The Perfect Day?

Yesterday was a lovely summer day. The weather was worthy of celebrating – sunny, cloudless, warm with a delightful breeze – with a picnic or some fun outside activity. We quickly prepared a picnic and went to a local park for dinner and fun. Kevin entertained most of the children at the Fun Fort with a good game of capture the flag. As the number of children increased he could not keep the jail full for more than five minutes as someone was always there to free the captives. Finally, one of the other children volunteered their father to help Kevin. After several hours it was time to go home where we all enjoyed a wonderful sunset and organic popsicles on the patio. M.E. loves the sunset so very much. She squeals in delight at the beauty that she is convinced Catie creates just for us each evening.

During the day yesterday even the children were just like the weather – perfect. Everyone was ready for swim team in the morning and behaved well at Mass. Chores were done completely and without being asked. Naps were taken and M.E. wore cotton pants all day with no accidents. After 11 1/2 years are diapers a thing of our past? The school packets were worked on and no complaints were heard. Kevin drove a great deal, over 600 miles, to enjoy a part of our day. Last night after showers and prayers everyone crawled into bed feeling loved and happy. Sleep came quickly for everyone.

As Kevin was leaving very early in the morning for his next tour of stores, this time in the Bronx, we went to bed early and were both sleeping before 11. By midnight I was back awake. I began with prayers hoping the peace would be found and sleep would return. Instead I found that I was not able to concentrate so I began praying the rosary hoping the rhythm and repetition of the Hail Mary’s and Our Father’s would bring either the desired sleep or the needed peace. Soon I realized that tears were pouring out of my eyes. How could I even believe for one minute that I had just spent a perfect day when Catie was not with us? How would anything ever be perfect again?

With each question more tears and sobs poured out of me and I attempted to leave our room without waking Kevin. He lay exhausted in our bed snoring like a hibernating bear. As soon as I sat up there he was wide awake asking where I was going and wondering why I was crying. My reply was simply that he needed sleep to drive and I was sad. He told me that God would take care of him tomorrow but that I needed him now and that he was there for me. As though my body was waiting for permission from Kevin to cry; the downpour began. There were moments when no words were discernible due to the tears and sniffing and yet through it all Kevin held me. Though from time to time I did get mad at him for not being upset and sad – “Catie was your daughter too! Don’t you miss her? Isn’t life forever altered for you too? Am I the only one who is sad any longer?” Those are not fair questions and yet they are feelings that I have when I am sad. Does this make sense?

It is a strategy. One that I learned from Molly and Catie, every morning when I brush the girl’s hair Maggie, Mia and M.E. all pull away from me as the knots are brushed out. This causes their hair to be pulled even more but for some reason they can’t help it. I could be more gentle and slower but there are five, I mean four heads to do. Catie and Molly are different. Each time I would brush their hair – both Catie and Molly have a ton of very fine hair which tangles very easily – they would hug me and get closer to me. Kevin once observed that they were very intelligent in their response as I was the enemy and they were “keeping their friends close and their enemies closer”. How does this fit with how I treated Kevin? Well it is not the same strategy but what I was doing and the questions that I was asking Kevin were a strategy.

When I am so upset I just long to be not upset and that is why I begin to question Kevin. If I can upset him then I will not be alone – phase one – someone will share in my sadness. But also, if I can get Kevin upset then maybe just maybe I can comfort him and in order to comfort him I would have to let go of my sadness over my need to comfort the man I love – phase two. The problem with Kevin is that he loves me and cares for me so much that he would never feel more strongly about his own loss and grief in the midst of helping me as I struggle for my own loss and grief over Catie. In many ways this could make me feel worse than I already do but it doesn’t. I mean who is that mature and loving, that they feel the pain of another over their own feelings – not me. Then Kevin reminded me last night that it was in my denying that Catie’s death was even possible that helped Catie to stay so positive and so focused on others and not herself during her own illness. All last year I, according to Kevin, was that mature and loving mother to Catie feeling more strongly about how she felt than I did as her mother. Now I am still grieving, as only in Catie’s death and since her birthday in April have I allowed myself the luxury, if you will, of thinking of my own feelings and the impact of Catie’s death on our family.

