On January 20 2012, our five year old son Cole A. Stoddard passed away. His life tragically cut short by a rare type of childhood cancer called neuroblastoma that develops in infants and young children. He left behind my wife Michelle and I, his identical twin brother Troy, and his adoring eleven year old sister Tara. In his too short life he touched hundreds of lives with his loving compassionate heart and his ability to bring laughter and joy to others. Near the end, Cole was heavily medicated in order to alleviate the extreme pain he suffered, the medication and the effects of the cancer that was rapidly spreading throughout his body caused him to sleep most of his final days, he struggled for each breath. My wife and I sat beside him, holding him, crying and praying relentlessly. At one point Cole suddenly sat up, looked us in the eye and in a clear voice said, "Smile, Be Happy" he repeated those words then laid back down and closed his eyes, sleeping again. Those were the last words he spoke to us.
In the days and months that followed his passing, my wife and I were paralyzed with grief. We barely had the strength to comfort our other two children and provide them with some sense of normalcy. The compassion and generosity of our family, friends and our community kept us going when all we wanted to do was curl up and give in to the grief of our deep loss. Right away we found some solace in Cole's last words "Smile, Be Happy." Those words were posted on the sign outside our town library, in front of Troy's school, and on numerous bumper stickers, Yellow happy face images appeared everywhere, on balloons that lined many streets, posted all over Facebook, and on many gifts sent to Troy and Tara. Cole's wish for us to "Smile, Be Happy" took on a life of its own.