DES MOINES, Iowa — His face is hard to forget. So were his last words. Garrett Michael Matthias died last summer from a rare form of cancer when he was just five years old, but the disease didn’t kill his spirit.
“One of the things that my husband and I really wanted to do when Garrett was terminally diagnosed was capture the things he talked about in those conversations and in the way that he talked about them,” says Garrett’s mom Emilie.
In his obituary, written through the eyes of a preschooler, he asked for snow cones, five bouncy houses and a party, not a funeral. The obituary caught the eye of a central Iowa author who asked to publish it into a book. Emilie says her family had no intentions of ever doing anything more when the obituary went viral, but their decision to do so has been cathartic.
“It helps make sense of a senseless situation and really helps me to know that something okay came out of his death,” she says.
The title of the book “Dirty, Stupid Cancer” helps the family to cope. Emilie says, “When I read it, I laugh and I cry and sometimes it’s hard for me to get through it.” Each page, she says, is a glimpse into Garrett’s world as he fought the nasty disease.
“In the story, the illustrator did a great job of bringing him to life. He wanted to be a gorilla,” she smiles.
The Matthiases hope the book will help others learn how to have a bright outlook on life despite dark situations. Emilie says, “What a great way to educate other elementary students by having it in school libraries and the public library and we`d love to see it in hospitals on the oncology floor. Just to really inspire other kids going through a similar battle. We`d love to see it everywhere.”
The book can be purchased online. At the time this story was published, the book was temporarily sold out. The Matthiases say more books will be released later this week. One dollar of every book purchased will be donated to the University of Iowa’s Dance Marathon. In 2020, the family hopes to donate a portion of book sales to Unravel Pediatric Cancer, a non-profit organization.