Brantley Gilbert, LoCash + More: How Parenthood Has Changed Their Work With St. Jude
Country duo Waterloo Revival have visited St. Jude Children's Research Hospital three times, and have a longstanding commitment to supporting the facility's mission to defeat childhood cancer. When band member George Birge welcomed his first child in 2017, however, he says that the cause took on an even greater meaning.
"It's had a huge impact on me, and I didn't realize how much it would," Birge explains. "You don't realize how much love these parents have for their kids. You try to think about it, but until you [become a parent], it's hard to really put that into perspective.
"I like to think of myself as a pretty tough guy, but I think I've cried four or five times since I've been here -- mostly happy tears," he adds. "It really hits you, the effect and the impact that this place has had."
Both members of LoCash have children at home as well, and the two agree that being parents changes the way they empathize with the families bringing their young children through the doors of St. Jude.
"I seriously wanna hug every parent that I see," says Preston Brust. "I wanna take them in my arms and just squeeze 'em. And then say, 'I'm so sorry.'"
Adds Chris Lucas, "But I also think this place is just so amazing. They've just thought of so many things. They meet every individual's needs as they come about them."
For Brandon Lay, who is the father of a young son, the part of the experience that hit closest to home was realizing how random and life-changing a pediatric cancer diagnosis can be.
"It hit home for me, because it can be anybody. [Cancer] doesn't discriminate," Lay relates. "And I bet, in a lot of ways, those families are looking at what the future's gonna be with a lot of uncertainty, and that's the bottom of the mountain they're about to climb.
"I don't know why," he continues, "but it hit hard when [I was touring the hospital] and they said, 'Even when we're giving you this tour, there might be somebody that walks in with their kid, that might be just finding that news out.'"
Receiving a devastating diagnosis of a childhood illness is every parent's worst nightmare. Brantley Gilbert, whose first child was born in 2017, admitted on the day of his 2019 visit to St. Jude that he wan't sure if the experience had truly sunk in yet.
"If I gave you an answer, I don't know that it'd really be fair to, because I haven't really processed that yet," he replied, when asked how fatherhood has shifted his perspective on working with St. Jude. "I think I could answer that question at about 10 or 11 at night, when I get by myself. Right now, I'm just soaking it all in, and am really thankful to meet these kids."
Gilbert knows it's important to remain positive when he interacts with St. Jude patients. If he truly considered the devastation these families feel as they're going through cancer treatment, he explains, he might not be able to remain so upbeat.
"I haven't tried to step into anybody else's shoes yet," he said. "I'm trying to keep on a happy face today."
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