This weekend, nine months after their daughter Claire lost her battle with leukemia, Connie and Jordan Parker returned to Duke University School of Medicine’s Pediatric Hematology-Oncology clinic.
Claire was very much with them.
“We weren’t ready to let go of her,” Connie Parker, Claire’s mother said on Thursday night as she and her husband Jordan prepared to make the Claire Parker Foundation’s first significant delivery of “Claire’s Care Boxes” to Duke.
Shortly after the death of Claire in May of 2014, Connie and Jordan set out to honor Claire by making sure other families have everything they need to survive the pediatric cancer diagnosis. Based on their own experiences and with some tips from Claire’s nurses, they created Claire’s Care Boxes, a kind of survival kit filled with items as simple as a toothbrush and thoughtful as a journal so families can take notes and write down questions for their physicians. The Parkers also include a devotional, wanting faith to inspire and encourage others just as it continues to help them.
The boxes are distributed to Child Life Specialists who then distribute them to newly diagnosed families.
“It feels good to help people in the same place we’ve been in because it’s a tough place to be in,” Connie said. “It has helped to keep her memory alive and make sure her story continues to inspire people.”
At ten months of age Claire was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. The community rallied around Claire and her parents, holding fundraisers to help the family cover medical costs and pooling sick days so the two Pittsylvania County school teachers could be with Claire at Duke. Claire spent much of the rest of her life at Duke fighting leukemia before Connie and Jordan decided to forgo a bone marrow transplant and bring her home.
She died at home in Altavista in May.
Pediatric oncology nurse Hollister Dibble got to personally give one of the first “Claire’s Care Boxes” to a family about a month ago, while the foundation was doing a dry run to work out any kinks.
“At the time of diagnosis, you’re pretty much at a total loss,” Dibble said, explaining that it was an amazing feeling to be able to give the family something tangible, something so thoughtful at such a time. The simple white box bearing Claire’s name, a light pink heart and filled with items such as hand sanitizer, parking passes and a gift card is “something you need that you don’t even know you need to ask for.”
Dibble, who has worked at Duke for more than two years, has never seen a family turn their grief into something like the Claire Parker Foundation and Claire’s Care Boxes.
“It’s just a testament to who they are and their faith and what they stand for,” Dibble said. “In all, in everything they do, in Claire’s life and death, they want to bring glory and honor to Jesus.”
Like Dibble, pediatric oncology nurse Anna Wilkins has been moved by seeing how Connie and Jordan have responded to their loss.
The Parkers were different from the beginning, Wilkins said.
“We were just drawn to them, they were so loving,” Wilkins said remembering how other families would see the Parkers and ask the nurses about them. When Claire was away between treatments, people would ask for her.
Watching the Parkers tell another patient, a teen, that Claire had relapsed in April of 2014 was like watching them talk to her big brother, Wilkins said. He was devastated.
“What set them apart is, number one, their love for the Lord and how they could have joy in such devastating circumstances and that was infectious and you wanted to care for them,” Wilkins said. “It was very odd in a sense. They were going through one of the most difficult things a parent could go through but they were reaching out to others to pray for them.”
Connie and Jordan, who are pregnant with a son, give all the credit to God.
“God’s given us a lot of insight through this whole process,” Connie said. “If we hadn’t been through this we wouldn’t be able to reach people as effectively.”
Once Claire’s Care Boxes are firmly established at Duke, Jordan hopes to establish the program at additional hospitals. By the end of this first year of operation he hopes they can give out at least 50 boxes, a heady proposition considering each box costs $250 to $300 to create. All of it will depend on foundation donations. Right now they have enough financial backing to give out one box each month.
“It’s really inspiring and touching to watch Connie and Jordan take something as tragic as loosing a child and turn it into something good. Their goal, and their desire, is to use Claire’s death to touch other people,” Dibble said. “It’s a beautiful reminder of Claire's life and the ability of her parents to use her death for good.”
Keep up with the Claire Parker Foundation at http://claireparkerfoundation.org/blog/, or on Facebook and Twitter.