Looking back to last year at this time, today was our first day at St. Jude. Catie was exhausted and hungry when we arrived at the hospital at 1pm. She had stayed up all night or until 3am visiting with my parents and brothers the night before we left. She ate Dunkin Donuts at 3am and who was hungry enough to eat on a 6am flight. Once we arrived at St. Jude we quickly walked through the Kay Kafe and I knew that Catie would never eat the food that they offered her. When we left for St. Jude and the entire time we were there I never let Catie feel like she was going to die. Death was not even an option and neither was feeling sorry for yourself. Catie was sick we both knew that, but we had faith and were going to do all that we had to do to beat the odds (this was kind of easy because there were no odds). She had brain cancer and yet I felt it would be best for Catie to feel strong and not feel sorry for herself or to pity herself. Was it easy for Catie to have cancer? No, but what good would feeling sorry for herself do for Catie or anyone. What good would pity do Catie? We could see the look in people’s eyes when they looked at Catie and we returned every look with a smile. In many cases this disarmed people, maybe they wondered what we knew that they didn’t?

All we knew then, is all we know now. “In you, my God, I place my trust.” (Psalm 91) Several years ago Kevin listened to a wonderful book on CD called Lead Like Jesus. It is really terrific and worth the time to listen to or read. One of the stories in the book is about a woman who as a young girl desires to go away overnight to camp. Her father, feeling that she is too young asked her to memorize several bible quotes (15, I think). If she is able to do this then he would, seeing her determination and obedience, permit her to go away to camp. Well after several weeks she completed her part and memorized each quote which her father gave her, and as the story went she didn’t have the nerve to spend one full night at camp. However, even to the day the book was written those quotes have remained with her. She goes on to tell that when certain difficulties came her way, like the unexpected death of her husband at a young age, it was these quotes that gave her the strength to continue.

Remembering this, last night I rolled over so that Kevin could return to sleep and I continued to tear for the rest of the night but was able to recall the 23rd Psalm.

The Lord is my shepherd;

there is nothing I lack.

In green pastures you let me graze;

to safe waters you lead me;

you restore my strength.

You guide me along the right path

for the sake of your name.

Even when I walk through a dark valley,

I fear no harm for you are at my side;

your rod and staff give me courage.

You set a table before me

as my enemies watch;

You anoint my head with oil;

my cup overflows.

Only goodness and love will pursue me

all the days of my life;

I will dwell in the house of the LORD

for years to come.

Everyone who has faith in Jesus Christ understands how these words provide comfort to them. To me these words, and many others in the Bible, offer a road map. I am not Job – everything is not being taken away from me. Catie was not taken from me – though she is not here. It is not Catie that I am missing it is her physical body that I am missing – I need more faith and more trust to understand and accept this, please pray for me.

Then it dawns on me that one of Catie’s wishes, to be the Patron Saint of Pediatric Illness, would never come to be if I held her here. I know of many children who are still sick and fighting for their lives and they need miracles, healings, and prayers. What they really need, may be, Catie can give them through interceding on their behalf. Peace comes over me as I realize that I would much rather Catie be with little Mary Coffey, and her friends from St. Jude who are still in treatment – Elizabeth, Trevor, Jack, Brayden, Tala and Jonah and those who have finished treatment like Marit and Hunter and those from St. Jude who we have learned about through Caring Bridge like Ellie, Dax, Christian and Syndey. If Catie being in heaven can do anything to help those children I am at peace. If Catie being in heaven means that one less parent will cry themselves to sleep, as they long for their child, as Regina and I do than I am comforted.

I believe in Jesus’ promise. I know that He has conquered death and “I will dwell in the house of the Lord for years to come.” Amen! Will this be my last day of sorrow? I would like it to be, that much crying and not sleeping is exhausting. Will I ever be able to say that any day is perfect? There is always hope.

May each of you find and commit to memory one Bible quote to sustain you in difficult times or on a positive note, assist you in worshipping God with praise for the many blessings He has shared with you. Please feel free to share your quotes with us.

Peace be with you all,

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

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