’s office, Jacob is rushed by ambulance to an Intensive Care Unit. What began as an average-every-day cold has graduated to pneumonia. But this is no ordinary pneumonia. Three days later Jacob is on life support. Within a week, his death is all but imminent. Nothing can be done. Doctors struggle feverishly to solve the mysteries Jacob’s body hurls at them, while Keith and Alethea, shell-shocked by the suddenness of it all, lean on their faith and on the army of supporters who have come to their aid – to pray with them, to cry with them and to hope with them.
Jacob’s father, a faithful man, a Gulf War veteran and a career prison officer, has been hardened over the years and has lost some of his faith in the goodness of humanity. The outpouring of unfettered love and kindness that he experiences from his family, his friends and from strangers during Jacob’s ordeal, however, lifts him, nourishes him and opens his heart. Through social media, Jacob’s plight touches the hearts and draws the hopes and the prayers of thousands. The army becomes legions. It almost seems as if there is purpose in what’s happening. Somehow Jacob’s illness seems to serve as a vessel for love and for goodness in the hearts of people.
Weeks pass as the whirring machines stream life into Jacob’s ravaged body, which has been whittled to the bone by the sinister disease that attacked him. Jacob’s lungs are obliterated by the savage pneumonia, the likes of which the medical staff at the renowned Boston Children’s Hospital have rarely seen. All appears lost as his parents cling to the promise of their faith. Keith does what no parent should ever have to do as he writes his son’s eulogy in preparation for, and in acceptance of, the inevitable.
The love of Jacob’s Army, though, stretches across the nation until it finds a deeply spiritual man half a nation away who contacts Keith to share a powerful experience which overcomes him when he prays for this groaning family, and this dying boy, who he had never met or known. Then…things change.
Take the incredible and heart wrenching journey with Jacob and his family through the pages of The Gift of Tears. Feel the love and the goodness in the human heart. Ponder the mystery of faith. Join the brotherhood of community and the fellowship of hearts. Experience the embrace of healing. Hold their hands. Love with them. Laugh with them. Cry with them.
Believe in hope. Believe in healing. Believe in miracles.
I remember nothing of the drive to Boston. I don’t remember leaving Worcester. I don’t remember arriving at the hospital. I wasn’t very familiar with driving in Boston and I had never been to Children’s Hospital for any reason. I don’t know how I found it, or where I parked. I don’t remember leaving my car and walking inside. I can only surmise that I followed signs to where I thought I needed to be. I didn’t know where to go. I didn’t know who to see. No one was expecting me. All I knew was that my son was being transported there. In my emotional delirium, I’d taken off from Worcester in such a hurry that I failed to ask any informative or pertinent questions about what to do when I got there.
So, there I was. I walked around looking for signs that might give me some indication of where I needed to go within the facility. It was eerily quiet, not filled with the teeming activity I expected to encounter in a major Boston hospital. Wherever it was that I ended up in the hospital, for whatever reason, there weren’t very many people around.
A lovely lady, clearly a nurse, noticed my lost and shaken demeanor and asked if she could help me. No words would come out. I tried to speak, but I could only cry. Despite all that I cannot recall about that day, I will never forget the shattering feeling of having so much to say but being physically unable to utter a single word. Thoughts and questions tumbled through my mind. I wondered if they were already there. I wondered if he died during transport. I’d lost all sense of time and location.
Heavy, pooling tears blurred my vision and rolled off my cheeks. It was almost as if I could hear them crash to the ground. As hard as I tried, no words would form. Time stood still. The nurse held my shoulders as if to keep me from toppling over. I’m sure that any nurse at Boston Children’s Hospital is accustomed to communicating with parents who are holding on to the edge of the Earth by their fingernails, and I’m sure that’s exactly what I looked like.
With extraordinary effort, and with the help of the nurse’s calming touch and voice, I managed to finally say “My boy.” For a few moments, it was all I could say. After I eventually gathered myself and was capable of something that resembled coherent conversation, I muttered that my son should be there, somewhere. It was lost on me that I had blindly sped there, and that Jacob probably hadn’t even left Worcester yet. The nurse took me around a few corners and guided me to an area of chairs within eyesight of what was evidently her work station and she offered me a seat. She brought me a ginger ale, took my information and then returned to her desk, apparently to make some telephone calls. I fell fast asleep. As soon as I closed my eyes, it seemed, she gently woke me, looked at me soberly, placed her arm around me and escorted me to the ICU.
