It is almost 10 months since Julia passed. It seems like so much time has gone by, but then again it seems like it was yesterday. I don’t have the desire to write anymore – there is no inspiration, nothing I can say that will make it better. Previously, writing was a way to keep everyone informed and provided me a release from the stress. Now it seems like a task as there is nothing to write that will serve any purpose. I can’t tell anyone of Julia’s recent treatment or convey her words of wisdom; nor does writing give me any sense of liberation from a mother’s grief. It can take days to write a paragraph when before it took only minutes.
These recent weeks have been so difficult, perhaps due to the “days of firsts”; the first birthdays, the first Mother’s Day and the first Father’s Day, all milestones of “firsts” without our little girl. I find myself frightened; wondering how I will survive the coming years without Julia, realizing that with each passing day Julia seems to be further removed from this world.
At times, I am terrified by this ambition we have taken on to fill her shoes, trying to keep her light shining in this very dark world. Will starting Julia’s foundation keep her life’s mission alive or will we fail, only to see her vision of making a difference in other children’s lives fade away? And if we are not successful; will it be like losing her again? Will Julia be forgotten, slowly erased from everyone’s memories?
And then something happens, something that helps us to carry on… this is the tale of two benches.
In the months following Julia’s passing, her teachers, her friends and their parents wanted to find a way to remember her. They searched for the perfect tribute. The idea came up to dedicate a bench in Julia’s honor and to place it at the playground at the school. This bench would be a “buddy bench”, a bench where a child with no friend to play with at recess could sit. By sitting on the bench, this child would let others know he wanted someone to play with or she needed a friend.
Julia’s school began a quest to find a special bench. They discovered the perfect bench; one that could be custom painted. A dedication was planned at the end of May. We joined Julia’s teachers, friends and parents on a beautiful spring morning. It was Olympic Day, one of Julia’s favorite days at school, and her friends stood on the playground, holding pink, black and white balloons.
We watched as children marched in wearing zebra stripped socks and we listened as Julia’s favorite songs played. We cried as words were spoken about her life and about the purpose of this “buddy bench”, knowing how much that purpose was like Julia. And then, we lifted the cover to unveil a perfect bench, more like a sculpture; a pink butterfly with black and white zebra wings. A perfect tribute, so beautiful, so Julia.
After we uncovered the bench, Julia’s friends released the balloons and then, as if by cue, a breeze blew. The balloons were carried into a nearby tree, getting caught in the branches, lingering, appearing to send a message to Julia’s friends. Then out of the crowd came a voice, “look Julia wants the balloons to stay with us”. And I listened as the children laughed, and I looked at the buddy bench and smiled, knowing that Julia would always be there with them. There would always be this bench to remind them of Julia, of how she was their friend, of her message. And in that moment, I smiled, knowing they would remember and each one would make a difference.
But this is a tale of two benches. You see at the end of the May, I received an email from a stranger. She explained that she had followed the story through one of Julia’s preschool teachers who would post the link to my Carepage updates on her Facebook page. The stranger explained that she too was a teacher, but not of preschoolers. She taught fourth grade students at a charter school in Paterson, New Jersey.
As I read the email, she spoke of sharing Julia’s story, my blog posts, as a way to teach her students that cancer does not just happen to old people. And with sharing Julia’s tale of courage and strength, of love and generosity; she also taught them, through Julia, about compassion and kindness.
As tears streamed down my checks, I continued to read the email. These children who recently learned of Julia’s Grace, decided they had to do something, something for Julia. They wanted to donate to the foundation, but circumstances did not make that possible. The children decided to find another way to remember Julia, to spread her message of love and generosity. This class of student’s, that Julia was never lucky enough to meet, found a bench. They painted the bench with a clear blue sky and white puffy clouds, with butterflies, and in bright letters they wrote “Julia’s Bench”. They painted a bench to donate to Gilda’s House in Hackensack, NJ, where it will be a “buddy bench” for cancer patients of all ages. It is beautiful; like the child that inspired it, like the children who painted it, like those that will sit and on it to rest.
The tears wiped away, I finished reading the email from this person who I had never met, and a smile came across my face. A smile brought by knowing our girl had made a difference once again; knowing that Julia will always be with this fourth grade class, her new friends; reminding them to be kind, to care, to help others.
So here we are at the end of the story. This isn’t just the story of two beautiful benches, with two different groups of children. This is the story of a gift, a message that I believe was sent at just the right time. These two benches helped me remember something I was told to do months before, a reminder to “Think about your children”; to think about all the children and to know that they will carry on Julia’s message, her legacy, her Grace.
#6 Think about your children