What comforting words can a mother possibly say to her terminally ill child? How does a parent explain what death will be like to a nine-year-old? How on earth will the mother of a child who has died deal with her grief?
All those questions – and many, many more – faced Karissa Foor Boyd when her then-seven-year-old son, Tripp, was diagnosed with bone cancer in September, 2017. “He showed me a lump on his right leg,” Karissa says. “We thought he’d just bumped it or hurt it at school. But when it didn’t heal, we took him to the emergency room to get it checked. The doctors in the ER saw a mass on the x-ray that could be malignant and sent us to a larger hospital in Toledo for more tests.”
“From Toledo, we were sent to Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus for more testing and to meet with their oncologists,” Karissa continues. “We decided to have Tripp’s surgery there because we really liked the doctors. They told us it was osteosarcoma and that he needed to have the surgery right away.”
Tripp had a right knee replacement and a metal rod inserted to replace his femur. For the next nine months, he underwent chemotherapy treatments, then went into remission in May, 2018. But that October, the cancer came back with a vengeance. Karissa was told that her little boy had only a few months to live.
Tripp lost his battle on May 23 last year, just 11 days after his grandmother – Karissa’s mom, Tina Herr – died of an unrelated type of cancer. Five days after Tripp’s death, Karissa’s Grandpa Tom passed away from cancer, also. “I was devastated,” Karissa says. “I didn’t know how to cope with all that loss and grief at once. While we were at the hospital in Columbus, they had given Tripp a book called “The Next Place” that was supposed to explain death to him. It said he would become a speck in the sky and would float around forever. Even though it was meant to be comforting, it just scared him and left more questions.”
Following the funerals for her mom, son and grandfather, Karissa and her best friend and business partner, Laura Moreo, went to Jacksonville, Florida for a few days for what they called a “mourn-cation.” “I had to get away,” she says. “I just couldn’t function. I was like a zombie and needed to clear my head and get away from all the stress for a while.”
On their last day sitting on the beach, Laura asked Karissa what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. “That’s when our business, TrippyKat Trends, was born,” she says. We hatched a plan to help other people who were going through difficult times cope with their grief. We have many goals we would like to achieve to help other children and adults who are fighting for their lives.”
A few days after returning to her home in Antwerp, Karissa was sitting in a lawn chair near the fire ring in their yard. “I was chilling out and thinking about everything that had happened,” she says. “I started writing a book in my head, and the words just came to me. Suddenly I felt the urge to grab a notebook and start writing things down. It only took me about two hours to write the whole thing. Either Tripp was writing it for me or God was leading me. Either way, it all sort of fell into place. And I felt a sense of relief when I was finished. I’m not a writer, so I know somebody had to be guiding me.”
Karissa’s book is called “Dinosaurs in Heaven” and explores what Heaven might be like through the eyes of a nine-year-old boy who loves dinosaurs. “From the time he was little, Trippy knew the names of every dinosaur and could tell you all about them,” she says, her eyes filling with tears. “We often talked about whether or not there would be dinosaurs for him to play with when he got to Heaven. I’m sure there was some kind of divine intervention when the words for the book came to me. I could never have done it by myself.”
Once she had the words down on paper, Karissa wondered what to do next. “My friend Megan (Moreo) Etzkorn is an artist,” she says. “When she read the book, she was so moved that she offered to illustrate it for me. When she said she thought we should use watercolors, I agreed completely. That’s what I’d been thinking, too.” The hard-cover book shows a dark-haired young boy in a red shirt – Tripp - sitting in a wheelchair and being greeted by a group of friends and relatives who have passed away and are waiting to welcome him to Heaven.
The boy then goes on to play video games with a Velociraptor and basketball with a T-Rex. He eats pizza with a Triceratops and takes a wild ride on the back of a Pterodactyl.
“Tripp would have loved it,” Karissa says of her book. “He talked about dinosaurs all the time and thought it would be really cool to see one in person. My hope is that this book will help other terminally ill kids and their parents who are trying so hard to hold it all together. I want them to read it and think that Heaven might not be such a scary place after all. My heart has grown so big over the years that I just want to do something to give back.”
Close to 400 copies of “Dinosaurs in Heaven” have already been sold through a pre-order campaign. “We self-publish online,” Karissa says. “So we need to have payment for the books before we order them. But so far, it’s been a big hit. We have two other books in the works that will kind of continue the story started in this one. And we’re a little over halfway to our goal of donating 50 of the books to the Nationwide Children’s Hospital where Tripp was a patient. And we’ve had over 2,000 likes on Facebook. We’re just praying that word of mouth gets more interest in the book and we can help other grieving families.”
Karissa plans to do some meet-and-greets and book-signings later this year to promote her book. For now, it can be ordered from her website TrippyKat Trends or purchased at The Rooted Shoppe in downtown Defiance or the Cooper Community Library in Oakwood.