Happy 18th Birthday Catie!

My sweet little girl,

Catie O'Brien with her birthday cake

7th birthday

As another April 23rd approaches, my thoughts, while never far from you, turn in earnest to you and to the legacy you have built even in your absence. It is both a hard time and a wonderful time. Hard, because I never feel the physical void as poignantly as I do at this time of year, and wonderful, because into that void, you have inspired and directed so much goodness. The truth is, I miss you; yet when I balance that against all that has and will be achieved in your name for so many, the sacrifice seems (almost) worthwhile.

The reality is my dear Catie that I have spent a great deal of time thinking about you in what would have been your senior year in High School. Your class, the class of 2019, is a wonderful group of young men and women and as they reach milestones and complete their high school years I wonder what you would be doing if you were still with us this April 23rd. For sure, we would be having a major party. Later that week, I would watch in awe as you got ready for the prom and I would give some young man a handshake and a look that said, please take care of my daughter. By April, you would have already decided on where you would be going to college next year and we would be so proud of you! You would be in the middle of Track season and getting ready for Senior day for yet another sport after Cross Country and Basketball. Do I know for sure that this is how April 23rd would have been? No, I do not, all I know is that it is not how it really is.

So how is it? How has the void been filled? It has been filled in so many wonderful ways, ways that honor your wish and the mission you left us, to eradicate pediatric cancer through prayer and research. We are approaching two million individual prayers logged onto your website. Two million times that people have not only prayed for children like you, but have taken the time to log onto the website and let us know. In addition, the children of St. Columbkill and others will again be coloring cards and praying for the patients in treatment at St. Jude on your birthday and sending them a purple pinwheel.

The void has been filled with more than just prayers. It has been filled with people who continue to support the research that occurs at St. Jude. Individuals who pledge their monthly support. Corporations who match funds. People who sponsor events and people who attend them. All of them honoring the battle you fought by doing what they can to help the next child and the next family have a better journey and a better outcome than you did. Why do they do it? They do it because we tell them your story, we let them see a glimpse of who you were and are, and they are moved to open their hearts and celebrate you and the legacy you left behind.

Between the prayers and the sacrifices of time and treasure that people make to support you, your mission, and St. Jude, no one does more to keep it all working than your mom. You must be so proud of her and all she does in your name. Every time she picks up her phone and talks to a mom whose child has died, every time she texts a mom who has just received a bad report from their child’s doctor, every time she sends a recommendation for one of the hundreds of books she has read to a grieving parent, she keeps your memory alive. When she heads to St. Jude and teaches doctors and nurses the best way to deliver life-altering news, she tells them about you and they become better clinicians. When she listens to parents who are mired in the midst of their grief and offers them the hope that they can and will survive, she honors you and your battle. And when she turns from the hundreds of hours of volunteering and hugs your brother and your sisters, they feel not only her love, but yours as well.

The Sensational Six in 2008


Your brother and sisters are also amazing. They each have their moments of grief that show up at unexpected times and in unexpected ways. They were so young when you started your battle, and in the intervening ten years they have gone through so much of the normal growing up process and then have the extra layer that your battle and loss meant to each of them. Maggie continues in Nursing school and has added a Psychology minor so that she can best help her patients. I am confident that she will be a great bedside nurse and also may end up teaching Nursing to others. Max is thriving at Pitt as a Computer Engineer and will spend this summer with the Navy and Marines sharpening his skills and focusing in on where he might fit when he graduates as an officer, (and hopefully a gentleman!). Mia has grown into a wonderful young lady and a leader in her class. She is so talented and as long as she believes in herself as much as I do, she will accomplish so much. This summer will be a big one for her as she picks a college that she can call home and starts to understand what her major might be.

The Fab Five in 2018


Molly joined Mia in high school this year and her freshman year has been wonderful. She has emerged as a leader for her class, has done well with both her schoolwork and athletics, and has settled in with a good group of friends. M.E. is the last of the O’Briens at St. Joes, and her seventh grade year has been wonderful. She has great grades, great relationships with teachers and her fellow students, and has enjoyed basketball season and is just starting track and lacrosse season and was in the play at Trinity. In all, we are so blessed that the Fab 5 are generally healthy, good kids who challenge us to be the parents we are supposed to be. They think of you often, talk about you when they think it is appropriate, and do their best to forge their own paths.

One of the events that has been hard on each of them is when their schools have mini-thons or dance-a-thons to support childhood cancer. There is usually a local family that comes and thanks the students for the event and the stories hit them pretty hard. This year, your mom and I asked to be the local family for the Trinity Mini-Thon as we were both a St. Jude family and a Four Diamonds family. Four Diamonds is the fund raising arm for Penn State Hershey where you were operated on before you and mom went to St. Jude. The event went very well and the school, led by your class, raised a record amount of funds to support families. You continue to inspire. We also have begun to work with Penn State Hershey on a Quality of Life and Bereavement program. The one we have worked on and refined at St. Jude is ready to be duplicated and what better place to do that than at your other hospital where you began your journey.

Happy birthday little girl. Please know that I love you and I miss you, but that I know that you are right where you are supposed to be, home with your Heavenly Father. Keep blessing all of us who strive to do the work you left for us; keep showering your love upon your mom and your siblings, and keep that beautiful smile so that every time I close my eyes, my heart is filled with the sight of your smiling face. We will keep your mission alive and will continue to ask all that we know and meet to color their calendars purple on April 23rd and to pray for an end to childhood cancer so that the words of your final interview resonate and come true. “Pack up your bags, get out the door, you don’t need chemo anymore!”

God is good, all the time,

Family signatures
Mom, Dad, Maggie, Max, Mia, Molly, and M.E.

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One Response to “Happy 18th Birthday Catie!”

  1. Deacon Joe Petrauskas says:

    Last night during our Confirmation PREP class at St. Columbkill parish in Boyertown, PA., 50 “Happy Cards” were colored. Catie’s story was shared and prayers requested for all those children at St. Jude’s.