VAN METER, Iowa — Garrett Matthias endured months of brutal treatment for a rare cancer that ultimately took his life this past Friday.
The 5-year-old's obituary held a final message: "See ya later, suckas!"
Garrett of Van Meter, a city of about a thousand people 20 miles west of Des Moines, was first diagnosed with alveolar fusion negative rhabdomyosarcoma in September. The rare cancer attacked his temporal bone, cranial nerve and inner ear.
Throughout Garrett's treatment, his mother, Emilie Matthias met many other families with children battling pediatric cancer. She and her husband, Ryan, went to several funerals in the past nine months.
Garrett would ask where his parents had been and wonder why they came home sad, Emilie Matthias said.
"He would say, 'Why are funerals so sad? I'm going to have bouncy houses at mine," she recalled.
During this time, Emilie Matthias said she and her husband talked to Garrett about death when the topic arose, such as after a sad moment in a movie.
"I'd say things like, 'When I die, I want to turn into a star,' " Emilie Matthias said. "He'd say, 'I want to be burned like in “Thor,” and then I want to become a gorilla.'"
The two began jotting down Garrett's comments.
In mid-June, they found out Garrett's tumors were treatment resistant, and he suffered severe headaches and back pain. The cancer had surrounded the lining of his brain and prevented the regulation of spinal fluid.
Doctors told Garrett's parents that his cancer was terminal.
It was then that Emilie and Ryan Matthias decided they didn't want to Garrett to have a normal funeral, sans bouncy houses.
That same desire translated to Garrett's obituary. They began to ask him questions similar to those on a getting-to-know-someone questionnaire.
"We really tried to use his words, and the way that he talked," Emilie Matthias said. "Garrett was a very unique individual. What I really didn’t want was for his obituary to be ordinary and to have a really sad funeral. We’ve cried oceans of tears for the last nine months."
The result was a breathtaking obituary in which Garrett describes things he hates (pants) and what he wants to do when he dies (turn into a gorilla and throw "poo" at his dad).
The obituary is also bold and frank about the horrific treatments Garrett endured, something his mom said she wanted to include.
When Garrett was first diagnosed, doctors were blunt with Ryan and Emilie Matthias about the reality of cancer treatment. So his mom knew what would happen:
It's not those beautiful commercials with these kids with bald heads that are smiling and everyone is cured. They were upfront that chemo is poison, radiation, burns. The other way is to cut it out. You choose and make hard decisions about poisoning, burning and cutting your child. Those are things nobody should have to do. Those shouldn’t be the ways we treat our kids. Cancer is horrible. This kid is awesome, and he died of cancer.
Since Garrett's death July 6, the family has received help from neighbors, friends and family. The obituary also links to a GoFundMe page for the Matthias family.
Garrett's day care found five bouncy houses for his funeral. The Saturday memorial and celebration will have snow cones, other carnival fare and fireworks.
Neighbors are allowing the family to use their pond to float a small boat carrying Garrett's ashes while an archer will shoot a flaming arrow onto the structure for a truly "Asgardian" send-off. (Asgard is Thor's homeland, based on Norse mythology.)
For now, the "Great Garrett Underpants," as the family calls him, said, "See ya later, suckas!"
Garrett Michael Matthias
Garrett Michael Matthias AKA "The Great Garrett Underpants," of Van Meter, Iowa 3/26/13 -7/6/18
My name is: Garrett Michael Boofias My birthday is: I am 5 years old My address is: I am a Bulldog! My favorite color is: Blue...and red and black and green My favorite superhero is: Batman…and Thor, Iron Man, the Hulk and Cyborg When I grow up: I'm going to be a professional boxer
My favorite people are:
- Mommy, Daddy, my sister 'Delcina' (Delphina),
- The grandparents with the new house (Fredric and Cheryl Krueger),
- The grandparents with the camper (Daniel and Nita Matthias),
- My cousins Grady, 'that guy I took down that one time' (Luke) and London Marie,
- My auntie Janette and stinky Uncle Andy (Andrew and Janette Krueger),
- Those two guys, you know, my uncles (Kristopfer Krueger and James Taylor)
The things I love the most: Playing with my sister, my blue bunny, thrash metal, Legos, my daycare friends, Batman and when they put me to sleep before they access my port.
Things I hate: Pants, dirty stupid cancer, when they access my port, needles and the monkey nose that smells like cherry farts. I do like the mint monkey nose at Mayo Radiation, and that one guy that helped me build Legos (Randy).
When I die: I am going to be a gorilla and throw poo at Daddy!
Burned or buried: I want to be burned (like when Thor's mommy died) and made into a tree so I can live in it when I'm a gorilla.
Big or small funeral: Funerals are sad. I want 5 bouncy houses (because I'm 5), Batman and snow cones
Emilie and Ryan Matthias will honor Garrett's final wishes 5 to 11 p.m. CT Saturday by having a Celebration of Life.
Note: Symbolic Asgardian burial ceremony and fireworks will be held just after sunset
A private burial of Garrett's ashes will be held at a later time once his parents figure out how the hell to get his ashes made into a tree and locate a nature preserve, so his tree resides in a protected area.
Donations can be made directly to the family through GoFundMe or in Garrett's honor to a few of the many nonprofits that helped Garrett along the way: The Little Al Foundation, The Pink Tractor Foundation and the University of Iowa Dance Marathon.
We are so grateful to the many doctors, nurses, child life specialists, musicians, art therapists, and volunteers who worked tirelessly to cure Garrett of his cancer. The reality for Garrett and so many other children is pediatric cancer is an ugly, nasty beast that leaves a path of destruction.
For Garrett and many others before him cancer kills. Those that are 'lucky' enough to survive endure long term debilitating side effects and the constant fear of relapse.
We will fight for a cure until no other kids are robbed of their childhood, no other siblings lose their best friends, and no other parents have to bury their babies.
Garrett endured nine months of hell before he lost his battle with cancer. During that time he never lost his sense of humor and loved to tease the doctors and nurses.
From whoopy cushions and sneaking clothes pins on their clothes to 'hazing' the interns and new staff doctors, he was forever a prankster. Nothing caught people off guard as his response to 'see ya later alligator':
See ya later, suckas! — The Great Garrett Underpants
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.