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Special Report: Grieving the loss of a child

Part one of Donna Terrell's journey into exploring ways to cope with the loss of a loved one.
It was a dream come true for five-year-old Joel Smith to become Batman.

But just days long after saving Gotham City from bad guys, the caped crusader lost his fight with brain cancer.

“It started on Thanksgiving Day 2009,” Joel’s mother Amy Smith said. “Bobby was in Iraq and I was with my family for Thanksgiving with the boys. And he just vomited.”

Amy thought her son had a stomach bug - but the vomiting grew worse. After weeks of tests, medicines, and blood work – finally, a CT scan.

“I lost it,” Bobby Smith said. “We were about finished with our tour and the Red Cross stepped in to the command staff, and they said ‘get him home ASAP.’”

Bobby arrived home from Iraq in time for Joel's 12-hour surgery. And the couple stayed at their son's side for chemo, radiation and the many hospital stays. They celebrated a 10 month long remission, and then watched helplessly as the cancer came back.

In the end, as his parents like to say, Joel went home.

“He's not hurting. He's not sick anymore. But he's gone. He's not here physically but he's in the best place any of us can be.”

“He's always on my mind or in my heart.”

Grieving a child is intense. The Smiths find creative ways to permanently etch Joel’s memory in their hearts - including matching tattoos.

The purple butterfly is a symbol of losing your battle. The grey ribbon represents brain cancer. The ink is a badge of honor they hope will inspire people to never be afraid to talk to them about Joel, even as they grieve. Joel's life brings laughter and a smile.

The Caped Crusader will always bring a smile - but the pain and longing still lingers.
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