On June 24, Elaine Quraishi will celebrate her son's birthday in a way that she'd never imagined. She'll bake a chocolate-fudge cake — 10-year-old Hakeem's favorite flavor — cut an extra-large piece and drive to Wasatch Lawn Cemetery, where she'll sit next to her son's headstone and slowly savor the gooey slice in his honor.

"It's been a difficult year, but I know that Hakeem wouldn't want me to be sad all the time," says Elaine, 40, who lives in Layton. "He'd like me to remember the good times and try to live a good life. That's how Hakeem was. He was a good kid who loved to laugh. He was fun-loving and he was pure."

Elaine was working at the Curves fitness center that she owns in Cottonwood Heights last Jan. 26, when her brother, Ben, showed up at lunchtime in tears. Her husband, Irfan, had sent him to bring Elaine home and deliver the terrible news:

Hakeem, their middle son, had died in his sleep in the bed he shared with his brother, Yusuf, 7. Irfan had found him when he'd gone to awaken his sons to take them to Park City, where Hakeem took horse-riding lessons every Saturday.

"He died of heart failure," says Elaine, "but we'll never know if it was related to the challenges he had growing up. Hakeem had some coordination problems and it was difficult for him to read and write. But he never gave up. He always faced life with a big smile that brightened your day."

In memory of Hakeem, the entire Quraishi family will participate in the third annual Mountain Mile Children's Race on June 28, benefitting The Sharing Place, a coping center for children who have suffered the loss of a parent, sibling, close relative or friend.

When her brother came up with the idea for the biathlon three years ago, "We had no way of knowing that we would one day need The Sharing Place," says Elaine, who has signed Yusuf up for counseling and activities at the center. "Last year, Hakeem even ran with us. He knew it was for a good cause. Who could have thought we'd be running in his honor?"

In the hope of helping other families who have also been through the heartbreak of losing a child, Elaine wanted to get together for a Free Lunch chat, even though the pain of her own loss is still tender and new.

"I look at Hakeem's picture and I promise that I can't give up, even though there are days when I want to give up," she says, blinking back tears. "One thing that motivates me is that I know Hakeem is in heaven. And I have to live a good life in order to be with him again."

After she met Irfan, a Pakistani immigrant, at Brigham Young University and married in 1993, Elaine was elated to have three sons: Ibrahim, Hakeem and Yusuf. When Hakeem died, Elaine was eight months pregnant with her first daughter, Jasmine, now 4 months old.

"At first, I was so crushed about Hakeem, I didn't know if I could love her," she says. "But then I realized she could help our family to heal. And that's what is happening. It's exactly what Hakeem would have wanted."

More information on the biathlon can be found at thesharingplace.org.

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