Dear Catie Followers,

My prayer for all of you is that Thanksgiving offered you a moment to spend in prayer, thankful for all of your blessings. We had discussed writing an update over the weekend and yet there never seemed to be the right time to sit at the computer until now. This Thanksgiving was stuffed perhaps more so than the turkey. We could not decide how or with whom to spend the four and half days that we were blessed with until almost the very last moment. Every plan that was made was carried out and we all enjoyed ourselves.

On Wednesday the kids had a half day and so did Kevin. Wednesday night began with Mass — soon after Catie’s death we began attending Mass on Wednesday night at St. Katharine Drexel. At each Mass our intentions are for the success of the Catie’s Wish Foundation the mission statement is to eradicate pediatric cancer through prayer and research so we prayer together as a family for this. Please know that we would welcome anyone or any family that would like to join us. Afterwards we went home and worked on some things for Catie’s Wish. No baking and no cooking. This type of day before a holiday is atypical for us. No preparations of any kind were done for this Thanksgiving. We are not quite ready to prepare we are all just coping.

Thanksgiving Day began with Mass at St. Joe’s followed by a drive to NJ. Before arriving at my mom’s for dinner we stopped by the graves of Grandma Gladys and Uncle Ron. This year marked the 28th anniversary of the death of Kevin’s mother. Our visit was a solemn one and after our Hail Mary and hello to Uncle Ron, we continued over the river and through the woods. We enjoyed a Thanksgiving meal with my parents and four of my six siblings. Was it hard? How did we feel? It was like driving in fog. You are there. You see everyone; hear everyone and you can even speak. You just aren’t all there and so nothing is clear and there are moments of clarity and moments of almost nothing. You are so aware that Catie is missing — physically missing. Each picture you see holds a memory of a past holiday with Catie and you miss her even more. Even the little girls Molly and M.E. show signs that they are aware of Catie’s absence. M.E. begins to make more phone calls to heaven asking Jesus Please let Catie come down today. OK? Molly plays make believe and in her play there is a character that came after Catie’s death and stayed for a few months and left, this character returns for a day when one of the children we know dies and returned this weekend. Molly simply refers to this character as “the dead kid” at first, this was shocking and upsetting to me but it is all a part of how Molly is coping.

I realized during this weekend how blessed we are not the losing Catie part (but don’t rule that out Catie’s Story is not over “for nothing is impossible for God” Luke 1:37) but to have so many offers to join others in their Thanksgiving celebrations. My mom may not know what to say I don’t know what to say to Kevin, how should anyone know what to say to us? but she spoke her words of love for us through her invitation to dinner. Her words were simple “join us we would love to see you and be with you. We are not the only ones coping; all of our friends and relatives and those who loved Catie are all coping and most of you don’t get as much support as we do and for that reason I have begun to pray for all of you as you go through these holidays and remember last year.

I have read recently about how each member of a family navigates through the grieving process at their own pace. From our experiences I would completely agree. I realize that the Fab 5 will be dealing with all that they have experienced for the rest of their lives. Kevin and I will as well, but it will be so very different — our perspective is not going to change as much as the perspectives will change for the Fab 5. There is no way to prepare for this there is just coping. If you google coping; coping is the process of managing taxing circumstances, expending effort to solve personal and interpersonal problems, and seeking to master, minimize, reduce or tolerate stress or conflict. That about sums up every life that has been touched by cancer and/or death; so what do you do? You live your life one moment at a time. You don’t over schedule yourself. You give to yourself and to those you love as much carefree timelessness together as you can. Every minute will pass whether you notice it or not, whether it is scheduled or not and only you will lose out if you missed something because you were too busy doing something that was less important. We are not the only family that is facing a first this Thanksgiving; many are facing their first Thanksgiving — in a new home, with someone away, with someone sick, with someone unable or unwilling to travel, with a new member of the family — and like us they are coping.

As this was our first holiday at home (Easter we were in South Carolina) we thought we should visit Catie’s gravesite. So the plan was to head out Saturday morning and go to see Catie and visit with some friends. I had spent a lot of time catching up with my family and Kevin’s family and our friends on Thursday and Friday and Kevin had spent his time watching and playing football with the kids. I had noticed that he was growing quiet and quieter. I am still trying to figure out how to help Kevin deal with the loss of Catie. When he is sad I feel I can’t reach him and therefore can’t help him. What is left to do for him? Kevin is the love of my life and I would do anything and yet I have discovered, through this process, that what he needs or wants me to do is more difficult than bringing Catie home for good was for me. I have also found that trying to reach him doesn’t bring about the results that I am after. I want to DO SOMETHING and yet what Kevin needs me to do is simply BE THERE for him. To do that means holding his hand, sitting and being with Kevin while he is sad and hurt and that is incredibly painful for me. To give him time to just work through what he is feeling and do nothing couldn’t I make you a sandwich? Or tell you how much Catie loved you that should bring on the tears? Or how about we clean or straighten something? No! Those might work for me but they don’t work for Kevin. Lately I can see where Kevin is and how he is feeling before I can tell where I am or how I am feeling.

Well the fact that I saw Kevin so sad on both Thursday and Friday started Saturday with this realization that this was indeed a difficult first and then came the tears, misery and self-pity. This is not very effective either. Self pity is not pretty or positive thus the word pity. Throughout all of my misery I continue thinking how are we supposed to go on without Catie? How are we supposed to celebrate when I feel like dying? How are we supposed to stand and smile at someone who says such hurtful things all because they feel the need to say something? No one needs to be reminded that this was hard!! No one needs to be told one holiday down and only Christmas and New Years to go!! Are you crazy? Does it get easier?? Is it just the firsts?? Stop talking about or telling me about all the firsts and how hard they are!! Is it only going to be hard when Maggie gets married, if she is first and then it will be smooth sailing for the rest? Catie will miss it all or will be there for it all and how much depends more on our level of faith than in the number of firsts that we have checked off a random list.

