Tulips help family heal and carry on son’s legacy

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — When Ben and Meredith Hamlin think of tulips, they don’t think of the famous festival in Holland. Instead, they think of their late son, Thomas.

Thomas Hamlin was 2 years old when he died unexpectedly of a brain tumor just before Easter 2018.

“He had his visitation on Good Friday and his funeral on that Saturday. I think we now live in that Saturday place of waiting, and sort of the pain of those days between waiting to see him again and waiting for Christ’s return,” Meredith Hamlin said.

An undated courtesy photo of Tommy Hamlin.

The Hamlins have three other children, including a daughter who was only a few months old when Tommy died. His brothers and sister didn’t get to say goodbye to him because it happened very quickly.

“One day, he was outside doing an Easter egg hunt and just being a normal kid, trying to compete with (his brother) on how much macaroni and cheese they’re going to eat at dinner,” Ben Hamlin said. “And the next day, we took him to the emergency room.” 

The Hamlins wanted the pastor at Tommy’s funeral to gear his message toward his siblings as much as possible, which led to an inspiration that has stayed with them.
 
“(The pastor) gave our kids a tulip bulb, he pointed to Thomas’s coffin and said, ‘Tommy is being buried into the ground.’ Then he showed the kids a huge bouquet of tulips and said, ‘But he’s raised to life with Christ.’ And so tulips have become a symbol for us of new life,” Meredith Hamlin recalled.

Every year in November, on Tommy’s birthday, the Hamlins and their friends and neighbors plant tulip bulbs in his memory. Then, every spring, around the time he died, they watch as the new growth pushes up.

Tulips planted in Tommy Hamlin’s honor. (April 2021)

NEW MEDICAL CENTER IN HAITI BEARS TOMMY’S NAME

Tommy’s mom didn’t want to wait until each April to see the colors of the blooms, so she started painting her own on wooden door decorations. They now sell them all over the country, raising money for the Figi Jezi mission in Haiti. 

The mission is not new to the Hamlin family. Ben Hamlin’s relative, Telsaint Morisset, grew up in Haiti and came to the U.S. to escape poverty. He helped create the Figi Jezi mission, which the Hamlins have supported for many years.

“Haiti was always a part of our life,” Ben Hamlin, who serves as vice president of operations for the charity, said. “But in the last three years, Haiti has become a much bigger, bigger piece of our lives.”

The money they have raised from the tulip bulbs, door decorations and other efforts has led to meaningful change for the people of Haiti, including the Tommy Hamlin Medical Center now under construction on the northern part of the island. The project has created more than a hundred jobs in Haiti, along with a well for fresh water that they didn’t have access to before.

“Just the other day, there was a fire that started in a neighboring farm area and the people were able to hook up the hose quickly and put the fire out, and they wouldn’t have been able to do that before,” Meredith Hamlin said.

“To think that (Tommy’s life is) impacting a place he never visited, that’s really pretty special,” she added. 

A major piece of the Tommy Hamlin Medical Center will be on the way to Haiti this week in the form of a shipping container. Along with the money the Hamlins raised and contributions from a number of West Michigan companies in West Michigan, Bruce Heys Builders in Ada donated time and gathered other donations of supplies to convert the container into a two-room clinic.

“We’ve built many, many homes, but this is the first shipping container,” Travis Blom, the project manager with Bruce Heys Builders, said. “We were just inspired to be part of their passion and honor Tommy. We want Tommy’s legacy to live on, and we’re excited to be a part of that.”

The volunteer workers prepared the container as much as possible but workers in Haiti will have to cut out the doors and windows and hook up the plumbing and electric. 
 
Seeing this project come to life has been emotional for the Hamlins as they remember their son.

“It’s certainly been a journey and an evolution for us. I think it’s a pre- and post-point in our lives. Your relationship with God before something like this happens and after,” Ben Hamlin said.

Meredith Hamlin explained that behind their smiles and celebrations of Tommy’s life, there is the enduring pain of losing their son.

“It feels like we’re telling kind of a redemption story, but nothing ever redeems the loss of your child,” she said. “So we do carry that with us all the time — but there is beauty coming from his life and there’s hope.”
 
You can donate to the Figi Jezi mission and support the Tommy Hamlin Medical Center via PayPal, or contact the Hamlins at contactus@figijezi.org to purchase a tulip door hanger or yard decoration to support their mission.

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