As I sat at a stoplight, my phone flashed that I had received a message and with a quick glance, I saw it was from Lilee-Jean’s father, Andrew. I had constantly checked Facebook for updates on LJ in the past week hoping for some miracle… but as I sat parked on the side of the road, I read “She’s gone, man…”. I sat there hunched over in my car sobbing. It was a moment so many of knew was coming yet nobody knew how to prepare for. All I could do was sit there and picture Andrew and Chelsey holding their beautiful baby girl… a girl only 2 years and 9 months old that had captured the hearts of thousands. From the Love For Lilee Facebook Page:
It is with broken hearts we make this post.. As of 5:25pm, our princess Lilee-Jean Frances Putt, our angel here on earth, is now looking down on us from heaven. She had a rough day today, and is no longer in any distress. She passed away curled up in Mommy’s arms, listening to daddy play his guitar. – Chels & Andrew.
It has almost been a week since the world lost a beautiful princess. My wife and I have had many hugs and held our daughters so tightly that they asked us to stop. I have written about my relationship with LJ and her family before when they visited at our school following surgery because students at our school had fundraised for her. I also had the honour of being Lilee-Jean’s only principal when she attended her first day of kindergarten at our school as Chelsey and Andrew decided to embrace LJ’s last few months and Dance in the Rain.
I started to reflect when someone asked me, “How do you know the family?” I wasn’t sure how to sum up how I knew Lilee-Jean and her family but I just said, “I know them because of this incredibly beautiful and heartbreaking journey.” I met LJ because of the fight; however this family captured my heart because of the way they embraced life… the way they took whatever was dealt their way – and danced.
Last night, I saw a picture of Mary (LJ’s grandmother) holding Lilee-Jean shortly after she was born. It came to me that at that moment, a few days after LJ was born, we were also holding our girls for the first time. At that moment, nobody knew what the next 2 years and 9 months would bring. This is the thing that scares me so much… there is no warning for this and it could happen to any of us.
When I lost a good buddy and teammate of mine last year, I was really struggling so I called my friend Mike to ask about how he lives on after the passing of his mother at a very early age. He said, ” it is a life-long struggle… but although she is gone, I know that she lives on through me and through my kids in how we teach and how we act – we live her legacy”.
The story of Lilee-Jean and her family has been followed by thousands and thousands of people in the Fraser Valley and Worldwide through social media, radio, TV, and print. The family has somehow found the strength to recently reach out and thank individuals for little things we did along the way. As I was reflecting on the image of Mary with Lilee-Jean, I thought about what WE, those who have been touched by this family, can do to carry on Love For Lilee… I reflected on how we can continue to better our lives, carry this beautiful angel with us… and live the legacy of Lilee-Jean.
I want the family to know the impact they have had on me. I want them to know how they have made me a better person. I want them to know that I am a better parent and educator and how the message of Love For Lilee will be carried on in homes and schools for years to come.
The Legacy of Lilee-Jean in my life:
- Be vulnerable and share who we are. Chelsey and Andrew let so many of us into their lives. As difficult as this must have been at times, they shared their love for Lilee which led to so many others #LoveForLilee.
- Connect. Brene Brown wrote, ““Connection is why we are here. We are hardwired to connect with others”. We often get busy in our lives and isolate ourselves in our work and in our homes. It is important to connect with others – especially within our own communities and neighbourhoods.
- Cherish the moments. I will always remember the photos and stories of Andrew making lunches and having tea parties… of Chelsey snuggling with LJ in her bed… of walks on the beach with family in Harrison… of the moments that were taken to feel and listen to life – the sound of a child’s breathing and the feeling of her beating heart. When they cherished these moments… it made me do the same.
- Show empathy. Love for Lilee shows how empathetic many of us can be… and this models and teachers this virtue to our kids.
Serve others. We often get wrapped up in trying to become happy by serving ourselves when true happiness comes from serving others. Love For Lilee brought so many examples of people reaching out as a community – the story of how the Chilliwack Chiefs Junior Hockey team delivered snow for LJ’s Christmas morning in August still brings tears to my eyes. Donate to a great cause. Volunteer to help others.
- Come together more often as a community. We often hear about the good ole days of community and how we do not have this anymore. Lilee-Jean brought out the best in the communities of Agassiz-Harrison, Chilliwack and Abbotsford to prove that there is still so much strength in community. Seeing pictures of an entire neighbourhood decorate and get dressed up for Hallowe’en in July so LJ could go trick or treating one last time…
hearing about and supporting so many pageants, parties and fundraisers so the family could be with Lilee every day…. seeing the picture of Chelsey’s road lined with pink balloons as she arrived home a few days ago. Just a few of the endless stories of how this beautiful little girl brought out the best in her community.
- Embrace the day. It was so inspiring to see a family embrace every minute of every day… we can all learn from this. There will never be another day like today – what shall we do today? Hold on to your kids.
- DANCE IN THE RAIN. “Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass… it is about learning to dance in the rain.” This saying is now up on my wall and will guide me in so much of what I do.
Thank you so much to the Whittle and Putt families for inviting my family into theirs. I will always have a part of LJ in my heart and I promise continue to live the legacy that is Lilee-Jean Frances Putt.
To learn more about Lilee-Jean and how to continue to support the family, please go to the Love For Lilee website or Facebook Page.