HANAHAN — Randy Amos told his wife he wanted three things before he died.
The first two — visits from his 24-year-old daughter, Nicole, and from his 19-year-old son Alex's Bible study group, Sutton House Worship — seemed feasible enough.
The third — to see Alex graduate from high school — was a long shot.
This was in March. Randy, 48, was fighting esophageal cancer, and he had just learned with his wife, Tammy, 45, that he had only a few weeks left. His son was set to graduate June 1. His goal was just out of reach.
Linda Moeller, a nurse in the oncology ward at Bon Secours St. Francis, had an idea.
A few days later, weeks before he and his Hanahan High School classmates would cross the stage at the North Charleston Coliseum, Alex Amos walked down the oncology ward's hallway to receive his diploma cover.
He sat by his father, who was wearing the black-and-white plaid button-down shirt and blue jeans he had spent hours putting on.
“He was so exhausted,” Tammy Amos said. “We'd put his shirt on, and he'd have to lie down for half an hour. Then trying to get pants on him when he was so sick, and so weak, he kept saying, 'We've got to do this. We've got to do this. This is important to Alex.'?”
Alex wore his dark blue cap and gown and a light violet wristband that said “God's got this!”, which his dad often repeated through his treatment.
His principal and favorite teachers wore their graduation hoods. He and his friends from Hanahan's chorus sang the school's alma mater. His dad gave him his graduation present, a golden cartouche necklace he had gotten in Egypt while serving in the Army.
Alex moved the tassel on his mortarboard to the left, and he and his dad gently bumped fists.
That Friday, March 30, was the last day Randy Amos would get out of bed. That night, he asked doctors to stop his treatment. He had just marked off the last request on his list.
“(The graduation) was a milestone for more than one reason,” Tammy Amos said.
The next Thursday, April 5, Randy died. His funeral was April 8, Easter Sunday. It would have been his birthday.
Starting to transition
As Alex finished his last few weeks of high school, things felt different. He complained to his stepmom about the day-to-day drama. It all felt petty, he told her.
“I told him, 'They didn't change; you did,' ” she said.
At their Hanahan home Wednesday, Tammy apologized for the clutter lingering from Alex's graduation party the weekend before. A bouquet of flowers was in a vase on the dining room table; balloons and a tray of cupcakes sat on the kitchen counter.
Alex had turned his tassel a second time on June 1, crossing the stage with his high school class. Underneath his cap and gown he wore the cartouche necklace his dad had given him.
But he wasn't home Wednesday. He was downtown at Trident Technical College's Palmer campus for his third day of class to become a certified nursing assistant. He started classes on Monday, three days after he graduated officially.
Over the last few months, Alex realized that he wants to be an oncology nurse, and he wants to work on the oncology floor of St. Francis.
When his dad was sick, he had helped bathe and tend him. When things got especially grisly, his stepmom would leave the room. She couldn't watch. Alex stayed.
He has a weak stomach too. He sometimes gags when he takes out the trash, he joked.
But helping with his dad showed him that nursing was a possibility for him.
“Everybody's softness comes out somewhere,” Alex said. “I guess in the nursing field, mine did.”
Throughout his dad's sickness, he also found that softness in the Hanahan football team, where he was on the offensive and defensive lines — and he found an important support group.
Other changes in his life have been more subtle.
Now, he drives his dad's white Ford pickup, but he doesn't think he will keep it, because it brings back too many memories. He doubts if he will ever watch the video the hospital made of his first graduation.
His “God's got this!” band is still on his wrist, and he hasn't taken off the necklace (save for once, to fix it, he qualified), but he will have to when he starts clinicals in July, he said.
But mostly, Alex knows his dad is keeping an eye on him. His principal, Richard Raycroft, also feels sure Randy Amos is looking down at his son.
“It was really neat to see him coming across the stage with a big smile on his face,” Raycroft said of Alex's official graduation. “It seemed like he didn't have to worry about the fact that his dad wasn't there.
“His dad had already participated in the ceremony, and he knew his dad was with him.”
Reach Thad Moore at 958-7360 or on Twitter @thadmoore.