‘You may have pieces missing, but you are worthy of keeping.’: Mom’s touching tribute to son who survived cancer

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Our son, Nolan is a kidney cancer survivor and has had multiple and extensive abdominal surgeries. He has large, sweeping scars on his belly and is mssing a kidney. Today is his birthday. He is 15 years old. Here’s my most recent lesson from him:

We were only looking for seashells. A beautiful sunny day at The Gulf. Walking with my son.

He held up the first seashell, cradled in his boy-man hand and presented it to me.

“Mom, look at this one! Should we keep it?” I peered into his splayed hand and said, “That one is broken. It has some pretty colors, but let’s see if we can find a whole one.”

He tossed it back into the blue water with a flick of his wrist. On we walked.

Just a few moments later, he picked up another. He turned and presented it to me with a small smile on his face and asked, “How about this one?”

Again, I looked into his hand. There I saw a small piece of a larger shell. This one was even more broken and scarred from its years of being battered by rough waves of the beautiful water. I said, “It’s all broken. Let’s keep looking to see if we can find one that isn’t broken. His smile faded and again, with a flick of his wrist, he sent it effortlessly back into the waves.

Blanketed by the heat of the day and the sound of the ocean waves hitting the hot sand, this cycle continued. Each time, my beautiful boy bent at his scarred middle, stood tall with a glimmer of hope in his eyes, extended his hand, and asked if the broken shells were worthy of keeping. He looked to me to see if the shell had value.

On and on, I repeatedly encouraged him to leave the broken shells. The perfect shells were put in his pocket for safe keeping.

Close. Coveted.

I began to ask myself, after all the attempts to show me and ask me about broken shells, why my smart boy persisted in picking up, displaying and seeking confirmation of worthiness of these obviously broken pieces.

I walked down the beach, Nolan just ahead of me, and pondered this dynamic.

Realization crept into my consciousness, understanding flooded my heart and tears began to build in my eyes.

I was telling my boy, one of the great loves of my life, that the broken, battered shells didn’t have the same value as the unscarred, whole shells.

Over and over and over and over.

The pain of the message I was sending was so heavy I almost couldn’t move.

Hundreds of broken seashells adorned the beach. So many choices.

I bent over at my scarred waist, stood tall, called out to Nolan and began to move quickly toward him. I extended my open palm and asked, “what do you think of this one?”

He looked with intrigue into my hand at the broken, blue-purple piece of shell and then straightened his head to look into my eyes.

Confusion and doubt.

What had I been teaching him?

Passionately, I said, “Isn’t this broken seashell amazing? Look at those fantastic colors! I mean, I know there are pieces missing, but I love its uniqueness.”

With a quick grab, he took it and put it with the other unbroken shells.

With my son leading and the lesson heavy on my heart, we walked on as we picked up and kept broken seashells. Each time we discussed their uniqueness and beauty.

Today is your birthday, my beautiful son. You may have pieces missing, but you are worthy of keeping. You have more value than I can ever express in words. I will forever be grateful for the lessons you teach and the joy you bring to my life. I will always cherish those broken seashells.

I love you more than The Moon, The Stars, The Sun and…

perfect seashells.


This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Courtney Taft. Submit your story here.

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