Mary Carrillo: On Losing a Son & The Idea That Time Heals

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live each day with a grateful heart

A Personal Account Written By Mary Carrillo

Photos by Denise Hernandez

It is often said that time heals all wounds. I believe that’s not entirely true. Time has a way of navigating us through ups and downs while giving us tools along the way, attempting to show us the real meaning of life.

I became a parent at the young age of 21.

On a warm summer night in June, my life was forever changed when my son Calvin arrived.

As soon as he was born, I felt as though we already knew each other. Today I know why.

During Calvin’s early years, I became a single parent; which only strengthened our bond. Growing up, Calvin was all boy. His imagination allowed him to play with anything he could get his hands on. He was a precocious boy; he enjoyed playing outside, riding his bike, his scooter and of course, playing sports. Calvin also had a beautiful soft side. He loved being by the water and some of his favorite pastimes included word search books, puzzles, crafts and gardening.  While I killed every plant I attempted to grow, his flowers, plants and fruits bloomed. Many times he’d stop to admire the colors of the sunset and appeared much wiser than his age.

Life with my little guy was exciting, busy and happy. I had no clue Calvin would be my greatest teacher.

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In late April 2013, weeks shy of his seventh birthday, a small bump on his head led us to a doctor’s office where I heard the most life-altering words a mom could ever hear: “your child has cancer”.

In a single moment everything changed.

Soon after, Calvin’s treatment began and so did our new lives full of appointments, tests, medications and countless procedures that went on for eleven long months. After every chemotherapy appointment, procedure and hiccup, I was still in awe as Calvin’s resiliency only grew.

Eventually, Calvin needed a bone marrow transplant. During this process, he was the sickest he’d ever been. Still, I felt there was light at the end of the tunnel.

Following several brutal weeks in isolation we were given the news we had been waiting for: Calvin’s transplant was successful!

He was in remission and the future looked bright. Finally, cancer would become a thing of the past.

As the weeks passed, Calvin’s hair began to grow and his beautiful long lashes grew longer than ever.

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In early March while playing catch outdoors, Calvin told me he felt discomfort on his chest. As usual, we headed to the hospital as a precautionary measure.  Calvin walked through the hospital doors laughing and joking, just like he had done countless times before.

By that evening Calvin was in ICU. Hours became days and Calvin’s body rapidly grew tired. Days turned into weeks and Calvin’s body only worsened. His lungs were severely damaged. Nothing seemed to help and every hour brought unpleasant news. The days passed and Calvin was now attached to a breathing machine.

Once more, his doctor sat me down. This time she sat in silence, until finally, the following words spilled out (which would change my life forever): “We have done everything we can do for your son and there is nothing else that can be done.”

Calvin’s lungs had been severely damaged beyond repair. His organs were now shutting down and as the hours passed his departure was inevitable. I was given the option to keep him until his body could no longer resist or let him go.

As mothers, I believe we do what is best for our children at any given moment. As heartbreaking and painful as this was, I knew this situation was no different.

Calvin had already endured and suffered long enough. I knew keeping him would be for me but letting him go would be for him.

On the evening of March 24th 2014, I held Calvin in my arms as he took his last breath.

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The loss of a child is unexplainable. There are no words for it. It changes everything you thought you knew. It breaks you, it changes your life experience, it questions your connections and the ability to live again.

After the loss of my son I didn’t know what to do. Nothing had meaning and everything seemed wrong. That is, until I came to the realization that everything is a choice.

During the process of letting my son go, I promised him I would make a difference without knowing exactly what that meant. I simply knew I had to do more.

I began dedicating myself to helping others. I got involved with multiple charities, fundraised and volunteered to help causes and individuals in need. This was the beginning of The Calvin Preston Foundation.

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We began by collecting toys for pediatric oncology patients. Today we donate hundreds of toys to multiple hospitals during the holidays. We also help families during tough times with groceries, bill pay assistance and basic needs. This type of work is beautifully fulfilling. I get to see first-hand the gratitude these families and children have for simple gestures. Calvin and I were in the exact same place before; I understand how beneficial the help is.

The months and years since Calvin’s passing have passed both very quickly and very slowly. With each passing milestone my strength has grown. Calvin gives me motivation to be resilient. In his most painful days, he showed me strength, valor and the desire live. He had to leave, however, I had the opportunity to stay. Why then, would I not want to embrace and savor every moment in life that my heart experiences?

It’s my duty to live a fulfilled life, not only for my son, my family and myself; but for many who know pain and feel as though the ground is swallowing them alive. I’ve been there. I’ve sat in the most indescribable pain. Let me tell you; pain is always temporary, even when it feels endless, It is always temporary.

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In 2017 I married the most beautiful soul I have ever met and in early 2018 I gave birth to Calvin’s sister, Cielo.

My desire to live and love gave me the gift to mother again. Being Cielo’s mom has added such a tender meaning to my life. I wish Calvin was here with us to play with his sister. However, I find comfort in knowing that Cielo will know all about Calvin and how much he is missed.

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While my son’s departure ached then and still aches now, it also continuously teaches me to love. It reminds me to live and pushes me to follow my dreams no matter how big or small. I have endured the most painful experience a mother can live through. Anything outside of that cannot be compared. Today, I live each day with a grateful heart for having had the courage to allow myself to live again. And I am full of gratitude to have had seven incredible years with my son. I miss Calvin, I will always miss him. I cannot wait to hold him again, I know that day will come.

For now, I will take every breath in his honor and live knowing he’s with us every step of the way. 

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Time does not heal all wounds. Not all wounds are meant to be healed. However, I can tell you that it is possible to live with a broken heart and still live fully.

-Mary Carrillo

www.CalvinPrestonFoundation.org


Mommy In Los Angeles® Magazine had the opportunity to learn about Mary Carrillo's experience and given her beautifully written account, we felt it was appropriate to share her story in her own words. We commend Mary for having the courage to relive these memories and offer hope to fellow moms who may be experiencing a similar situation. We wish Mary much success and look forward to seeing the Calvin Preston Foundation continue to thrive and help L.A. Families.

Every Mom Has A Story.