News & Events

Sign up for the St. Jude Run/Walk to end Childhood Cancer

Here is the link – simply select event in your area.  We will be at the Central Pennsylvania Event at City Island

September is Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month – keep the prayers coming!!

Thank you



Mary and the Fork

The season of Lent is almost over.  As Christians it is the season of preparation for Easter – the Resurrection of Jesus.  It is a season that many look at as a test or a challenge.  Not me, I look at the season of Lent as an opportunity to walk in the sandals of Christ’s closest friends, especially during the Sacred Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Saturday).  I try to imagine if I would have understood all that Jesus was telling me – do I even understand it now?  I try to imagine how I would have felt as we celebrated the Seder meal – would I have thought it was just another meal?  Would I be filled with the stress that is often associated with large family gatherings?  Would I be steeped in the historical significance?  Would I just be hungry? Would Jesus’ word that one of us would betray Him ring in my ears?  Would I have fallen asleep when Jesus asked me to stay awake and pray with Him in the garden?

That is where I stop?  That is where the spiritual exercise stops being an exercise and collides with my reality as it has even since 2009.  January 24th, 2009 Catie lay in her bed in my bedroom.  Was she sleeping?  I had seen her sleep for 20 hours before – I never had, but she had many times.  Was she in a coma?  I didn’t ask and no one told me – did it matter? I knew the hospice nurse had been to see us earlier in the day and told us that there were only a few hours remaining.  How did she know this?  How could this be true?  These words could not penetrate my mind they just seemed to bounce around with my thoughts.   What are you supposed to do when someone you love so very much is leaving forever?  Not leaving the room (when that happens you barely notice), not leaving the house (then you take the time to say good-bye), but leaving this world – forever (you want the world to stop – time to literally stop until you can get your bearings – and yet the world keeps spinning and time keeps passing.)

On January 24th, 2009, we pulled the couch over to Catie’s bed.  We needed to sit down.  The house was quiet.  The Fab 5 were all asleep.  We sat there holding one another and Catie and we prayed.  Should I have been kneeling?  I don’t know but I do know that I fell asleep.  I woke hours later to a change in Catie’s breathing.  I am sure it was a sign that the nurse was wrong and that Catie was going to wake up soon.  The labored breathing of the day was so loud and sounded so uncomfortable – I tried to re-position Catie thinking if she was more comfortable her breathing would be less labored –

The Super 6

The Super 6

nothing helped and the labored breathing continued.  Why did her breathing change?  What was the cause of her new sound of peace?

Looking back to this six year old memory I understand today what I had missed then – “now and at the hour of our death” – Mary’s arrival. Catie had prayed the rosary nonstop since going to Lourdes.  She had, along with our family, friends, you and so many others, prayed the Hail Mary and trusted in the words of that prayer “Hail Mary, full of grace.  Our Lord is with thee.  Blessed are thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.  Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.  Amen.”  Catie’s breathing became peaceful because she was indeed going to wake up soon in heaven.  Catie realized what I had missed – God is with us always.

I am amazed at how much comfort writing to ya’ll (a little something I picked up in Memphis.) provides me.  So many of you and others assume that December and January will be “so difficult” for us.  To be honest they are no more difficult than the other ten months are for us, and in many ways as difficult as those same months are for you.  Each and every day holds both memories and mysteries how blessed we are!


Mom-Mom and M.E.

This year I have thought a lot about how I felt in the last ten hours of Catie’s life.  I had never experienced that painful struggle to want time to stop before Catie’s death.  As a kid in school I wanted time to move faster, when enjoying wonderful vacations or moments of married life I have wanted time to continue not end, but never had time grabbed ahold of my heart and had my mind desired everything to stop.  This January someone very dear of our family died and I wished I had sent them home to heaven with a message for Catie – even though I know Catie knows all my thoughts.  God arranged it so that all of us could attend that funeral and reception afterwards.  It was a great funeral – I know that seems like a strange thing to say but it was.  The priest told this story during the homily and I just loved it.

There was a young woman who had been diagnosed with a terminal illness and had been given three months to live. So as she was getting her things in order, she contacted her Pastor and had him come to her house to discuss certain aspects of her final wishes.

She told him which songs she wanted sung at the service, what scriptures she would like read, and what outfit she wanted to be buried in. Everything was in order and the Pastor was preparing to leave when the young woman suddenly remembered something very important to her.

“There’s one more thing,” she said excitedly.

“What’s that?” came the Pastor’s reply.

“This is very important,” the young woman continued. “I want to be buried with a fork in my right hand.”

The Pastor stood looking at the young woman, not knowing quite what to say.

“That surprises you, doesn’t it?” the young woman asked.

