Always Remembering, Always Remembered

Catie Team,

      Thank you for continuing to journey with us as we follow the path that God has chosen for us.  Thank you also for your prayers for us from the last update as we traveled to St. Jude.  Remembrance Day 2011 was a wonderful experience, and we are sure that your prayers helped to make it as special as it was.  Christine specifically asked you to remember Max so that he would emerge joy filled from the weekend in Memphis, and based on his smile in this picture; your prayers and ours were answered.

Max and Matthewfilled with joy

      Remembrance Weekend at St. Jude is a special opportunity for families who have lost a child to cancer to come together, share their common experiences, reconnect with friends made at St. Jude, and honor those special children who have left us far too early.  We arrived in Memphis Friday morning after spending the night in Nashville.  As we wound our way around the cloverleaf approaching the hospital, the different reactions of the 7 of us at seeing the all too familiar logo and the words St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital was very interesting.  Mia, Molly, and M.E. squealed in excitement.  Max and Maggie were quiet but had smiles on their faces.  Christine had a look that said both, “home again” and “why was this ever home?”  I just tried to concentrate on driving the last mile of our 900 mile odyssey.  While we each reacted differently, the reaction we all shared was the realization that Catie was not physically with us as we approached the hospital, and that was both good, and bad.

      Once we arrived and passed through the security gate by giving the guard Catie’s name, (ouch), we headed off to the gift shop with our list and while there, we met Belle and her mom.  M.E. and Belle became fast friends and played together while the moms talked about radiation treatments, chemo, schedules and tests.  Belle is one of Catie’s Kids now, and each night, M.E. says a special prayer for her new friend with the same hairstyle that her big sister Catie had.  Purchases completed, we next moved over to the Pavilion where the first events of the weekend were being set up.  The Danny Thomas Pavilion is a shrine to the history of St. Jude and the prayerful response of Danny Thomas and those that he inspired to assist him in creating the hospital.  Catie loved the Pavilion and what it represents, and I am sure that she and Danny were present with us as we began to decorate Catie’s board.  Each family is given a bulletin board to decorate with pictures, artwork, mementos, etc. of their child.  By the middle of Friday afternoon, some 30 boards filled the Pavilion with tributes that were both inspiring and bittersweet. 

Luminaries created by the Fab 5

      After setting up the board, Christine and I went over to the blood bank and donated blood for Catie’s Kids and then spent the afternoon in the Pavilion standing by Catie’s board and talking with Catie’s doctors, nurses, schedulers, chaplains; in short, all of the people who had done their best for her and Christine while they were at St. Jude.  To hear again the impact that Catie had and continues to have on these people was an absolute honor.  To hear from them about the difference Catie continues to make through the efforts of so many with the cards that are sent each year on Catie’s birthday and the ongoing prayers of all of you was beautiful.  Thank you for helping us to make a difference in Catie’s name!

      When we were done in the Pavilion, we checked into the hotel and went out for pizza with the Witsoes.  Their son Sean is in heaven with Catie.  The Fab 5 and the Witsoe’s Fantastic 4 had a great time sharing stories, getting to know each other and chowing down on great pizza.  We then headed back to the hotel and had a reception with many of the families, some of whom were back at St. Jude for the first time since their child’s death, and some who had been back many times in the years since their child passed.  The Fab 5 were terrific, and I was so proud of them.  They walked into the room and with the help of the Witsoe children, started a game, and then corralled every other kid in the room and involved them.  With no prompting from us, they had every kid in the room laughing and having fun which allowed the parents to relax and spend time catching up or meeting the other parents in attendance.  It was such a difference from last year when the atmosphere in the room was so low.  The kids stepped up and I am sure that their actions helped many of the families.

      The next morning after Mass, we headed back to the hospital for Remembrance Day.  The plan was to have Mia, Molly, and M.E. hang out with other siblings their age and take part in the planned activities while Maggie and Max did some homework.  Maggie and Max had asked to not participate in the sibling events because the experience last year had been so painful for them.  We allowed them to come up with an alternative.  As Christine and I were ready to go into our morning conference, Max and Maggie called us and asked if they could change their minds and be part of the sibling activities.  Their actions from the night before had allowed them to connect to some of the other kids their age and they wanted to be a part of what was going on.  I was so happy for both of them.  They had not wanted to come on this weekend but knew how important it was to represent Catie and to be there for their mom.  Again, the prayers you offered were answered with this wonderful blessing for Maggie and Max, thank you.

      The morning session was very good, and the panel of parents did a good job of sharing their stories, their grief, their struggles, and their victories in a way that allowed the parents in the audience to relate and feel “normal.”  When we reconnected with the kids for lunch and saw their happy faces, we knew that the decision to come was absolutely the right one!! 

Christine and the Fab 5 launching balloons

After lunch, we gathered for a prayer service for Catie and the other kids and then went back outside for a balloon launch.  After a bunch of hugs and some more tears, the official part of the weekend was over.

Carrying our prayers skyward

      Switching gears quickly, we headed to Germantown and stopped on the way at Miss Mary’s house.  If you remember, Miss Mary was one of Catie’s favorites.  Miss Mary’s cookies were all that Catie would eat on some of the days after chemo.  She is a wonderful friend and we were thrilled to be able to have a cupcake party with her and catch up.   From there we went to visit the Rheas.  Katie Rhea was Catie’s Memphis friend and the Rheas have been a wonderful blessing to us while Catie was in treatment and in the time since.  We then returned to the hotel and stayed up ‘til the wee hours with the Witsoes.  Bright and early the next morning, we left for home, stopped for mass in Lebanon, TN, and arrived home just after 1 AM Monday morning.  We spent Monday recuperating and winding down, and the kids went back to school Tuesday.  While they were at school, Christine and I went to Allentown to see Candee and represent Catie’s Wish at a Care Fair. 

Catie and Miss Mary

Candee continues to be such a wonderful ambassador for Catie and we are truly blessed by her and her passion!  We also taped an interview for a radio spot about the upcoming Give Thanks, Walk, (see details below). 

      All in all, the 2011 Remembrance weekend was a true blessing for our family.  I hope and pray that we were a blessing for others in their journey.  Thank you all for your prayers, you continue to be a true blessing to us.

      As a reminder, please join us at the Give Thanks, Walk to benefit St. Jude and Catie’s Kids on Saturday, November 19th.  The Fab 5, Christine, and myself will be at the Harrisburg event, and Catie’s Teams have been formed for the Allentown walk as well.  If those two locations do not work for you, there are 80 walks being held this year!!  Register for the event by clicking on the following link,

 Thank you your ongoing love, support, and prayers.  Together, we will eradicate pediatric cancer and make Catie’s Wish come true.  Hope to see you again on this side of heaven.

 God is good, all the time.

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

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