Time Flies

Catie Team,    

     Five years – only Kevin would know exactly how many days that is – it is not that it doesn’t matter but rather that this amount of time passing without Catie is unfathomable.  Then I think of phrase “without Catie”; though I rarely feel without her.  I am so comforted by the impact that she had on the lives of so many and the memories that others share with me.  In the past week I have received two very vivid memories of Catie – both are photographs of her that I had never seen before.  The first was given to me as a gift; it was actually two photos of Catie and her Brownie troop.  It is a treat to see all of these girls joyfully smiling for the camera as first graders.  How much they have all have grown – both in height and wisdom.  The second of the two photos – the one the kids love is the silly photo with the kids making their silliest faces for the camera. 

Silly Brownies

Every kid loves this picture and every adult is so happy to get the “real” photo taken that they give in to the silly one.  The second photo came to me last night through a text message.  The preschool that Catie attended 8 years ago was the subject of a local newspaper article.  There in the midst of this article is a photo of 4 year old students working at a project.  Prominently featured is Catie studiously working on her project.  How cool is that!!! 

     Please don’t misunderstand; while I think it is cool to see new photos of Catie I still would much rather see her, hold her and have her growing up in our home.  What we went through watching Catie suffer and fight cancer and the treatment in order to live was not easy and no parent should ever have to deal with it.  Awful is not a strong enough word.  Horrible is not right either.  Unthinkable may be the right word.  We wrote about it.  We lived it.  We have not forgotten; but there are many moments that I will not allow myself to look back upon. 

     The things that we asked our sweet girl to endure were in many cases unthinkable but those “things” offered her the only hope she had.  We fought and Catie fought and many of you fought alongside us.  When I read back through what occurred and how we handled it I cry for “that mother, that child and that family”.  No one should have to live through that.  No one should have to explain the things that we explained to Catie.

      “Sweetheart what is causing you so much pain is a tumor in the base of your spine and we need to operate to remove it.”  “Darling Catie when the doctors did a biopsy on your tumor they realized it was not just any tumor but rather that you have cancer.  Now we have to figure how and where to treat you so that the tumor does not come back.”  “Catie, sweetie, we need to go away to be treated.  You are I are going to move to Memphis, TN to be treated at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.  Dad will come to visit and we will come home as soon as you are better.”  “Catiebug, dad has to go home and be with the other kids and to work he will be back in a few weeks.  I know you miss him.  I miss him too.”  “Catie the reason that you can’t feel your foot is because your tumor is back.  You understand that that means there is nothing that the doctors can do to make you better.”

     Each time we told Catie one of these things she responded just like the kid she was.  When we told her about the operation she did not hesitate to tell us, “Will the operation take care of the tumor? Then operate.”  When we went to CHOP and the doctor explained to Catie that he didn’t know which of the two treatments was best for her.  She asked “Why?”  The doctor explained that it would take at least 50 years to gather enough patients who had Catie’s type of cancer to compare the two treatments.  Catie looked at Dr. Phillips, smiled and said “No problem, I am only 7 years old.  I have time.”  When we told her we were going to St. Jude she didn’t like it but said “Let’s go to the beach first.  The sooner we start the sooner we will be home.”  Every once in a while Catie would have a great idea.  “Dinner is really boring without the kids.  Can we go out to eat or bring them here?”  And we did.  Catie made the best of each day she was given.  When she missed Halloween –St. Jude’s best celebration for their kids – Catie was glad it was her and not some other kid.  That is probably why her nurses stopped by at the end of their shifts to visit with her.  Even with all these great insights from a kid I will never forget watching her with Kevin when he told her that her tumor was back.  All Catie said looking into Kevin’s eyes was “Why Daddy?”

     How many times have I wanted to ask that question of God, my father?  Catie was blessed to have Kevin as a dad.  He was the love of her life – and even though she never grew up, fell in love and married the man of her dreams – I doubt she would find anyone she would ever love as much as her dad.  She would sidewalk chalk our driveway with the same message everyday “I love my dad!  Welcome Home Daddy.”  

Chalking Catie

When she asked me what heaven was like – I choked.  How could I explain this?  I couldn’t but I knew that Catie needed and deserved an answer.  Catie so accepted and believed in heaven and in being with God in heaven because she lived with full confidence in the love of her own father, Kevin.  It is my prayer for each of us – that we love our dads so that that fatherly relationship can prepare us and lead us home to our heavenly father, God.

     How have we made it this far?  Where have we found comfort?  Each of us – Kevin and I and the kids have all felt dark days.  Today someone asked me why I didn’t just crawl into a hole and cover myself and stay there?  What good would that have done?  Catie died we didn’t lose her.  We didn’t need to search for her – we know is she home waiting for us.  Did it hurt?  More than I can explain.  To this day I am still amazed that the pain didn’t kill me.  Nothing ever hurt so badly – physically and emotionally.  There are still days when that pain returns and it hurts just as badly but it doesn’t last as long.  Knowing that may be a part of my healing; just like my memories.