“Well, to be honest, I’m puzzled by the request,” said the Pastor.

The young woman explained. “My grandmother once told me this story, and from that time on I have always tried to pass along its message to those I love and those who are in need of encouragement. In all my years of attending socials and dinners, I always remember that when the dishes of the main course were being cleared, someone would inevitably lean over and say, ‘Keep your fork.’ It was my favorite part because I knew that something better was coming…like velvety chocolate cake or deep-dish apple pie. Something wonderful, and with substance!”

So, I just want people to see me there in that casket with a fork in my hand and I want them to wonder “What’s with the fork?” Then I want you to tell them: “Keep your fork, the best is yet to come.”

The Pastor’s eyes welled up with tears of joy as he hugged the young woman goodbye. He knew this would be one of the last times he would see her before her death. But he also knew that the young woman had a better grasp of heaven than he did. She had a better grasp of what heaven would be like than many people twice her age, with twice as much experience and knowledge. She knew that something better was coming.

At the funeral people were walking by the young woman’s casket and they saw the cloak she was wearing and the fork placed in her right hand. Over and over, the Pastor heard the question, “What’s with the fork?” And over and over he smiled.

During his message, the Pastor told the people of the conversation he had with the young woman shortly before she died. He also told them about the fork and about what it symbolized to her. He told the people how he could not stop thinking about the fork and told them that they probably would not be able to stop thinking about it either.

He was right. So the next time you reach down for your fork let it remind you, ever so gently, that the best is yet to come.

I do believe with all my heart that the best is yet to come! Don’t you?  Happy Easter!

God is good, all the time,

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

P.S. – stay tuned, Catie’s 14th birthday is less than a month away.  Please continue to join your prayers with ours and Catie’s as together we pray for a cure!


The Unexpected Gift

     It has been so long since we last wrote. I just checked the website and was floored that it has been almost a year. What have we been busy doing? Thankfully loving each other and raising the Fab 5. Whenever I think back to what I have not done I am often left with a deep sense of regret. I know in my heart that I was not wasting my time and that none of us was wasting our collective time and yet the time has gone. Over a year ago (at my parent’s 50th anniversary party) my father gave me a gift that helped me come to terms with “where the time went”? My dad introduced me to the song “Too Busy Being in Love” by Doug Stone. This song causes me to stop and listen and smile. The time has passed but if I spent it loving another it was not wasted. Listen for yourself.

     So what were we doing, here are some of the highlights. Maggie turned 16 and we had our first Sweet Sixteen Party. Maggie began working last December right after her birthday and by the time summer came around she had three jobs. She earned, saved and bought her first car this September.  Which meant I spent hours (65+) being passengered by Maggie as she drove from job to job this summer.  This August Maggie began her Junior year at Trinity High School. We are talking about colleges and careers. Nursing is the current focus for potential majors.  DSC_0056Maggie maintains her excellent grades as well as involving herself in many clubs and activities. She has been inducted into both the Math Honor Society and the National Honor Society. We are very proud of her and all that she has accomplished. She has set the bar very high for the rest of the Fab 5.


     Max turned 15 last January and was busy playing Freshman basketball for Trinity. After basketball he joined the track team and on weekends qualified for his LifeGuard certificate. He was so busy last school year that he didn’t realize until the summer that he never had his friends over to celebrate his birthday. Max was employed this summer as a lifeguard at the town pool. Fortunately for me he rode his bike to work as Maggie’s schedule left little time for more driving. He is still a Boy Scout – something he began when he was just 5. Max is now a Sophomore at Trinity – driven to school each morning by Maggie. DSC_0068He decided to try football this year. He moved around a lot and learned many different positions – his favorite was Defensive Tackle. Now that Basketball season has begun he is once again playing for Trinity on their JV team. He too is involved with activities, clubs and sports. He is an excellent student and often comments that Maggie set the bar so high and he is expected to easily sail over it (the bar). Why not?

     Last April 23rd Catie would have turned 13. That is hard to believe – and thinking about it even for a moment causes me more heartache than I can bear. To me Catie with always be a spirited, wise, loving and generous 7 year old – who many would call an “old soul”. I simply call her my lifesaver. I miss her every day and yet every day I feel her presence and know I am not without her unless I choose to be.

