After enduring horrific child abuse, Indiana attorney and author Will Corcoran became a loving father of four. Unfortunately, his son Henry has mitochondrial disease – a terminal illness. Will recently published his first book, Three Candles, where he shares his & Henry’s stories of love & perseverance. Will was gracious to talk about his book & the organization he co-founded, Henry’s Hope.
Tell us a little about yourself & Henry’s Hope.
I used to define myself as a lawyer, writer, law professor, businessman, & professional coach. Now, with the ultimate dose of perspective, I am a proud husband & father. Like all parents, my biggest & most important life lessons have come from my children. When we got the devastating news that our son, Henry’s, time on Earth would provide me only a crash course, I became a hesitant & humble student – learning & sharing everything that Henry, & our other kids, could teach me & my wife. I learned that my childhood shaped my perspective as well. Henry has taught us a perspective everyone could benefit from. I am committed to share my & Henry’s story in this book, public speaking, & one-on-one coaching & counseling.
Henry’s Hope was inspired by Henry & his mature wisdom. During our time in the hospitals with him, we saw many children & their families that could not afford to pay for the treatment & expensive road to diagnosis that we were lucky enough to afford. Children suffered. Families were tormented. One day, Henry asked, “Why doesn’t JJ get the medicine that I do?” There was no good answer. We founded Henry’s Hope to help children with life-threatening & terminal illnesses receive quality treatment by assisting with funding, finding resources, & providing patient advocates for families.
What inspired you to write this book?
Henry. He, like so many other sick children, has a perspective on life healthier than any adult I know. Though he certainly has much to complain about, he doesn’t. His focus remains on the here & now – being a kid, having fun, enjoying time with his family. So many of us are caught up in things that really don’t matter in the long run. I started writing to capture Henry’s purity in his perspective & our journey with him.
The second part of the story, my traumatically abusive upbringing, almost seems like a disconnect, but my childhood helped guide me in parenting Henry. It helped us both share “first” experiences & have a much fuller appreciation for them.
What’s the story behind the title “Three Candles?”
Three Candles starts by following Henry & I when we were both 3 years old. Both of our lives took dramatic turns that year. My first childhood memory was of a beating, being locked in a shed, & disassociating. Henry was diagnosed with a terminal illness when he was 3. But, the light in the candles represent the hope & inspiration – despite what sounds objectively like horrific changes for both children.
How does your experience with child abuse help you raise a terminally ill child?
As a survivor of childhood abuse, I was robbed of a lot of childhood experiences. Henry, through his battles, is also put in a spot where he can’t truly be a kid. Though very different experiences, I know how important it is for kids to feel loved, feel safe, & be as worry-free as possible.
We chronicle several examples in the book, and one of my favorites was when I took Henry on a class field trip to the apple orchard. Henry was so excited. I was worried because, though he knew that he couldn’t eat anything because of his illness, sometimes he would get caught up & still ask. I resisted going & talked about other things that we could do together, but my 3 year-old was steadfast. We were going to the apple orchard.
When we arrived, Henry’s excitement continued. With his classmates, he learned about the different types of apples, their textures, & smells. We picked several apples. As the group headed back to do some taste testing, I dilly-dallied – almost hoping to miss it. Henry wouldn’t have any of it. “Daddy,” he grabbed my hand in a huff, “We have to hurry. Can’t miss this.”
Henry guided me to the food line. My heart sunk, thinking that I’d have to explain that he couldn’t eat anything. But before I could address it Henry told me, “I know I can’t eat it, but you can.” I got the food, let him hold & smell it, & described it to him – answering a lot of questions.
Then, he asked, “Daddy did you have a fun visit to your first apple orchard?” It was my first visit. He remembered. My experience was just as important to him, if not more during some points, as his was.
How does it feel to have your abuse story out there for all to read?
That’s a hard question to answer. As any abuse survivor knows, there never is a finish line. We will continue to have issues that we will have to deal with, but we are survivors. The emotions are so diverse & can change each day.
Embarrassment. Guilt. Sad. Lonely. Overwhelmed. Exposed. Those are the feelings that I struggled with all of my life. It took me a long time to turn the corner. When I realized that my horrible childhood experiences & who that made me was actually helping me parent Henry, I couldn’t be ashamed anymore.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not happy that happened to me. But, I can use those horrific experiences as weapons to make difficult experiences now more positive. That doesn’t change what happened or make it ok, but if I can make my past have a positive impact on the future, then there is no shame in that.
So now I experience pride, strength, hope, courage, & perspective. I hope in sharing my abuse story other abuse survivors might be able to use their past tragedies as important tools for what lies ahead.