Hakuna Matata

Happy summer! I cannot believe that it is August and summer is almost over! I know I’m a teacher and I have 2 months off….but that is far from the truth! Every morning while get ready for the day I think about what I want to write in my blog this month, and then the day begins and there is not one free minute! Life is very busy with a 9 year old, a one year old and running a foundation, as well as continued thoughts of my deceased child. She may not be here physically but she’s always in my heart and on my mind and she also requires and deserves time throughout my day.
So this morning while getting ready I promised myself that I would sit down and write while Ava is sleeping, Luke is busy looking at fidget spinners (lol) and I don’t have to work or have any plans for the day!

So although this summer has been great, it did start out rough. Geoff’s dad and our kids papa passed away Memorial Day weekend after battling cancer. I know what you’re thinking…cancer in our family again. I hate that word. I hate this disease. I hate that cancer took our daughter and now our children’s Papa. Plain and simple- Cancer sucks. It’s been a summer of changes, trying to navigate and figure out this world without this man in our lives. I will say my husband’s family is very strong and positive, but things will never be the same and are a little different without Ken around. Ken was a great father, Papa, and friend. He was an honest, hard-working man that would help anyone at the drop of a hat. I am grateful that he has instilled his morals and values into his family, my husband and his grandkids. For this I am forever grateful to him.

Ken loved spending time with his family and that’s just what we did and are doing this summer. We spent some much needed time this summer doing something very simple- camping as a family. We spent a month camping at Brennan Beach on Lake Ontario for the month of July. It was relaxing, fun and we made great memories as a family and with our friends. The simplicity of it made it that much more memorable… campfires, swimming, beach, pool, fishing, baseball, corn hole, sea glass hunting, family/friend dinners, conversations with no tv, laughs, laughs and more laughs. It was a month full of memories that will last a lifetime. Each night we would walk down to the beach to watch the sunset (BTW Lake Ontario has THE most beautiful sunsets) and Luke would go off sea glass hunting and I would be chasing down Ava as she wanted to run around the beach. One night this woman was watching us and she came up to me and commented on how beautiful Ava’s big blue eyes were. Then she asked the dreaded question….How many kids do you have? I’m ashamed for saying dreaded. I really don’t mind the question, but it always makes me stop and think and tear up just a little. I’m proud to say I have 3 kids, I just wish all three were running around. I hesitantly said 3 kids knowing I was going to have to explain where the 3rd one was and she quickly caught on to my hesitation and laughed thinking I was burnt out with 3 children. That’s when the conversation changes. I quickly said my middle child had passed away with tears under my sunglasses. She immediately responded with “Im so sorry” and went on to ask how old my kids were. I started in chronological order and when I got to Gracie I stumbled, luckily my friend was standing there and said Gracie would be 7 and helped me finish the conversation. Seven… I couldn’t get that out of my mind. I haven’t seen her since she was 21 months old. How could my baby be seven? And how amazing is it that my friends can step in and finish a conversation for me with accurate facts of my daughter after she’s been gone for so long?! Almost every night we watched that sunset, almost every night someone commented on Ava’s eyes and every night I remembered my other blue-eyed baby girl. When it was time for bed each night we would pop in a movie. I have no idea how this happened, as I haven’t seen this movie around in quite some time, but Lion King was the movie chosen each night. Lion King was Gracie’s favorite movie and brings back some awesome memories of when we went camping with her at Daggett Lake- Rosie’s Love. Gracie loved that movie and loved the songs “I just can’t wait to be King” and “Hakuna Matata”. She would dance around to Hakuna Matata all the time. Each night while putting Ava to bed I would sit and listen to those words… “It means No Worries for the rest of your days… it’s a problem free, philosophy.. hakuna matata” and promised myself to live up to those words each day on our vacation and I think we did! One night a bunch of the kids were in the camper with us when it was on and they were all singing it and I couldn’t stop smiling as it was so wonderful to have such happiness around. I was very thankful for this great month.