     Mia turned 12 this summer. She is long and lean and loves basketball, swimming and track. She is pretty and graceful and sweet. The three years between Mia and Max sometimes feels like such a large gap – a gap that only Catie could fill. Mia is maturing quickly as she attempts to close that gap and grow closer to both Maggie and Max. She sings in the choir and is active in school. Her grades are excellent as well. This year in 7th grade she participated in the school Science Fair. Her experiment paired basketball and St. Jude. Her project was about the brain’s ability to learn and improve by visualizing a repetitive motion – in this case, shooting a foul shot. Mia needed one expert source for her project and she chose Catie’s Neuro-Oncologist, Dr. Greg Armstrong from St. Jude. She called him and conducted a phone interview. He was great. Mia’s project was selected in the top ten and she will go on to compete at Messiah College at the next level. She was delighted to share with Maggie and Max her accomplishment – as it was something that only she had done. While they both received an “A” for their Science Fair projects neither went on to additional competitions.

     Molly is 10 now. Molly is confident, easy going and will never have high blood pressure. She is growing this year as a student. She loves school, music – playing the piano and signing with Mia in the choir and sports – basketball, swimming and track. Molly is so sweet and so innocent and looking into her eyes you could get lost. God help the guy that falls for her! Never in my life have I known girls who get along with their sisters as well as Molly, Mia and ME get along. It is such a blessing and a gift for us.DSC_0041

     ME is 8. When she turned 8 she also outgrew all of the clothes that Catie ever wore – challenging us to decide what to do with them. The girls all agreed to put them in a box for a future grandchild. ME didn’t want to give them up and still wears hats that were Catie’s. ME is psyched that now as a third grader she is able to join her sisters playing basketball and running track this coming spring. While she has been swimming with them for the past three years she was left out of basketball and track. She has taken up the piano and can’t wait for fifth grade so that she too can join the choir.

     All these activities do keep us busy and there are days that I wonder if there is time for everything and yet it always seems to get done. We continue our work at St. Jude answering questions as to how best to deliver “bad news” to parents, mentoring other families who have lost a child, improving the services offered by St. Jude to their families and staff after the death of a patient and ministering to the doctors and nurses. The last words Catie ever said to Kevin were “never stop helping St. Jude” and we won’t.

     Thankfully supported by all of you, we are able to carry on the mission that Catie left us. Last week Catie gave us an unexpected gift that we want to share with all of you. Check out this video and know that you are a part of everything that this video states about Catie.

     Isn’t that amazing? Another amazing thing about the Marlo Thomas Building at St. Jude is that several years ago during the building’s construction a dear friend of ours, who works at ALSAC (the fundraising arm of St. Jude), asked if he could write Catie’s name in the “I” beam of Tower 2. This means that the building that bears Marlo Thomas’ name, which Marlo accepted in the name of Catie, actually bears Catie’s name in its main supporting structure. Talk about a Guardian angel!!

     So that is all the news that’s fit to print. When each of the kids talks about the bar being set high by Maggie, or Max, or Mia, we tell them that each of them have their own special gifts and talents and will each bring a uniqueness to their journey. When I told Maggie that as the oldest she set the bar for the rest of the Fab 5, she explained that she actually had the highest bar to strive for – the one set by Catie. We are so blessed, not only with the Fab 5, but with what Marlo called the “sliver of time” that we had with Catie.

     Know that you are in our thoughts and prayers as we begin the season of Advent and preparing for Christmas.

God is good all the time,

Christine, Kevin, Maggie, Max, Mia, Molly, M.E., and always CatieDSC_0036thanksgiving 047


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




The first day of school

Catie’s Team,

         Five years ago today, we sent the message below letting all of you know that Catie’s battle with cancer had taken a dramatic turn with the reappearance of her tumor.  What a journey those last sixty-one days with her would become, and what a wonderful journey it has been since that time.  Two days after that message, we celebrated Thanksgiving, and we do so again this week and will have a difficult time counting the myriad blessings in our lives.  In the celebration of Catie’s and all Funeral masses, there is a line that reads, “for those whose lives we celebrate, life is not ended, but changed”, and that statement best summarizes not only what the last five years have been for us, but where we are now. 

      I am blessed to be married to my best friend and am more in love with Christine today than ever before.  The Fab 5 are all growing and thriving.  Maggie is a Sophomore in High School and based on her academic excellence has begun receiving offers from colleges.  Max has grown into a young man and unless I wear platform shoes, the reality is that he is now taller than me.  He and Mia both succeeded in making their respective Basketball teams and in addition to Molly playing this year for the first time, our schedule is slightly packed.  M.E., who was only two when we sent this message is now as old as Catie was when we sent it and has outgrown all of Catie’s clothes.  Putting them away for the last time was as you can imagine, very touching.  In all, the kids are doing great, they are thriving and your thoughts and prayers for them continue to bear fruit.       

