(KMOV) – On Wednesday night I attended visitation services for 9-year-old Belleville, IL native Joshua Brown. You may be familiar with his story. He battled brain cancer nearly his entire life and passed away peacefully Sunday surrounded by his family.
I had the pleasure of meeting Josh, his dad Doug, mom Rhonda, and sister Allison while covering Saint Louis University’s Men’s Basketball team in the NCAA Tournament in San Jose. The family even allowed me to do a report on Josh and his special relationship with the SLU athletic program.
I’d thought about Josh a handful of times since I last saw him inside that arena in San Jose. I chose not to think the next time I’d see him would be in a casket. I hope you’ve never attended such a service, but if you have you’ll understand when I say it felt like the saddest place on earth.
I believe death is a celebration of one’s life, but I selfishly wish Josh could’ve lived more of his.
I want to be clear; I didn’t know Josh or his family very well. In fact, we only spent about an hour together at the team hotel that day. It had been a long day for him and his family and they all had their sights on dinner.
The family graciously agreed to one last interview with me before they ate. Doug, Rhonda, and Allison bravely chronicled Josh’s illness and its effect on them. Then I interviewed Josh together with SLU forward Jake Barnett. Jake and Josh had become particularly close since SLU adopted the 9-year-old as an honorary team member.
Josh might’ve only had one sister, but he gained 14 Billiken brothers during the season.
Jake brought life to Josh, who I know was struggling after the long day. Jake was so good with Josh, he practically conducted the interview because Josh felt so comfortable around him.
Comfort was hard to come by for Josh.
One part of our interview that sticks out to me is when I asked him about his treatment. He said he didn’t like the IV pokes. I assure you the thought of that pain vanished when he was around the team.
Photojournalist Justin Emge and I stayed up late into the night editing the story for News 4 This Morning. We came across some sad “lump in your throat moments” but were also literally screaming laughing at times with some of Josh’s responses. Overall, I was pleased with how the stories turned out and more importantly, so were the Brown’s.
A few days later SLU fell to Oregon ending their special season. For Josh that meant no more Billiken basketball games to look forward to.
In the weeks and months that followed, his health began to deteriorate. On June 2, he left us for his final resting place.
When you work in news, you are forced to cover death and deal with all it brings. Sorrow. Anger. Frustration. Guilt. Vengeance, and so on. In a way, you do become numb to it. I think you have to. That should never mean losing compassion or sorrow for victims and their families, but you have to keep your emotions and the task at hand separate.
That said. I haven’t been able to shake my sorrow for Josh and his family. I think it’s because I saw a lot of me in him.
For starters, we shared a love of basketball. In fact, the first sporting event I remember attending was a Billiken basketball game with my family. Just like the Brown’s did. Also, while talking to a good friend I was offered some excellent perspective. When the people we meet covering stories succeed, we succeed. We root for these people. Their joys are our joys. Their sadness is our sadness. I feel sorrow because I wanted so badly for Josh to make it and live a long life even though the prognosis was grim.
I wanted him to be in SLU’s huddle next year and in his own team’s huddle some day.
His death is a harsh reminder that the length of time we spend on earth isn’t up to us to decide.
When God’s calling the fouls he can take you out of the game at any time. Sometimes an official’s call can inspire a team. God’s call to take Josh from this earth inspires me to be grateful for the blessed life I have. It inspires me to cherish the opportunity I have to meet special people like Josh and tell their stories.
Lastly, it inspires me to know a group of young men from Saint Louis University could make such a profound impact on Josh’s life.
Joshua Brown was a fan, friend, and fighter. I’m fortunate enough to have known him and shared his story.
Prayers to his family and may he rest in peace, forever free of IV pokes.
Thank you for reading. -Mike