Little Boy

The pediatric oncology ward is a scary place. I don’t care who you are, or how tough you think you are. You walk through this part of the hospital and you’re scared spitless.

I approached the nurse’s station. A horseshoe desk. The nurse was popping her gum. She gave me an appraising look.

“You Sean?” she asked.

“Yes, ma’am.”

In a few moments, she was knocking on the hospital room door. I walked into the room and there was another nurse seated at the boy’s bedside, keeping an eye on his vitals.

The boy’s mother was down the hall, taking the first shower she’d taken in eight days. Meantime, the boy was asleep. He was bald. There was a feeding tube in his nostrils.

“Knock, knock,” the nurse said quietly.

The boy stirred. He looked at me and smiled. His blue eyes were the color of tap water.

“Is it you?” he said. “Sean of the South?”

“I’ve been called worse,” I said.

“I thought you’d be fatter.”

Which was a compliment, I suppose.

“I’ve wanted to meet you,” the boy said. “Because you’re a redhead, and so am I.” He touched his bald head. “Well, I WAS a redhead.”

I sat at his bedside.

“I’m dying,” he said. “I probably won’t be here in a few weeks.”

His words broke me. I began to cry but I held it in. This kid didn’t need my tears. He’d shed enough of his own. This is the one thing I’ve learned by writing about many pediatric cancer patients throughout my career. These kids don’t need tears, they need strength and laughter.

Then the kid said, “Guess what?”


“I’ve been to heaven,” he said.

“You have?”

He nodded.

I grew up fundamentalist. The version of heaven I was force fed was all about streets of gold and mansions. My people were obsessed with the paving material of heaven’s streets and the size of heaven’s real estate.

“I coded,” he went on. “I woke up in this place of love. With people who said they were my grandparents and my great-great grandparents. I’d never met them before, they died way before I was born.”

“How did you know them?”

Shrug. “I just knew.”

We both fell silent.

“And then I met God,” he went on.



“The real one?”

He nodded.

“What was he like?” I asked.

“He wasn’t old like you think. And he wasn’t young, either.”

I had no idea what to say. So I just took notes.

“He gave me a ride through heaven on his back, and he was such a nice guy.”

I made a note on my legal pad. “God is a nice guy,” I wrote.

“How long were you in…” I hesitated. “How long were you in heaven?”

“Not long. God said my parents weren’t ready for me to die, so he sent me back. Now my parents are ready, though. So now I can die.”

I could no longer hold it in. The boy could see the tears coming down my cheeks.

“Don’t cry,” he said.

“I’m sorry.” I dabbed my cheeks.

“Don’t be sorry. Will you play checkers with me?”



We unfolded a board. We set up the checkers. The boy and I played several games. We played for about an hour. He never mentioned heaven again. He never mentioned God again. He beat me at six games and when it was time for me to leave, he thanked me for visiting.

“The pleasure was all mine,” I said.

I left the hospital room, I leaned against the corridor wall and I sobbed. The nurse consoled me, and said, “You never get used to it.”

That was several months ago. Today, I was informed via email that this child inherited his eternal reward this morning. His father said the boy’s last words were said weakly before he expired. “I’m okay, Dad. I don’t hurt.”

And then the child closed his eyes forever.

After I wept for a while, I consulted my notes. I opened up the old legal pad. Yellow paper. Red margins. I found the boy’s words written in blue ink.

“God is a nice guy,” my notes said.

And with all my heart, I am trying to believe it.


  1. Steve Leachman - May 23, 2023 10:39 am

    When a child dies from cancer or for any reason we struggle with “Why?” As Christins we believe they are in heaven and are eternally happy. Still we ask why. Why would a caring loving God take what we love most from us too soon. It doesn’t seem fair or right. I can’t answer why. I only know that there has to be a reason. And we can’t know the mind if God.

  2. W. Larry Evans - May 23, 2023 10:50 am

    Of course God is a good Guy, Sean. He gave the world You didn’t He ? You are a blessing .

  3. Terri - May 23, 2023 10:56 am

    Wow… I don’t know what else to say. Thank you for this, Sean!

  4. stephenpe - May 23, 2023 10:57 am

    I cant imagine the strength it takes to do these things with children on the brink of death. I worked with kids and for 40 yrs and it was almost always happy and free of anything like this. You are doing wonderful things for people. You are a hero to them. I hope you can stay the course. I guess it makes you realize how lucky you were despite your childhood. Thank you, Sean.

  5. Cathy M - May 23, 2023 1:59 pm

    Well, I am crying like it’s raining outside this morning. I will be 75 this month and I have become stronger than ever in my faith yet I struggle with the topic of dying children. You, my friend are so brave to visit this boy who is now an angel in paradise. God bless his parents, grandparents. God bless the nurses and Drs. Who tried to save him. God bless you for playing checkers and visiting with him before he left this world. You are a man of God and a hero to so many people like myself. I met you in the parking lot of St. Stephens Episcopal church several yrs ago. I was waiting in my car to meet my son and you parked right beside me. Yep, I saw that beautiful hair and got out of my car and we walked in together. I have loved you ever since that night. I usually don’t ask my husband for a birthday gift bc really, I have it all. About a month ago I asked him to take me to Nashville for your appearance at the Opry. I will see you on June the 10th and I am as excited as I was to see Elvis years ago. You are the bomb and the world needs more Sean’s .

  6. Nazem Nassar - May 23, 2023 3:56 pm

    So emotional and hearted meeting with that Angle kid! Awesome and brave Sean. I wish the world have many copies of Sean Man ! I cannot imagine how many kids out there in hospitals around the globe a waiting for such kind gesture visits! So many i believe! We all should be grateful and thankful to almighty God for having healthy kids 🙏 .

  7. pattymack43 - May 23, 2023 5:06 pm

    This “Little Boy” was given a mission to accomplish in this, our fallen world. He did a fine job! In his memory, the work continues. Thank you, Sean, for doing your part in this accomplishment. Yes! God is a good guy! He is God the Father, creator of the universe and all that is in it. Fear Him! Trust Him! Praise Him! Believe.

  8. Larry Wall - May 23, 2023 8:19 pm

    Yes, Sean. So GOOD. And so much better than most of humanity deserves from HIM. But you did an act of good when you took the young man from his difficult world for a little while. You likely got a star by your name for that. 🙂

  9. Becky Souders - May 24, 2023 3:24 am

    Don’t stop writing, Sean Dietrich.

  10. Francie Hurst - May 24, 2023 1:36 pm

    Tears flowing; your writing fills my heart.
    Thank you, Sean of the South.

  11. Eva Marie Everson - May 24, 2023 9:03 pm

    Well. I’m officially a mess now. What a good man you are to visit these children.


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