      Our relationship with St. Jude continues to grow and we look to new and different ways to honor Catie’s Wish through our involvement is all aspects of the Hospital that fought alongside her.  We assist staff, patients, and families with end of life and bereavement issues as well as continue to support efforts to honor Catie’s mission to “eradicate pediatric cancer through prayer and research.  We continue to witness and share in all aspects of so many lives.  We celebrated three weddings this summer and also attended three funerals and see the cycle and circle of life from a unique perspective. 

      Catie continues to be ever-present in our lives.  Yesterday as Christine was reading her paper, which is a Sunday ritual, Catiebug crawled over page after page while at the same time, she flitted around me as I was cooking something in the kitchen, and also played alongside M.E. and Molly and helped Max with his homework.  The reality is, she is with us as much as we are open to her presence.

Maggie and Max in their High School band

Please know of our thoughts and prayers for you this Thanksgiving.  May your blessings be too numerous to count and know that we count you as one of ours.  God is good, all the time.

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




Good evening prayer warriors,

      The O’Brien family is all in Memphis, soon to be joined by a host of Closkeys to share Thanksgiving. The fab 5 and I arrived right on time this morning after two early morning flights and the 8 of us had a small reunion in the hospital before Catie’s MRI. We sent the three youngest back for a nap with Mom-Mom and Da at the Marriott while Catie was coming out of recovery from her sedation. Maggie, Max, Catie, Christine and I then wheeled Catie around the hospital in her wheelchair while we awaited the results. The wheelchair is a new addition to Catie’s day as she has developed a drop foot that prevents her from being able to walk. The doctors surmise that this is a temporary condition resulting from the chemotherapy. How I wish now that they were correct in this initial diagnosis.

      In reality, these new symptoms of neuropathy and pain in Catie’s hip, legs, and feet are a result of her tumor growing back. Despite the massive dose of radiation and the aggressive chemotherapy, it is back. Keeping with Catie’s track record of being a statistical anomaly, there have been 4 cases in the last 15 years of a tumor re-growing during a treatment plan this aggressive. There are few options left to her and us at this point. We could subject her to another surgery to remove the tumor again and perhaps prolong her life by a few months, but the risk of a second surgery, one that has no chance of being curative, is very high. There are other chemotherapy regimens that could slow the spread and growth of the tumor, and again might gain us a little time. However from a medical point of view, her care is now palliative, not curative. Medically speaking, the focus now changes to doing whatever we can to keep her comfortable and out of pain and make the time we have left with her as full and rich as we can.

      Breaking the news to Catie was the most difficult moment I have ever had as a father. After crying for a moment and burying her face in my shirt, she looked up at me and said, “why daddy?” I hope and pray that the answer I gave her provided her with some comfort. I do know that within an hour of receiving the news and some medication that will hopefully keep the tissue surrounding the tumor from swelling, that beautiful, darling, innocent little girl was eating, playing with her sisters, and giggling. Thank you Catie for teaching me yet another lesson. Celebrate and live life while you can, it is too fragile and precious to waste.

       I could keep writing this for hours and never tire of sharing what a wonderful, special little girl Catie is. Her battle with this tumor has taken its toll on her physically, and in some ways, the tumor got the best of her. But it never broke her spirit, it never took away her ability to gift any person that came in contact with her from coming away from the experience better for having spent time with her. We will continue to share our thoughts and prayers and Catie’s journey with you. For now, we want to offer you a prayer of Thanksgiving for the last 6 months that we have had with Catie and through her battle, with all of you. As each of you sit and share a meal with those you love, take the opportunity to forge new bonds and repair those that need mending. The people in our lives are gifts from a loving Father, and they do not come with gift receipts, we need to keep them. The key is to find a reason to thank God for each one of those gifts.

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


Birthday 2013

Reflections over the past several months have been distracted.  There is so much going on in the lives of the Fab 5 – so much joy and living, so much to celebrate, and so much to take in as we all continue to grow and become who we were created to be.  All of this is broken up in a way by the trips to St. Jude each month.  Can one live in the present and be present to those around them and go back to where we were?  One can try.

M.E. and Catherine

M.E. and Catherine

This year M.E. (MaryElizabeth) turned seven – she was turning two when this all started –seven is the age Catie was when she first became ill.  This spring we began to hit all those milestones and memories.  The first day of this occurring or of that happening as we all watched and waited, hoped and prayed for Catie and joined her on her journey of being all that she was created to be.  Should one go back?  Should one think back over what happened?  Is there any value in reflecting on something that went so very differently then we all hoped?  Is there anything to be gained?  Closure, is that what people are seeking when they go back over events?  Have we found, achieved or reached closure? 

