Charles Alexander Waller - Charlie - was born in East Lansing, Michigan, on 15 June 2008, to Abigail (née Graham-Yooll) and John Waller. He was a bright-eyed and beautiful boy whose life was tragically cut short by cancer at the age of 5.
It was April 1st, in 2011, when an MRI scan revealed that Charlie had a rare, inoperable and almost always terminal brain stem cancer known as DIPG - Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma. If only that had been just a cruel April Fool's joke.
Charlie underwent weeks of aggressive radiation and steroid treatments, which slowed down the tumor's growth, and gave Charlie the chance to grow from a lively toddler into a beautifully loving, thoughtful and generous boy.
He will always be remembered for how naturally the simple virtues of kindness and empathy came to him. His deep desire to connect and his mature understanding of the needs of others made him into the most wonderful son and a keenly loyal friend. Charlie’s many friends, adults and children, loved him for his emphatic shows of affection, for his delight in telling outrageously silly stories about pirates, zombies, and zombie-pirates, and for numerous acts of quiet kindness. Charlie’s desire to connect also extended to every species of animal, from mosquitoes to dogs.
For Charlie, love often trumped honesty. As the tumor advanced and Charlie lost the sight in his right eye, he hid the truth from his parents, because “Mum and Dad worry.” With considerable pride and courage he spent two years as a preschooler at Pinecrest Elementary in East Lansing and then two months in kindergarten at Marble Elementary. When his loss of hair, a side effect of his cancer treatment, became too obvious to hide, his Marble classmates and the school united in support and Wednesdays became hat day for all.
Sadly, in autumn 2013, Charlie's decline accelerated. On Thursday, December 5, he passed away in his parents’ arms.
Charlie's memory lives on in those who knew and loved him as a bright young boy who exemplified a simple yet exuberant kindness. Many friends and family members have shared their memories of Charlie on the Muchloved website.
A legacy also remains in the foundation of the Children's Palliative Care Coalition of Michigan, which his grandfather, Richard Graham-Yooll, helped establish from the work of the Art for Charlie Foundation.
The loss of a young child brings an almost unfathomable grief, and yet one of the most tragic things about it is how hard most people find it to talk about. To help herself and others understand what she and her family were going through, Abigail recorded her experience of grief by way of imaginary letters to her son, Charlie. The letters formed a kind of journal, a documentation of the love and the loss that the Waller family experienced in the months and years following Charlie's fateful diagnosis. With her permission, we've published these letters on this website.