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Choosing to Smile and Remembering Ty, One Year Later

by Cindy Campbell
November 15, 2013

My son Ty died of a brain tumor one year ago.


Cindy Campbell with her son, Ty.

Ty’s childhood cancer journey was horrific, and he suffered side effects from treatment that no child should endure. He couldn’t walk for more than two years; his speech was slurred and difficult to understand; he was often unable to eat or enjoy any kind of food for months on end; he lost mobility in his arms and could no longer hold a toy, eventually losing his ability to even hold his own head up.

Despite all of this, when I asked him what he wanted to do when he was all better, his answer was simple: “I’m gonna jump in a muddy puddle!”

Really? It doesn’t get cuter than that.

Such a simple goal shows that no matter how cancer tried to rob him of his childhood, he was still just a little boy who wanted to have fun and make a mess. For me, that moment — that one simple statement — redefined my outlook on life.

On the day he died, something phenomenal happened. Thousands of people from around the world began posting photos of their children jumping in puddles as a tribute to Ty. And they continue to do so to this day. As a result, I created The Muddy Puddles Project to encourage parents everywhere to let their kids jump in muddy puddles, to get messy with finger paints and glitter, to enjoy and celebrate childhood in honor of those who can’t.


Some of the photos submitted to The Muddy Puddles Project. “I created The Muddy Puddles Project to encourage parents everywhere to let their kids jump in muddy puddles…to enjoy and celebrate childhood in honor of those who can’t,” Cindy Campbell said.

Since losing Ty, my husband and I have forced so many things that helped us process our grief. We travel, we spend a lot of time alone together, and we stay up late talking about Ty and all we’ve been through. We reach out to other parents like us, because really, no one else can understand. We talk freely and openly about Ty around friends and family so they know it is important. And we stare in awe at sleeping Gavin, who now holds Ty’s place in our bed.

We are doing OK. It goes without saying that we miss Ty in everything we do, but we are figuring out how to keep smiling through the pain. We have stopped fighting the grief and we are learning to live with it instead. Our grief is always lurking, but we choose to ignore it as best we can and try to enjoy ourselves regardless.

“Happy” will never be the same for me, but it can coexist with the hurt and it can help me smile when remembering my special boy.

“Happy” will never be the same for me, but it can coexist with the hurt and it can help me smile when remembering my special boy, instead of breaking down into a puddle of tears. It’s a crooked, broken smile with a sting in the tail, but it is still a genuine smile and I am proud of that. I feel blessed and lucky that I am learning to live again.

I have learned that sometimes, happiness is a choice. I have been smiling a lot lately. Laughing. I can even say that I had fun this past summer. I was thinking about this today, feeling so terribly guilty, and then I started to wonder if I have a choice about being happy. I feel like sometimes I do, which is an incredible revelation!

Similar to when I am tired and anxious and Gavin is acting off-the-wall, my first reaction is to yell and become frenzied with anger. But I try to stop and remember that he is only 4, and that when he has no patience and doesn’t listen to a word I say, I can show him more patience so he can learn by example.

When my tears come rolling in, I let them, because I want to remember and cry for Ty every day — but instead of stopping and wallowing in it, I allow it to pass and I think about what he would want if he was watching me.

I think that I am choosing to smile. I am choosing to live! Because that is what Ty would want, and what Gavin deserves.


Four-year-old Ty in June 2012.

I am certainly not naive enough to suggest that one’s mental health can be controlled, nor can one’s physical health. Ty is a very unfortunate example of just how much control we don’t have over our health. But I will say that I have a new perspective on grief and my mental well-being.

I have found that I have the ability to work through the pain and avoid incessant grief by keeping perspective. Just as much as I can choose to eat healthier and exercise, I am finding ways to cope “healthier.” And it’s working.

On a daily basis, we can feed our bodies and our minds in so many ways.

Get off the couch. If it’s a beautiful day, take a walk around the yard and smell the flowers — literally. Think about the people in your life and be cognizant of their differences.

Forgive. It will free your mind.

Put the cookie down, change into your sneakers and go for a run. Or, eat the cookie that you have been thinking about for days! Slowly relish in every little bite and remind yourself that it is a reward.

Shake off your anger. Kill your anxiety by making a cup of tea and forcing yourself to sit down and sip it slowly.

Stop checking your phone every minute and enjoy the company you are with or the silence that surrounds you. (I have a lot of trouble resisting this one.)

After it rains, remember to stop on your way to your car and breathe in the magnificent smell of wet grass.

Look up for loved ones lost. I do this constantly. I search the sky for Ty. I don’t always see him, but I do always see something beautiful. Then there are the times he smacks me in the face with something like his shining star busting through a cloudy night, or the clouds in the shape of a “T” and a “Y” like the other night — unbelievable, I know, but it happened. I couldn’t take a picture because it was dusk but it was clearly there, right above my house, reminding me that he is always present.


Ty jumping in a muddy puddle before he was diagnosed with brain cancer.

Remember that our children are little sponges, and that fun is contagious so we should all try to have more fun in our everyday lives.

And most of all, always jump in muddy puddles!

Donate to pediatric cancer research and give hope to kids with cancer.


Read more from Cindy Campbell:
SuperTy – Our Little Fighter
Our baby is finally free. Rest in peace Ty Louis Campbell.
SuperTy’s Birthday and a Childhood Cancer Foundation Partnership