There are times when it seems impossible to go back and think of what occurred.  There are other times when there are no thoughts outside of Catie.  We have been on this journey for five years.  Catie fought her battle for eight short months.  From the day of her first pain – her first complaint was that her right hip hurt after she slipped on the locker room floor after swim lessons – that was Memorial Day 2008.  To the day she took her last breath – Sunday morning January 25th – only eight months passed.  How is that even possible?

Does time heal all wounds?  The answer is very different for each person and completely based on that person and their experiences.  Time may not heal but it does help.  Time goes on and while you hear this and you notice this when you are grieving you don’t feel it yourself.  When you are grieving you feel the whole world moving while you are standing still – unnoticed and apart from the rest of the world.  The world moves but you in your brokenness and loss stay there unwilling to yield your ground and accept your new reality, “Someone has died.  They will no longer be there to listen to, to talk with, to touch, to watch or for you to breath in the smell of them.  Life was this way with them around and now it is not.  This could not be stopped or changed but it is not accepted and it may never be.” 

As human beings we live and love with all our senses.  We also grieve with all our senses too.  This is where grieving gets a little tricky because memories are connected to our senses – we hear something and it reminds us of a happy time and we miss the person and so for many people music becomes difficult to hear, we see something, we smell something and so on through all our senses and throughout all our lives.  Is that why we stand still to protect ourselves from any additional sensory pain?  Maybe. 

Five years later, “why?” still hangs out there unanswered and unasked.  Why ask a question when you know there is no answer?  Catie never asked.  In fact when she was asked if she would give away her cancer if she could, she simple stated “I would not give this to anyone.”  At seven blessed with talents and gifts – that seemed as though they would never reach their potential – she accepted with grace what was to be her journey and simply asked us to join her. 

So instead of looking back over the past five years and wondering what life would be like had Catie lived to be cured, to be a cancer survivor; wouldn’t it be more like Catie to look back and see all that has been accomplished because of Catie’s acceptance and wish? 

Several of the kids that Catie was in treatment with at St. Jude have graduated to the survivor’s clinic.  We are happy for all of them.  May they continue to live with good health and make their mark on this world.  Several of the kids that we pray for who were treated at other hospitals are also doing well and for this we are grateful.  Several new kids have been added to the prayer list and so we continue to pray and ask for your prayers.  Several of the kids that we pray for have joined Catie in heaven and we continue to pray for their families.  We know that the work is not done.  There is more research to be done, more cures to be found and more children to save through both prayer and research.

We, at Catie’s Wish, are grateful for the wonderful donors and supporters that we have.  For the number of children who continue to sacrifice their birthday gifts to raise money for other kids in need we are blessed.  For the number of children who host a bake sale or lemonade stand, ask their school to hold a dress down day or offer us a part of their summer earnings we are blessed.  For the adults who hear Catie’s story and are moved to give and go to their employers and ask for matching funds we are blessed.  For the schools that host events and offer prayers for children fighting cancer we are blessed.  For all those who support us through prayers and yearly giving we are blessed.  For the tireless individuals that offer tech support, design work and send “happy’s” to the kids at St. Jude we are blessed.  For all those who logged prayers onto the website – this year totaling 953,277 and counting – we are blessed.

We are blessed with the Fab 5 and continue to pray for them and support them as they continue to become who they were created to be.  We are often amazed at their level of compassion and understanding for others – a gift that we often attribute to what they experienced through Catie.  Each of them continues to delight and concern us and we thank God that they take turns concerning us – all five at once would be too much.  Catie is with each of us every day though we all experience her in our own ways.  We still hear M.E. talking to Catie as she plays.  The others each have found their peace with all that has happened and while it does not define them it will always be a part of each of them.

We are blessed that M.E. has turned seven. We took M.E. to New York City last weekend for an O’Brien girl tradition – buying of their American Girl doll.  M.E. enjoyed her trip.  She is a delightful girl who can’t wait to grow up.  We are blessed that Molly continues to grow into a sweet young girl who will turn nine in just a few days.  Molly has added basketball and track to swimming keeping us busy.  We are blessed that today is Mia’s eleventh birthday.  Happy Birthday sweetheart!  Mia will begin Middle School this year.  She has grown into a wonderful student and continues to work hard at school and sports.

Max at Graduation

Max at Graduation

We are blessed that Max has graduated from 8th grade with many awards and accomplishments. He will be joining Maggie at Trinity High School next year.  This year he also added basketball and rugby to his sport interests.  We are also blessed that Maggie completed her first year of High School with excellent results and is enjoying a well-deserved rest during this summer.  She is an amazing young woman filled with great kindness and a deep sense of faith. 

This past June, we were blessed to have gathered and celebrated my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary. 