July was a wonderful month…camping with friends, family wedding, spending time with cousins, and planning a memory making trip for a local family whose 1 year old daughter is on palliative chemo. It was such an honor to be able to help this family plan and carry out a trip with their family that created memories that will last a lifetime. The whole time we were planning this trip I thought of our Gracie and about how this is exactly why and what we started the foundation for. I hate the reason why we do what we do and that other families have to go through what we went through, but am happy that we can do this for others because of this foundation and its support. Many, many prayers, positive thoughts and wishes for miracles for this family. Hakuna Matata to them <3

Overall I’m sad to see July go, but August brought a very important, humbling day for our family and the foundation. Amazing Gracie’s Gift went out to Albany for our annual backpack event. We went to Albany Med and to the Ronald McDonald House to bring school supplies to patients and their family members so that mom and dad could check one thing off the “to do” list and not worry about how and when they were going to get this chore done while their child and family were going through some tough times. We started out at the clinic that Gracie visited so many times before she passed away. When you spend the majority of your child’s life in certain places they begin to be like your second home. When we walked into clinic with our supplies I immediately felt a little closer to Gracie and also felt at home. It’s been many years since we were there with Gracie, but to me things have not changed. There are still kids running around with IV poles, nurses getting vitals, the “payment” window, the playroom, parents watching their children play and waiting anxiously for their child’s levels and report from the doctor, doctors with that white sheet in their hands with their patients levels on them, social workers playing with the kids and talking to the parents…it all brings back so many memories. The people who work in clinic are angels. They are full of energy and send out positive vibes to all who are there. They are simply amazing. While helping kids pick and fill their backpack I was very “in tune” to what was going on around me. I could tell which families were getting good news and were going home feeling positive and I could tell which families were going to or have gotten bad news. Unfortunately we have been there and done that and even though it was 5 years ago I still know exactly what’s going on by just being there and watching. I left the hospital with tears as one mom told me her wish is to have her child be pain free and as I watched another family wait for their child’s report and scan results, knowing the uneasiness and anxiety that comes with that appointment.

After we left the hospital we headed to The Ronald McDonald House to host another Backpack Event. The minute you walk in this house you feel the love! It is loud, happy, full of kids, toys, activities, food and tons of support, love and laughter. If you need to smile head to The Ronald House in Albany and volunteer some time. They are always so appreciative and friendly. Here I met some wonderful families and kids who are going through some pretty rough times with smiles on their faces. I had the opportunity to sit down with one girl at the house after everyone left and hear her story and just talk with her. She is 18 years old and is dying. She has cancer. She is soft spoken, beautiful, strong, very humble and so very appreciative of everything around her. She told me her story and asked me to talk about Gracie. When she left I looked at Debbie, cried and said I couldn’t believe this was happening. I also couldn’t believe that roles were reversed at one time. We were that family sitting there almost 6 years ago about to lose our daughter. Sometimes it doesn’t seem like it was real.

On our way home from the backpack events I sat in the back, was quiet and had tears in my eyes the whole time. Happy tears and sad tears. Sad tears over the diagnosis of some of the patients I met, sad to know some parents were getting bad news that day, sad that the girl I met is dying, sad that Gracie isn’t here, sad that we were once that family, sad that cancer even exists, and sad that this was the first year that Ken was not there to be at one of his favorite events. But I also had happy tears. Happy tears that we were able to put smiles on so many kids faces this day, happy to hear kids laughing, happy to be able to go and support these families and kids, happy that our kids-Luke, Lawton and David were so grown up, mature, well behaved and helpful at the RMH, happy we there and doing this event in Gracie’s memory and honor, happy we were doing this in memory of Ken too as he loved this day, happy we’ve had a great summer, happy we have more memories to make this summer, happy a new niece will be added to the family this month and happy as I thought of the words to hakuna matata…. “It means no worries for the rest of your days”…. As that is what I witnessed from some wonderful families in Albany.

I know this was a long, rambling blog, but in my defense I haven’t written in a long time! Enjoy the rest of your summer, make some great memories, put smiles on others faces, support Amazing Gracie’s Gift and childhood cancer month in September and live the rest of your summer with no worries! Please help me wish Hakuna Matata and love to all of our families!
Hakunan Matata to all of you!!

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