There isn’t a day – or even a minute – that goes by that South Russell resident Teresa Edmonds doesn’t think about her late son, James.
Whether it was his smile, his sense of humor or the way he loved his sister and his friends, the memories just flood in, now 10 months after he lost his battle to a rare form of cancer on Oct. 9, 2018. He was 13 years old at the time, two months shy of his 14th birthday.
“It’s very, very difficult,” she said, and it gets more so as time passes.
His loss has left her with a dull ache and a grief that is exhausting at times, Mrs. Edmonds said.
“But I try to replace some of the hard memories with the good ones,” she noted.
His core group of friends, all entering their freshman year at Chagrin Falls High School, have done the same.
Bentleyville resident Will Keegan, 14, recalls meeting his best friend James when they had a karate class together in first grade.
James was kind of quiet, Will said, “but if you knew him well, he was funny.” The two would play Star Wars video games and build things in the woods, he said.
Chagrin Falls resident Tyler Cooke, 14, said James could always cheer him up, no matter what type of day he was having.
“He would tell me jokes when I was in a bad mood,” Tyler said. “We both enjoyed sports and laughing at funny jokes.”
James and Max Fossaceca, 14, of Chagrin Falls, would text each other funny memes, Max said with a smile, and play video games “a lot.” Max recalled the two would swing on a rope every day after school and jump off to see how far they could go.
Logan Holmes, 14, of Chagrin Falls, described standing in line with James at Cedar Point the first time his friend would ever ride a roller coaster.
“There was this one moment when we were on top of this huge roller coaster, and James was just screaming and screaming,” Logan said. “It was hilarious. He was scared and happy at the same time.
“When we went down, he was laughing and whooping” that he actually did it, Logan said. “It was a mix of everything.”
Best friends since kindergarten, Blaz Kramer, 14, of Chagrin Falls, said James was the kind to stand out, “but in a good way” because he was so funny. He and James would jump on the trampoline constantly or play in the woods or open fields. James was one of the funniest kids he knew, Blaz said. And the bravest.
“He taught me how to be fearless,” Blaz said.
Max added that James would make sure his friends were always smiling and laughing.
That was even the case after his diagnosis at the age of 11 with Alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare and aggressive cancer of the soft tissue that was discovered through a lump on his foot.
“It kind of seemed like he wasn’t really sick,” Will recalled, “because he didn’t talk about it and he acted like he wasn’t.
“I admired him,” Will added, “because he still wanted to play with me and probably didn’t feel well.”
“He was able to keep it from us so well,” Max said.
“He was insanely strong,” Logan said, “always pushing through everything no matter what it was.”
“He would get told bad news and try not to show it and be happy and strong,” Tyler added.
In fact, her son rarely complained, Mrs. Edmonds continued, despite 43 weeks of intense chemotherapy, 27 treatments of radiation and various clinical trials.
“He suffered a lot,” Mrs. Edmonds said. “People don’t know what these kids (with cancer) go through. They go through hell.”
Mrs. Edmonds would try to remain positive for James and shield him from much of the bad news, she said. She would often cry alone in the shower.
“At first, James was devastated and thought he would die right away,” Mrs. Edmonds said of when he was initially diagnosed, “but as time went on, we got more hopeful, and as children do, he accepted it and his attitude changed.
“He was going to fight this,” she said.
Mrs. Edmonds said it was a fight shared by the entire Chagrin Falls community, something she remains thankful for today.
“I could have never done this without the community,” Mrs. Edmonds said. “Everyone has been amazing.”
She and husband Rob, 51, and daughter Elizabeth, 12, who will enter seventh grade at Chagrin Falls Middle School this fall, would receive regular meals, help with rides and constant support.
In fact, it was this kindness that James spoke of right before he died, Mrs. Edmonds said, although she has blocked out memories the days before his death.
“Right before he died, he said how nice everyone was to him,” Mrs. Edmonds said. “He was talking about his friends and his classmates.” His last request the day before he died was to pick up his sister Elizabeth from school and “just drive around Chagrin,” Mrs. Edmonds said tearfully.
Since his passing, his friends have committed to keeping his memory alive, first by creating during their eighth-grade year a James Edmonds Award for students who exemplified friendship, pride, athletics and determination.
The boys continued their mission this summer by starting a kickball tournament both in his honor and one that aims to raise awareness and funds for pediatric cancer, an area that remains underfunded, Mrs. Edmonds said.
Kick-It for James will take place from 4:30-6:30 p.m. Aug. 15 at Gurney Elementary School.
James’ friends have gone door to door promoting the cancer awareness fundraiser, and as of last week, proudly noted that 20 teams have signed up.
Those wishing to form a team, join an existing team or donate can visit http://bit.ly/KICKITforJames.
Blaz said he really hopes people will donate and help the cause. He wants people to know that James was never afraid of anything, even his sickness.
Mrs. Edmonds said she is honored that the boys are doing this and loves each one of them. James’ death was also so hard on them, she noted.
What keeps her going each day is knowing that she will see her son again one day. “I might look OK on the outside, but I haven’t seen my baby in 10 months,” she said. “I’m on autopilot.”
His friends said they live life a bit differently since his passing.
“I’ve learned to live life to the fullest,” Will said.
“If I’m having a bad day, I think of how it could be worse,” Tyler said.
Logan said James made him wiser. “I have so much respect for them (people who are sick) because I know what they are going through,” Logan said.
“He would always take risks and live life on the edge and be so energetic,” Max added.