Beverly Beckham

Loves and losses beyond measure

Charlotte Rose Kelly looked out a window after her cancer diagnosis. Charlotte Rose Kelly looked out a window after her cancer diagnosis.
By Beverly Beckham
Globe Columnist / December 11, 2011
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It wasn’t supposed to end like this. Not after all they have been through. Not after all the hope and prayers and therapies and people storming the heavens.

If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, nothing will be impossible to you.

That’s what we’re told.

They had faith. And they didn’t want to move anything as big as a mountain. All they wanted was to save a child, their child, to make their child well.

Cancer killed Charlotte Rose Kelly, just 5 years old. After a 2 1/2-year battle, the neuroblastoma that stole her childhood took her life last week.

Cystic fibrosis killed Mark Palermo, 24, who fought for his life for all of his life. Who had a lung transplant 20 months ago. Who got his miracle. Then died anyway the day after Charlotte.

Charlotte was her parent’s baby girl. She has two older brothers. Mark was his parents oldest and sole survivor, his brother and sister dead of the same disease that killed him.

Beloved children, both of them.

No one can prepare for this. No one signs up to have a sick child, to have the rug pulled out from under them, to sit in a hospital room day after day, scared, bewildered, stunned, battered, hoping and praying and begging God and all the saints for help. Not her. Not him. Please, God, please.

Bartering, bargaining, begging. ICU torture chambers, full of beeps and whirs and gurgles and bright lights, the pumps, the tubes, the toxins, machines and monitors, hell right here on earth, on Longwood Avenue, at the Cleveland Clinic, teams of specialists coming and going, going and coming.

Hope the last thing to go.

An uncle flew from Boston to Cleveland, just to place a relic at Mark’s side. It had saved others. Maybe it would save him. Charlotte’s parents prayed for a miracle right up to the end.

Both died anyway, despite the relics and prayers and begging.

You ask why. You shout ‘WHY?’ Why these children? Why these families? What about the mustard seed? They had faith that was way bigger than any seed. Their faith and their family and friends kept them going. A visible, solid, right-here-on-earth holy trinity.

If love could cure. If faith could cure.

Two years ago, there was a benefit at Medfield High to support the Palermo family. Last April, there was a walk on neuroblastoma in Braintree to support the Kellys.

People come out in droves for these things. Everyone wants to help. But in the end, though we can walk and give and pray and encourage, we can’t change what we can’t even begin to comprehend.

There is a Christmas song, “Mary, Did You Know?’’ “Mary, did you know that your baby boy would one day walk on water?’’ which basically asks, “Mary, did you know what you were getting into?’’

Does anyone know? Having children is the biggest act of faith. We are taught that our children are on loan. That they are not ours. That they come through us, but do not belong to us. That we and they belong to God.

But then we have these children and hold them and nurse and rock and protect and teach and guide and love them with a love we never even knew we had.

And when God calls them home? When God takes them back?

The loss is huge, the heart stretched out by love, so full of love, empty and broken.

Who can fill it? Who will fill it? Can it be filled? How does life go on?

As children, we were taught that God’s love is the greatest and that human love is a mere reflection. Charlotte Rose Kelly and Mark Palermo were loved beyond measure in this world. They were given all that human beings have to give. They were treasured.

They are treasured still. They left love to go to love. They are OK.

But their parents? Their families? The people who loved them?

We struggle with this. We are bereft because it wasn’t supposed to end this way.

Beverly Beckham can be reached at

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