     I live with comfort in the happy memories – like Catie is away on a trip and one day the counting days will end and we will be together again.  I remember Catie’s laugh.  I remember how much she loved her siblings.  I remember how happy she was.  I remember the first time I yelled at her.  She went outside with the “big kids”.  They were playing tag and someone on her team was going to be tagged.  So to distract the tagger she mooned the kids and her team got away.  Maggie was horrified.  Catie was grounded.  Catie’s plan worked and her team won the game!  I am glad we all experienced that.  I remember teaching her to ride a bike.  She loved it.  I remember her playing field hockey with my mom.  I remember her loving the beach.  I remember the awe I felt as I would watch her pray.  I remember counting her freckles so I would never forget her.  I remember her beautiful hair, her voice, her talent and spark.  She made me love life more.  She made me a better mom and a better person and she still does.

      Five years.  In some ways it seems like forever since we have seen our little girl and yet even five years later, she pops up unexpectedly;  in our hearts, our memories, our dreams, in a similarity on one of her sisters’ faces.  Five years ago at this very time, Catie slipped into a coma that would last for 36 hours before she would breathe her last labored breath and complete her journey back to heaven.  The agitation that had marked this day for her would subside and peacefulness would begin for her and temporarily end for the rest of us. 

     Today was reminiscent of this day five years ago.  We were once again on the Country Cares radiothon for St. Jude and just like five years ago, Catie was and is encouraging us to continue to support St. Jude until pediatric cancer is eradicated through prayer and research.  It is also reminiscent of Catie’s journey with St. Jude because as we go to bed tonight, neither Catie nor Christine will be with us.  Christine left the radiothon and proceeded to the airport to fly to Memphis where she will continue her wonderful ministry of shaping the support provided to family and staff of St. Jude children who lose their battle as Catie did.  Working with Christine on this and missing her on her monthly trips is challenging but also very rewarding.  Being on the phone with another dad whose daughter is dying or who has passed away recently and offering a receptive ear, or listening to Christine as she talks with a mom who is celebrating her son’s first birthday since his death is part of the mission that Catie left for us.  For all of the love and support that so many offered to us, we need to continue to pay it forward every chance we get.

     When we talk about Catie popping up, she usually shows up, even in the middle of a polar vortex as a ladybug, and we receive countless emails from Catie supporters telling of her visits with them as well.  Last night however, she appeared in a different way.  One of our neighbors from our previous address sent us yesterday’s local paper and highlighted an article about the local preschool.  The article extolled the virtues of the school and the teachers and had an accompanying picture of the students in the classroom.  As we looked at the picture, the little girl in the center with the pigtails and the look of concentration was not a current student, but Catie herself.  The picture was taken eight years ago and we had never seen it before.  What a gift. 

Catie in Mrs. Keenan’s Preschool class

We can obviously take no new pictures of Catie, so to see one that we had never seen before was remarkable and a true blessing.     

     As for the rest, the Fab 5 are doing great and growing and maturing.  We truly are blessed with these kids.  Maggie is now sixteen and has a job at Panera Bread that based on the insurance rates in Pennsylvania should allow her the ability to drive if she works 17 hours each day.  Max is playing basketball for the high school team and improving steadily.  He is taller than I am now, but that has as much to do with my shrinking as it does his growing.  Mia is continuing to grow into a wonderful young lady except on the basketball court where her mother wants her to be more aggressive.  Molly is a spitfire who I have been saying for years reminds me the most of Catie and now that Christine sees it as well, she has convinced me that she saw it all along.  M.E. is just a great little kid with a beautifully quirky OCD streak.  Christine and I are more in love today than ever before, mostly because I know how blessed I am that she continues to choose me.

The Fab 5

The Fab 5

     As for Catie; life is better for her now than it was five years ago.  There is no more pain, no more agitation, no more cancer.  She already is where we want to be.  Missing her will not bring her back.  Honoring her will reunite us with her in time.  Thank you for your continued prayers, your continued support, for your belief in Catie and her wish.  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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One Response to “Time Flies”

  1. Marthe Terry says:

    My dearest Catie’s Family. I was a bit weepy, reading your latest heartwarming–and heartbreaking entry. When I go to 8 am Mass at St. James tomorrow, I will offer it for “our” Catie–and for all of you, as well.

    One year ago today, a dear friend of mine lost her only daughter, Holly Ann, to a fatal heart attack. A lovely large antique color picture of the Most Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary, given to me by Holly’s sweet little grieving Mother, now hangs in my room. The beautiful, compassionate and deeply sad face is too much for Holly’s Mom to handle, ditto her 3 sons and their families. The face is one of a tender and heartbroken Mother at the foot of the Cross., her pure heart pierced through by a sword of sorrow, as Simeon had foretold at the Presentation of little Jesus in the Temple. She hung in Holly’s apartment, not far from where Holly suddenly died, while attempting to have a cup of tea and take a shower. My reaction to my dearest friend’s giving me the picture, “And who am I that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?” as Elizabeth so reverently responded to her very special and sinless cousin’s visit. I treasure this untimely and precious visit from Our Lady to my care and love in my home.

    May Jesus Most Merciful and His dear Mother and ours hold all grieving parents and families of children lost to heaven too soon in their loving embrace. God’s love and peace and prayers, Marthe