Changing the Calendar

Fellow Catie journeyers,

I keep asking myself if this is summer. We seem so busy. Then Kevin offers a bit of perspective to my view of our lives (more about that later). This past weekend was rather light compared to what the calendar offered. We were expecting a family of five to visit with us during what would also be for them a soccer tournament at Hershey. This three day event was cancelled due to the rain. I keep looking at the calendar and hoping to find a hole in it where there are no activities already planned, Kevin is home, not traveling for work, and no birthdays – four of the eight of us are born in the summer.

I am all too familiar with our family calendar recently. When we had Catie in 2001 I noticed that our calendar was getting a bit busier. Kevin and I decided to buy one of those wall mounted chalkboard calendars which could be erased each month and updated with the new month’s activities. We found one and the kids delighted in the calendar being updated each month. Up until three days ago this calendar – which is prominently displayed in the garage as you walk into and out of the house – stayed frozen on June 2008.

Never written on it were the words: doctor appointment, x-ray, MRI, surgery, coming home. Never written on it were the words: cancer, second opinion, leaving for St. Jude. It just remained frozen with all the hope that we all had for the summer and June of 2008. None of the activities that were listed on the calendar included Catie and me. Each day we found, by the grace of God, someone to watch the kids as we took Catie to an unscheduled doctor’s appointment, x-ray, blood test or whatever she needed. Each day, those same wonderful people pulled together to drive the kids were they needed to be driven, boy scouts camp, brownie camp, music lessons, or swimming lessons.

Maggie asked me to change the calendar. She said that it made her sad. Regardless of how it made me feel how could I refuse Maggie? So I took it down and efficiently erased and washed it. Peeled off all the stickers, post-it notes, and magnets and gone were those hopeful carefree days of June 2008. Then I picked up the chalk and wrote June 2009 and rearranged the stickers and post-it notes for this year – again never writing the word: one year anniversary of finding the tumor, one year anniversary of surgery, one year anniversary of CANCER, etc. If I don’t write those words did they not happen? Oh how I still wish that were true. I still hope to wake up and this was all just a really emotional and very detailed dream. When I again see Catie in heaven I know I was right, it was all just a dream. In the meantime we all continue to heal and grieve and love each other the best we can through the process.

Last Saturday, we all joined my brother Sean and his family for the annual birthday of cousins Helen and Jack. This was one of the two birthday parties that Catie missed and was truly sad about missing. Knowing that everyone was living, celebrating and enjoying life without her was very difficult for her. Last year during the birthday party, Kevin and I were still rolling a towel behind Catie’s neck as she sat in her wheelchair. She was unable to walk, stand or feed herself. She cried out each time Kevin lifted her into or out of the wheelchair “No Daddy. No! Stop Daddy. Please stop!” It was heartbreaking to hear and it is heartbreaking to remember. We were so hopeful at that point that Catie would be fully healed. Within two days she was walking again and had regained her competitive spirit – as she tosses her paper towels into the trash can. Do you remember that she missed her first shot and fell over picking the paper towel off the floor? Her eyes huge with fear and her mind amazed that she “fell in slow motion”.. Catie ended up fine after that fall – so like Jesus falling on the road to Calvary. Both together, both completely healed and both offering all of us hope.

What else filled last week as we passed so many “first anniversaries”? On Sunday was Father’s Day. I would love to say that we had a wonderfully relaxing and enjoyable day and thankfully we did. We slept in and went to evening Mass at St. Patrick’s. The music at the Teen Life Masses so reminds me of Catie and the tears began to fall, just a few. We then took Kevin out to dinner. Dinner was great, very relaxing. The kids were well behaved and the food was delicious. As the meal ended Mia decided that she needed to tell our waitress that Catie had died. M.E. offered that Catie was now in heaven. Molly followed all of that up with “Isn’t that great?” With that our waitress fled from our table in tears. I sat shocked in amazement that such a relaxing meal could turn so quickly into an emotional rollercoaster ride. My tears began a steady stream which continued throughout the rest of the night and into the next day. Early that morning I also learned that Liam, another child with brain cancer, had died.