Armed with the information she was apparently able to glean from whatever telephone calls she’d made, she told me that my son hadn’t arrived yet, but that he’d be there shortly and would be admitted to the Medical/Surgical Intensive Care Unit. As it turned out, the transfer procedure was so intricate that it took nearly six hours for Jacob to be prepared, packaged, loaded and transported from Worcester to Boston, a distance of only forty miles. I would later calculate that I’d been asleep in the chair for more than three hours. I never moved a muscle.
When I arrived at the intensive care unit, I was told to wait in what would be my son’s room when he arrived. I stood there in awkward and uncomfortable anticipation of what was to come. I imagine I looked like a seventh-grade boy at his first school dance, standing in a corner trying to figure out what to do with his hands. Then I heard an announcement over the speaker system in the unit. Each time a new patient arrived, an ICU team number was announced and designated, and that team was informed they had an arriving patient, as well as which room the patient would be going to. The number of the room I was standing in was broadcast over the speakers. My heart pounded. Jacob had arrived.
As he came down the hall with his transport team, I hollered out, “Is he alive? Is he alive?” as I rushed toward him. A nurse politely restrained me and pushed me out of the way and told me he was alive. His newly assigned medical team sprang into action. They emerged from all directions and from out of every doorway. There seemed to be a dozen of them. Everyone went to work, and it was truly a marvel to watch. It was something I would love to be able to observe under other circumstances.
My being impressed with the efficiency and precision of the team was complicated by the fact that it happened to be my son’s life which was at stake. The team operated as a well-oiled machine. The amount of activity was mesmerizing. People and equipment were flying all over the place. It seemed like there were fifty conversations going on simultaneously, yet everyone was in perfect synch.
A normally calm and collected type, I was reduced to wringing my hands. As we had become accustomed to, Alethea and I stood helpless with our son’s life in the hands of others. I had a million questions to ask, but no one to ask them to, as everyone was engaged in the flurry of activity. There are times when one interrupts and asks questions and there are times one knows enough to sit still and shut up. I don’t know if it was more my state of shock, or my recognition of that, but I remained quiet and still.
My state must have been obvious. I recall Alethea looking as if she was dazed or concussed, and I imagine I looked like I was going to explode. The team leader turned from the frenzied commotion surrounding Jacob, took my elbow and sat me down. He could see I was barely holding on. He put his hand on my knee, looked me in the eye and confidently told me, “You can only get nervous when I get nervous. And I don’t get nervous.” That was all. He slapped my knee and leapt back into action.
In “man language” what the doctor was saying to me was, “Brother, I know you’re hanging on by a thread right now, and I know you’re hurting. I know you’re so worried about your son that you want to explode. But this is what we do, and we do it well. I’m gonna do everything in my power to take care of your son. So, try to rest easy knowing we’re working on your kid and we will stop at nothing. If you see me get nervous, then maybe you can get a little nervous yourself, but don’t count on it, because we can handle anything your boy throws at us. Everything’s gonna be alright.”
Of course, he didn’t need to say all those words, but that’s what I heard. Sometimes men can communicate eloquently using precious few words. It was exactly what I needed to hear. It got me through the next hour. From that point on, that’s exactly how Alethea and I would live – one hour at a time.
About the Author
Keith is a lifelong resident of Massachusetts. He was born and raised in the town of Lunenburg and has resided in the city of Gardner since 2003. After graduating from Lunenburg High School in 1987, Keith enlisted in the United States Air Force where he served as a K-9 Handler in the Republic of the Philippines and then Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, during which time he was also deployed to the Gulf War in 1990 and 1991.
Following his military service, Keith graduated from the Massachusetts Department of Corrections Training Academy and began a career as a Corrections Officer in 1992. He has risen through the ranks of the agency and currently serves as the Deputy Superintendent of Operations at the North Central Correctional Facility in his hometown.
Keith married his wife, Alethea, in 1999 and they have five children, Dominic, Jacob, Nicholas, Isabella, and Samuel. Keith’s eldest son Dominic blessed him with a granddaughter in 2016. Nora is a miracle baby in her own right who is thriving after being born with less than a ten percent chance of survival and enduring numerous major surgeries, but that will have to wait for the next book!
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