According to all the so called experts in the field of grieving and the books that I have read about grieving and the associated stages there has never been a mention of telling off someone to their face because they are upsetting you not that the books suggest that you should politely listen and smile but come on people. Imagine that your child died and then imagine someone is going to say something to youwhat did they say?? Nothing. They said nothing they were just there — being there. Maybe the only reason it gets easier after the first years is because loving, caring folks stop saying stupid things in an attempt to comfort you. My advice is close your mouth and pray. Is this easy? No way. It is so difficult to do that I can barely do this for Kevin and he is my husband. Realizing that that is want I would have preferred over some of the comments that I dreaded hearing my sadness increased before it finally left me. So Saturday I stayed in bed crying for hours. Grieving and sadness is like a violent storm — it comes and goes without warning. The tears finally stopped, we packed and took our seats in the car. I knew that I could tell our friends we were not coming but something in me really wanted to go see Catie.

Visiting Catie’s gravesite was unlike visiting Grandma Gladys’s gravesite. It has nothing to do with the cemetery rules. It has everything to do with the relationship between Catie and the kids, especially the three youngest girls. They dance and they sing. They climb on the tombstones — yes even other people’s tombstones. If we would let them they would play hide and seek. They are joyous even in their voices while we pray you can hear their joy. Kevin and I are not so joyous but we are filled with peace because of their joy. Visiting Catie’s grave doesn’t bring her back. It doesn’t take some of the missing away or do anything that I am not aware of consciously. I do not visit Catie as a sense of obligation. Visiting Catie is just a part of my coping. She is there and she is not there. I sometimes do not even think about my other relatives who are buried alongside of Catie. There is my grandfather, GP and my grandmother, Mom-Mom and their son, Billy. There is my great grandfather and my great grandmother (she died when I was one) and there is my Great Aunt Peg. I noticed that her name read Margaret B. Flanagan. Wondering if the B. stood for Bernadette I called my mother after we left the cemetery. Mom could not speak because she was at the ER with my dad who was having terrible pain. So instead of going home we headed back to NJ.

Having spent months sitting alone in a hospital waiting for tests and the results I knew what my parents were going through and I didn’t want them to be alone. When Kevin suggested going to the hospital at first I thought he was crazy and then he said it is what we do — be there for those that we love. We arrived at the hospital in time to get the test results — kidney stones. Before we left the ER we had a brief visit with Beth, Kevin’s sister, who we had missed over Thanksgiving. (Beth works in the ER at the hospital.) We ate dinner with my parents and once dad was settled we returned home. Thankfully the kids had Monday off and we all slept in — except Kevin.

As I awoke on Monday morning I could not tell how I was feeling. I should have been absolutely exhausted — with three different trips to NJ in four days. Part of me wanted to begin Advent. Part of me wanted to skip to summer. Part of me wanted to do whatever would make everyone else happy. What did I do? I prayed; when in doubt let God work it out. By the end of Monday I knew exactly how I felt — so blessed, loved and thankful. The kids and I spent the day preparing just one thing for Kevin to come home to one this first Monday of Advent. We took everything off the mantle including the painting and put up what Max calls Christmas past (photos from every Christmas including Maggie at one week old and 4 pounds). I have been waiting since 1995 to do what I did yesterday. Before we were married I picked out two cross stitch stockings, one for Kevin and one for me. My sister, Colleen was going to cross stitch them for me. When Maggie was born a dear friend cross stitched a stocking for Maggie. Then I figured that we would all need stockings that were similar and my mom willingly stitched all of them, except M.E.’s which was stitched by my dear friend and M.E.’s godmother, Franka. Molly’s stitching was finished this summer and Kevin’s stitching was finished last year but both needed to be sewn into stockings. Once the sewing was done and each of the kids hung their stocking I arranged the photos on the mantle. I took last year’s photo from our Christmas card and enlarged it to 24″ x 36″ and hung it over the mantle. Everything was in place and ready when Kevin arrived home. When I look at the photos and the eight Christmases that we had with Catie I feel blessed and I am.

Our mantle with the stockings just rightWhen Kevin arrived home he felt the same way. We all love looking at all the stockings hanging by the chimney with care. I know all the love and prayers prayed behind every stitch — prayers for the kids and our family. I waited for 14 years to see all the stockings completed for my family it took some time but it was worth the wait. If I continue to trust God and believe in His will and do my best to serve Him I have faith that heaven will also be worth the wait. Monday went great because we all were there for one another. We all prayed together, shared with each other and spent time not being so busy trying to get everything done. We rather enjoyed doing what we did and knew at the end of the day that nothing was more important than loving one another and being there for each other. Tucking kids into bed the last words that are said are usually “I love you” why not say it with your actions. Spend time with your children doing the simple things in life like reading (1 chapter not the entire book), baking cookies (1 batch not ten) and preparing for Christ’s coming. It is what the kids will remember and their smiles are what you will cherish. Trust me.

May you spend time this season of Advent preparing your heart to receive the greatest gift you will ever receive Christ’s love for you.

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

PS Please pray for Barbara B. and Barbara K., Cole, Dad, Dax and his family, Jack, James, Joshua and Little George.

PPS If you have not been on the website in a while, please log on to and see the new photos we have added recently.

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