Monday morning began with me quickly dashing out the door to 6:30AM Mass, as the kids were attending Vacation Bible School at Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton. VBS would be every day between 9:30 and noon meaning I would need to go to Mass early in the morning. Once I dropped the kids off M.E. and I went to the book store to pick up a copy of My Sister’s Keeper. I finished the book in two days. Kevin felt that I was torturing myself as I cried. What was really causing the tears -the book or Liam’s death? I attempted to explain where I was to Kevin. Living at St. Jude is like being inside as opposed to being at home which is like being outside in the bright sun shine. I have had to move from one to another and right now I am squinting. If I simply walked outside I would have had to completely close my eyes – it would have been too bright. Where I am also has to do with being there for all the changes and feelings and adjustments that each of the kids are going through – like at the restaurant – you never know who is going to say what to whom or even when.

I sum all of that up to Kevin and state that I am exhausted. Kevin then offers the unique perspective of my life that he feels for me as he gets out of bed most mornings with me sleeping, never gets the opportunity to “do nothing but read a book he is interested in” during the day or chat on the phone with a friend for hours. It is true, being a stay at home mom does have its perks, especially when you are married to a wonderfully helpful and loving man, but that doesn’t make it any less of a job or career – there is a lot of work involved. I am not complaining just explaining. Thankfully Kevin understands and is very supportive. The emotional rollercoaster that I am on doesn’t go with Kevin to work. Neither do all the joyful memories or thoughts that the kids openly share about Catie each day. In that Kevin is very alone and so I pray for him. Last week he had to unpack each of the pictures of our kids in his new office. Looking at photos that are always there is like looking at wallpaper it is so much a part of everything that it blends in and is almost not seen. Hanging pictures, even changing the location of a picture causes you to look at the picture and remember – and Kevin was alone in his memories of Catie.

As the week ended most of the tears had vanished. There was work to be done and many simple quiet aspects of the work that lies ahead for the Catie Wish Foundation came together easily. Maggie and Max shared the story of Catie with those in their VBS class. One of the student leaders felt so moved that she gave money to Catie. This past week due to the generosity of St. Patrick’s School in Carlisle (where we attend the Teen Life Mass), St. Joseph’s School (the school for Maggie, Max and Mia) and several other generous and supportive souls we were able to make a $5300 deposit into Catie’s account. We are attempting to build up the account in preparations for the work that is ahead. Up until recently all funds were being sent directly to St. Jude. This is changed as we are now preparing for the 2010 goal. Have we shared with you how much we were able to raise for 2009? The total reached $2.6 million!!! Without each of you and your generosity of both prayers and donations we would never have been able to fulfill Catie’s wish this year – so soon after her death while we were mourning you all were lifting us up and keeping Catie’s Wish alive. Reaching her goal gave us so much to be thankful. We are so aware of God’s blessings – even amidst our sorrow there is joy. Thanks be to God!

Yesterday as I prepared this deposit I quickly ran over to VBS for the closing ceremonies. Kevin was able to join me and I videotaped that singing. My cheeks hurt from the smile on my face and yet even this joy was mixed with tears. As I stood looking through the video camera at the kids, I filmed Maggie and Max walking into the church. I finally caught Molly but I missed Mia. I paused that tape and restarted it between each new group. When Maggie and Max sang I taped them together and individually. Then it was Mia’s turn. As she sang I started to zoom in on just her and then I continued panning her group looking for Catie. I knew that Catie would be all lit up. Catie loved learning new songs and the accompanying hand motions. Excitement welled within me as I looked for Catie and then tears fell as the realization of her absence took hold. How could I have forgotten? Why did I? Looking through the video camera you only see a part of all that is going on and yet isn’t that true for all of life.

Perhaps God only allows us to see what we are capable to dealing with in each day. We have to trust that God, in His love for us, has the rest of the picture under control. Yesterday I wrote to someone about a car accident that I had years ago that left me unable to drive for a time. I offered to them that had that accident not occurred I would never have moved home to my parents, become reacquainted with Kevin, fallen in love and had the sensational seven in the first place. Sitting at home at 27 unable to drive the view didn’t look like that at all. Today that accident seems much more like an act of God to bless me. Knowing this I pray each day to see Catie’s death as the act of God to bless me, that someday in my future it will surely become. Many of you have written to us and told us that our sharing Catie’s Story is just that for you and for this I am grateful and comforted. Again thank you.

May your view of today bring you clear understanding of how very much God loves you.

Peace be with you all,

Christine, Kevin, Maggie, Max, Gianna, Catie, Mia, Molly and M.E.

P.S. Maggie wanted to share this with you. On the way home from Mass we challenged Max to do a math problem. Figure out which day is the average day of all of our birthdays. Start with determining which day of the year each person’s birthday is then add them up and divide. We all offered a WOW when it was determined that today was the average day of our collective birthday.

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