The Hope & Empowerment Event in Indianapolis last month was truly a hopeful and empowering experience for me. I loved meeting and sharing with my “peeps” in the pediatric cancer community. My friend – the organizer, Michelle Tucker – and I were saying to one another that if you didn’t know that you were in the company of a bunch of bereaved parents, you would never know that we were all grieving parents. What a fun, energetic, hilarious, compassionate, intelligent and motivated group of people they are! It was humbling to be a part of the event, and I learned a great deal; I came away inspired to continue working to raise awareness, and support positive change, in the world of pediatric cancer.
One of the highlights, for me, was meeting pediatric oncologist Dr. Bassem Razzouk of Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital. Dr. Razzouk has worked at St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital with the doctors who designed Katie’s treatment protocol. These are the only doctors of whom I know - in the entire country - who are working to cure the rare cancer that Katie had. Though she wasn’t cured, I am deeply grateful that they continue the quest. Dr. Razzouk is the best kind of doctor: compassionate, wise, funny, honest, gentle and brilliant. It was a privilege to serve on a panel discussion with him; I hope to meet him again.
It was also a pleasure to share the weekend with David and Gregg. Seeing Indianapolis for the first time, exploring, enjoying the kind hospitality of the natives, was great fun. And the icing on the cake was the fact that my little piece was published in the April issue of Redbook Magazine that weekend – I bought my first copy at the airport! (It’s the last paragraph on the last page.)
Meeting and being on a panel with Patrick Doughtie (the writer and co-director of the movie, “Letters to God,” which premieres this week) was also inspiring. Patrick and his family are humorous, humble and devoted. The screening of the movie was a powerful experience for our family; it is realistic, funny, sad and inspirational (I give it “two thumbs up”).
Now, we have an exchange student staying with us for 10 days. It’s a wonderful opportunity; David stayed with her family last spring, in their small village in the south of France. Gregg, David and I visited with them last summer while we were traveling, and are very pleased to be able to reciprocate their hospitality by hosting their daughter.
Yesterday after school, I picked up our student and one of her friends, and drove them to a nearby shopping mall. We shopped in many of the clothing stores that appeal to girls of their age, which is 15 years old…the same age that Katie would be, if she were alive.
I enjoyed their enthusiasm and their banter about what they were seeing and buying. I let them have some space, but stayed close enough to help if they needed assistance with currency, sale prices, answering salespeople, etc. I observed their taste and expressions…and felt the absence of my own daughter intensely.
I wished I was with Katie, hearing her ideas, seeing her choose clothes she would like. I wondered how her taste would have changed by now, and wished I could buy some things for her. I wondered if she would be embarrassed by having me accompany her; I wondered how she would interact with the French students.
One thing I feel certain about is the fact that she would have surrendered her room with good grace to our guest. But to be perfectly honest, it has surprised me to find that having a dark-haired, 15-year old girl staying in my dark-haired, part-French, would-be-15-year old daughter’s room is a little stressful on my emotions. It hadn’t occurred to me that she and Katie were the same age, or that her presence might trigger a grief response in me.
Last night, Gregg had a work function and David was playing in a golf tournament, so I took our guest out to dinner by myself. We enjoyed good conversation and food and had some laughs, but I think I am simply missing the intense, mother-daughter, forged-in-the-fires-of-cancer closeness which Katie and I shared, and which I share with no-one else. It’s another facet of this “new life” that I hadn’t anticipated. I pray that our guest will feel happy and welcome, each moment that she is here. That’s the gift that I would like to give to her, no matter whether I am actively grieving or not.