Happy 50th!!

Happy 50th!!

 What a great example they are of love and commitment! This   example has taught me so much in my life; most importantly the value and power of love. Love is the greatest blessing in my life.  God‘s love has created and sustained me throughout my life.  God‘s love has held me, healed me and prepared me for all that would occur in my life.  God’s love has blessed me with a wonderful man to share my life and to love throughout my life; thank you for the gift of Kevin.  He is my greatest treasure and it is my hope and prayer that my love for him will continue to grow each and every day as it has for the past twenty years.  He is everything that I ever needed in another person without ever knowing it – but God knew.  I truly believe that we are created just for one another.  He is my love yesterday, today and God willing tomorrow.  I love you Kevin.

I am blessed to have shared in the life of Catie O’Brien, to have been her mother, to have witnessed her life, to have felt her love and her strength and to have followed her example.  Catie taught me to cling to those you love and ask them to share your dreams and prayers and so I do.

Today join me to praying for those in need, telling those you love that you love them, and living today with no regrets!

God is good, all the time,

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


Happy 12th Birthday Catie

Darling Catie,

 Happy 12th Birthday!  I am sure that Heaven is even more special on your day.  We are celebrating it here by honoring you and your Wish.  We are sure that you know all that we and many others do, but it lightens our hearts to write to you.  Over 953,000 prayers have been sent to you for your intercession, and one day, you will let us know of the many children and families who never had to follow your journey because we all stormed heaven with our prayers.  We surpassed $3 million in donations in your name for St. Jude, and again, the fruits of the generosity of thousands may never be known until we are with you.  Your classmates and schoolmates at St. Joseph’s and from St. Columbkill again colored birthday cards for all of the kids at St. Jude and today those kids will know that someone was and is thinking about them and praying for them.  We didn’t forget the staff at St. Jude who cared so lovingly for you and hoped against hope that they could cure you; they received cards today as well.  Many people have colored their calendars purple for the day, and even though we can’t seem to figure out how to change colors on our smartphone calendars, in our minds, they are purple today.  Our corporate support from Utz, Sweet Frog, and FedEx has been wonderful, and Candee has been amazing as usual.  We miss you every day and so do the Fab 5.  They need you to keep looking out for them, ok?  We feel your presence and hear stories of you showing up when people need you, thank you for that.

 We love you very much and will keep honoring you through what we do and by how we live.  Keep us safe and gently guide us.  Thank you for choosing us to be your parents.  Twelve years ago we first held you in our arms, and while we cannot do that today, we look forward to your welcoming embrace when we make it home.

 Happy Birthday little girl,

 Mom and Dad


Visiting St. Jude

Catie’s Team,

 The first time I flew to Memphis with Catie from Harrisburg I could not find my license.  As I located it tucked with all of Catie’s  medical needs – always pack important things together – I cut myself on one of the needles.  Then I dropped several more needles on the floor as I searched for a bandaid.  Even at seven Catie knew having syringes in your luggage doesn’t look too good.

The rest of that trip was uneventful.

 Today was my first solo trip back to Memphis since Catie’s death.  In fact it was my first solo trip in years and the trip began just as my first trip with Catie; with craziness at the airport.  My  magnetic St. Jude pin flew off my jacket as I stepped onto the escalator and swung my bag over my shoulder.  Without thinking “what could happen” I looked for the pin.  Finding it, I proceeded to lean over and down the “up” escalator to retrieve the pin.  Instead I lost my  balance tumbling down the escalator and losing the pin.  I did however get the attention of the security guards.  Imagine the scrutiny I received going through the screening process.

Do these things happen as a result of nerves?  To relieve stress through a ridiculous situation?  Is it possible that they simply just occur with no meaning?

 I thought about that for the next several hours.  I am still not sure why “craziness” is a part of my life.  I try to reassure myself that “these things” could happen to anyone.  Whether “these things” do happen to everyone else or not may not be what matters; what matters is the reaction.  So I tripped, I got up, brushed myself off, gathered my bags and went through security.

 Reactions matter.  The reason for the trip to Memphis is a reaction.  We are still reacting to Catie’s wish; that we do all we can to help St. Jude.

 Today that help comes in the form of joining the St. Jude Quality of Life team to establish much needed assistance and mentors for families whose children will not be cured.

 We have experienced this first hand and we know the pain, the helplessness, the emptiness, and all the many other feelings associated with Catie.  When Catie died, St. Jude had very little support in place for their bereaved families.

