People come and go in our lives. For better or worse, some paths cross for only a short time. Others seem to intersect frequently despite relocations, job changes, marriages and the passage of time.
I have known Tammy Nischan since she was a child. She says our wedding was the first she remembers and talks about how romantic she thought it all was. Years later, we attended her December wedding and gushed over the poinsettia decorations. Our oldest daughter was influenced by it and when it came time for her to wed, she set the date in the Christmas season.
Tammy's parents were mentors when my wife and I were starting life together. They included us in an established circle of friends and served as examples regarding issues about life, marriage, parenting and church service.
Later, my daughters would look up to Tammy and her husband, Tim, in a similar manner. During her college years, my daughter actually attended a devotional group in the Nischans’ home just off the college campus.
Because our lives have been intertwined, I can assure you without fear of question that Tammy and Tim Nischan are the strongest and bravest people on this planet. I am certain they have the deepest faith.
When their third child, Adrienne, was taken by crib death, the Nischans were stricken but did not fall. In fact, their example was extraordinary.
Tim preached the funeral. A college professor, he served as a part-time preacher at small country churches but his demonstration of courage, love and faith by simply standing before that audience spoke louder than any sermon. The baby’s grandfathers added to this family demonstration of strength when called upon to pray at either end of the service.
The Nischans went on to have two more children. With a house now filled with four boys, they still found room and love for another child. After going through the rigors and expense of foreign adoption, Olivia joined their family.
Losing a child is every parent’s greatest fear. Losing two is unthinkable. But the Nischans have confronted that terror for more than 6 years.
At age 7, their youngest son, Nick, was diagnosed with cancer. After countless tests, surgery, needles, doctors, nurses and hospital rooms, he was cancer free for a time. But the disease returned with a new frenzy that the Nischans aggressively and publicly attacked.
When Nick’s cancer returned, Tammy began sending out a few e-mails to request prayers. In the midst of the messages, she often relayed ordinary details about their lives alongside the painful discussions of Nick’s condition. She shared insight, humor, suffering and always a confidence in God’s abiding love.
Through prayer groups, her e-mails began being forwarded well beyond the initial circle of friends. Soon the Nischans were hearing about how Nick’s bravery and Tammy’s e-mails were touching hearts around the nation and sometimes beyond. It wasn’t long before Tammy needed technical assistance to create mail groups, post a Web site and eventually a blog.
She was extraordinarily transparent in her writings. The messages expressed fear and anger as well as love for her son and passion for a cure. They always carried a positive reflection of their faith.
Here’s a sample from an August 2007 message that I never had the heart to delete.
“It was so hard the day of the news on August 8th. It was like life stopped again,” she wrote. “How can you hear that your child has a suspicious spot on his brain after having two brain tumors and possibly function until more tests are completed? If not for the strength that comes only through Christ, I could never have moved from my couch and my state of disbelief and despair. I can honestly say that with God all things are possible. He truly can get you through the darkest days with a smile!”
People who they never met and may never meet shared in the victories and the valleys. Today, we share their sorrow.
Nick died Saturday, two days after Thanksgiving. He was 13.
In an e-mail sent late that evening, his mother shared a memory from that holiday of praise.
“Thanksgiving morning Nick was lying on the couch upstairs and mamaw was under his feet holding her dog, Amber. I was sitting with Nick’s head on my lap on a pillow. The tumors were so hard to look at but deep inside I just kept praying that they would shrink ... that Nick’s head would be totally healed. As we sat there together, Nick patted the blanket and said, “Amber,” in a sweet little voice, trying to get Mom’s dog’s attention. Then when Amber looked at him, he said, “This is the life.” And honestly, Nick meant it. He had me at one end of the couch, and my mom at the other end of the couch. He was under a blankie and there were no needles and in his mind no worries. He had great peace.”
A foundation is being established in Nick’s name to perpetuate his positive attitude through support of faith-based charities and a literacy program.
In our lives, we cross paths with many people. Some for only a short time.