 I sat at Catie’s funeral knowing no one who walked with Catie and me at St. Jude were there.  I imagined that their presence would have been a comfort.  Please do not misunderstand; everyone who was present helped all of us tremendously.  It is because of the amazing depth of the support that we received from all who loved Catie that we healed and survived.  Through your love and support, the Catie’s Wish Foundation exists.  You provided the strength and courage that in our grief we lacked.

 We tried over the next few months and years to be there for other families who had lost a child.  We attended many funerals.  Many of you may have thought that we were causing ourselves unnecessary pain.  We found that comforting others provided us with an even greater source of comfort.

As with everything in life there is a reason and a purpose – sometimes it is not known and sometimes it is not realized – then what?  In the case of St. Jude they are a research hospital – finding cures and saving children.  The purpose for bringing your child there is to cure them.  The purpose behind their work is to find cures and save the lives of children.  They do a great job.  However not every life-threatening illness has a cure and not every child responds to the cures that do exist; then what?

 As a research hospital, they did and do what they do best – research.  St. Jude reacted by doing research and determining if there was more to do for bereaved families.  Who better to help them with that work then their own bereaved families.  They are creating what we, as individuals, were able to do for others based on the examples you gave to us during and after Catie’s illness.  We are simply sharing the stories of the loving support we received from you with St. Jude so that they can provide that support to all who may unfortunately need it.

 We will still work and pray for a cure.  The counter for this year is up and running – please login and have your prayers for a cure counted (  We will still continue raising money to fund the research and “pay for the day” on April 23rd.  We will still carry on Catie’s Wish thanks to all the guidance and love we have been blessed to receive from you.

 The work on the Quality of Life volunteer committee began on January 25th (the 4th anniversary of Catie’s death) and will continue for the next two years.  Please pray for us as we work with these families and be assured of our continued prayers for you.

God is good, all the time,

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


Remembrance of You

My darling Catie,

I can remember the first time I saw you.  You were preciously pink and chubby – huge for one of our babies – and you had that great baby smell!!  You didn’t cry like most newborns but rather slept peacefully in my arms.  When we brought you home I was amazed at how you instantly shrunk in comparison to your two year old brother, Max, and three year old sister, Maggie.  Instead of watching you in awe we immediately needed to protect you from them.  However, they like us were drawn to you.  They wanted to hold you and watch you but we kept them at a safe distance.

One day you were asleep in your car seat safely on a chair away from them and you made a noise.  It was a yawn or a grunt; nothing that required immediate attention and yet Max ran toward you.  He reached you before he could be stopped and in a flash climbed up the chair and into your car seat.  Once there he knew what was wrong and gave you back your pacifier which had fallen out of your mouth as you slept.  You instantly snuggled back down to sleep sucking away on the pacifier and Max jumped down thrilled that he had helped you.  While I wanted to correct him for 1) climbing on the chair, 2) touching you without washing his hands, (and there must have been more points); I saw his face.  He was so proud and in love with you that I knew he would never hurt you or allow anyone else to hurt you.

As you grew so did my love for you.  You were so independent.  You would play alone watching and copying Max and Maggie.  They would play with you or show you how things worked but you were happy on your own.  Each day, what you most loved was your naptime.  I would carry you upstairs, change you, read Miss Moppet to you – you loved when “the cat jumped upon the mouse” and then we would pray, eventually you would be able say “Gob Bess Cadee”. 

I miss you and yet I know that you are near.  This spring M.E. explained to me why you visit me as a ladybug or a butterfly but why you cannot come back to visit as yourself.  She told me that if you came back, I would never let you go – just like Mary Magdala with Jesus in the garden the morning of the Resurrection “Jesus said to her, “Stop holding me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.   But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” (John 20:17) Why is it that the young have so much wisdom?  Do their innocent lives seem like a constant prayer to God?  Is all their awe and wonder and their unending conversation, when no one is listening, really a conversation with God?

I am not alone in missing you.  We all miss you.  For all of us there are still days that the pain of missing you is overwhelming.  There are days when the number of children that we follow on caringbridge sites becomes too much.  That happened this summer and so I stopped reading and writing but I did not stop praying for a cure.  The e-mail that was created for me while you were sick at St. Jude, I simply did not open for five months;  I opened it this Friday.  There were 5,000 updates from families that we know of with children who have been touched by cancer.  I read several of them and the wind was immediately taken out of my sails.  The line written by one mother about her son repeated itself over and over in my mind.  “You were born with this and it – one cell – lay dormant in your body until one day when your life and our lives were changed forever.”  This mother’s son is alive.  He has battled cancer for years.  He has gone into remission and survived two relapses.  He is still fighting.

As I was reading this at home, Maggie was alone at high school listening to a presentation about the Four Diamonds Fund – a fund that raises money and awareness for pediatric cancer care and research here in the state of PA.  She was listening to this family talk about their son and his cancer.  Maggie was blown away as she listened to his mother talk about the strides they have taken with ALL (acute lymphoblastic leukemia) the most common form of childhood cancer.  The mother continued to talk about how her son’s treatment began within 24 hours of his diagnosis.  She continued to talk about all the research that is being done.  That hit Maggie like a ton of bricks – Catie’s cancer was so rare there will never be suitable research completed for it and therefore a cure is far from being found.  What is a 14 year old supposed to do with that information?  Pray.

The Fab 5 – Swimmers

Last night as I sat on the couch alone in my bedroom crying and sad, listening to everyone eating dinner and not really chatting or having a good time – probably because no one knew why I left the table – I thought back to Catie’s last day downstairs.  She had not been downstairs in a few days but on that Thursday she asked to go downstairs and sit in her favorite chair in the family room.  I would have carried her anywhere or done anything to make her happy – I still would.  I was so hopeful that it was a sign that she was getting better.  I was always looking and sure that the miracle I prayed for was right around the corner.  (In many ways it still is.)  Catie did not want to play or read or listen to music.  She wanted to sit and listen to us enjoying and living life, just like I did last night.   As I sat there, Maggie joined me and she shared what happened at school on Friday.  Eventually everyone came up and joined me.  Catie and all that happened to her and to us is something that we share with each other.  It is something that we all struggle with and something in which we all search for meaning and peace in the pieces and the memories that we have.

Why did I stop reading the updates?  It was too much.  The fab 5 are growing and happy and healthy and they need us.  They need us living in our present not our past.  This decision to stop reading gave us the best summer that we have had as a family since moving to PA – now five years ago.  All the kids did swim team and swam on the same team.  M.E. loved every minute of the experience.  Maggie joining Marching Band for her high school and was a member of the Color Guard. We as a family played basketball most nights (Kevin and Mia vs. Christine, Maggie and Max). 

Maggie – Trinity Color Guard

This summer we made a second trip down to St. Jude.  This trip was initiated by Kevin Mills and his family.  IF you have been with us since the beginning, Kevin is the Elvis Tribute Artist that met Catie in Memphis and turned her into an Elvis fan.  He asked if he could go to St. Jude and give a concert for the kids and staff.  We joined Kevin and his family for the concert.  What a great time!  From St. Jude we drove to South Carolina to visit Grammy and Poppy.  Grammy had just fallen and needed surgery and special care in a rehab facility.  We were charged with making sure the house and Poppy were in good shape. They were.  It was a whirlwind trip and we arrived home three days before Maggie began her high school career at Trinity.

Kevin Mills at St. Jude

Life became ridiculously busy for us with the five kids now in school – and two different schools.  As everyone was adjusting to their new schedules and that includes M.E. in school all day, we were all shocked with the news on September 9th that Grammy’s heart had stopped.  M.E. took the news the hardest.  She looked at us with eyes filled with tears and said that she never knew you could die without being sick, having a disease or an accident.  For the next several weeks M.E. would not let us out of her sight.  She is doing much better now.

The tribute to the life lived by Grammy, M. Jane O’Brien was beautiful.  She was well loved as she cared for so many; none more than George (Poppy) for more than thirty years.  She is safely home with Catie and that alone gives us great comfort.  Please keep George in your prayers.

Missing someone is simply a sign that you have loved someone, and that is beautiful.  In November we remember all those who have gone before us – those that were young and those that were old, those that died suddenly and those that suffered from a long illness.  We pray for their souls that they may be resting in peace.  We miss them.  We love them.  We pray that one day we will blessed to join them.

MaryCatherine while missing you does not go away – though some days it is easier – we continue to do what you asked us to do.  We continue to pray for a cure, share your story and raise awareness and funding for an end to pediatric cancer. 

I love you with all my heart.  Please keep watch over all of us and bring us safely home to you.



PS – The GiveThanksWalk is this Saturday in 90 communities across the country – Team Catie will be in Harrisburg and Allentown.  Please go to and register to walk, make a donation, or pray that we have great weather.



2012 Give Thanks Walk

2012 Give Thanks Walk to support St. Jude

Come join Us!

November 17, 2012
9 a.m.
Reservoir Park

We would like to cordially invite you to join us for the 2012 St. Jude Give thanks. Walk.

in Harrisburg, PA. on Saturday, November 17. Supporters in 90 communities across the

country will participate in this exciting, family-friendly event that helps raise funds to

support the children of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.  We will be in Harrisburg,

and we would love to see you, but if one of the other locationsacross the country is better

for you, that is great as well.  Log on to to register today.