11

The Most Beautiful Morning Spent Dancing in the Rain

cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo by Heather: http://flickr.com/photos/michar/2530447234/

cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo by Heather: http://flickr.com/photos/michar/2530447234/

We are faced with challenges every day.  We also faced with a choice of how we respond to these challenges.  Today I had a slap in the face reminder of how, even when faced with the worst hand a parent could ever be dealt, there are people that choose to seek the positives… there are people that choose to Dance in the Rain.

Lilee-Jean was born 5 days before my girls in late 2010.  She started her life just like every other child… but 10 months later, something horrible started to grow inside her little developing brain – a tumour called Gliobastoma (GBM).  For the next year and a half, Lilee and her family did every treatment they could to beat this awful disease.  Although the chances of winning were very low, they kept fighting… After months and months of treatments and battles, they started to feel like they had a chance of beating this tumour.

Just when the sun started to shine a tiny bit on this family, the dark thunder clouds came rolling back in and another tumour was discovered… their worst nightmare came true: time officially became the enemy.  Chelsey, LJ’s mother, shared this quote in a recent blog post:

“Today we fight. Tomorrow we fight. The day after, we fight. And if this disease plans on whipping us, it better bring a lunch, ’cause it’s gonna have a long day doing it.”
― Jim Beaver, Life’s That Way: A Memoir

They still fight every day. As devastating as this has been to this family, they somehow have had the power to change their lens… to understand that if there is a chance of shortened time, they need to embrace every single moment they have with their precious daughter.  Chelsey wrote,

Once again, as always, with urgency, we are living. We are laughing. We are dancing. And we are singing…

…Andrew [LJ’s father] and I have compiled a realistic, relatively short and doable list, not only to fill Lilee-Jean’s life to the brim with love, laughter and magic, but to keep ourselves focused on our now and not our later.
We have chosen to call it “Dancing In The Rain” in stead of a “bucket” list for obvious reasons, and if time allows, we will hopefully be adding to it as we cross things off.

There is no better way to fight disease and to fight death, than to live. So when we finish our last few stomach churning, heart wrenching “to do’s” they will be put aside, and left to gather dust until the time comes for them to rear their ugly heads… IF that time does come.

One of the items on the list was “go to school”.  Because of Andrew’s ties to our community (he attended our school years ago and is very well know in Agassiz), LJ’s story has grabbed and wrenched the hearts of many of us in Agassiz and at Kent School (I wrote about this here after she came to visit us following surgery).  Both our kindergarten teacher (Stacey Garrioch @garrioch) and I reached out to the family to offer LJ a chance to spend her first day at school with us.  Andrew and Chelsey agreed that this would be a great fit so this morning, we welcomed our newest student to Kent School.

Photo from Chelsey Whittle

Photo from Chelsey Whittle

Stacey set the day up as a typical day filled with tons of play-based learning for Lilee-Jean and her classmates.  As with every new member of the class, the students were so excited to meet and play with LJ – who showed up with a big smile and her “lucky bear” and new Tinkerbell lunch box.  She hung her coat up on the hook with her name on it, met her buddy and sat down and joined the class.  She was, of course, one of the VIPs so this meant she led some songs, shared calendar time, and told us all about the weather. She was a real Kent student in Division 10.  I think the best part of the day was when I walked in to check in to see how things were going and I couldn’t see Lilee-Jean; she completely blended in and was just ‘one of the kids’ playing in the house centre.  She was busy feeding her baby with two other students like any typical kindergarten student would be doing.  The other times I popped in to take in the moments, she was either pointing out the L in a puzzle and saying this stood for Lilee-Jean, eating her snacks with her classmates at the table, writing on the white boards, or dancing the Gummy Bear Dance with her friends.  I did not want this day to end but I knew she was a typical two year-old and needed her afternoon nap.

Photo from Jessica at the Agassiz-Harrison Observer

Photo from Jessica at the Agassiz-Harrison Observer

I didn’t want this day to end because I wanted to continue to be able to pop in and see Lilee-Jean bringing joy to all of us by just being herself in her first day of school. I imagine this is what Andrew and Chelsey go through almost every moment of their lives… and unfortunately, the moments must fly by.  At noon, Lilee-Jean had her lunch and hung out and played with her classmates.  She then gave every child and adult a big warm hug and left school with a huge smile as she danced in the puddles and caught the rain drops in her hands.  Tonight she will have a girls night as she and her mommy go to a spa and a hotel to continue their dancing in the rain.

As I sat in my office to collect my thoughts, I wondered: when faced with life’s challenges, do we look through the lens of all the problems we cannot change?  Or do we choose to change the lens and see all the wonderful moments life has to offer and dance in the rain? Andrew and Chelsey are going through what every parent fears. They CHOOSE to embrace the life they have with their beautiful daughter, Lilee-Jean.  Because they choose to do this and choose to share their story, I am forever changed. Lilee-Jean may not live on forever but all that she and her family have taught me about life and love will live on through me and so many others that have been touched with their story.

Thank you so much to LJ, Andrew, Chelsey for sharing today with us.  Thank you for letting so many of us into your lives through the window of social media. Thank you for inspiring me and so many others. Thank you for Lilee-Jean for allowing me to spend the most beautiful morning dancing in the rain.

Love for Lilee… forever. xoxo

Please support this family by going to Chelsey’s blog here and liking Love For Lilee on Facebook.

My daughters sang a song they love and one that I know means a lot to Lilee and her parents.  Have a look at the video below or view it here.

14

Small Efforts Can Make a Big Difference

A simple hello and a wave.

Now that summer has arrived, I am able to spend more time with my daughters.  My wife has been telling me how every Tuesday, when the garbage and recycling is being picked up, the girls run over to the window to watch.  Recently, the guys that pick up the garbage (From Sierra Disposal) have been making an extra effort to wave and say hi to the girls in the window.

Today, we were on the back patio just about to eat lunch when we heard the brakes from the “Gar Kuck” (this is LilWejr-ese for Garbage Truck) and the girls bolted to the front window.  Although I missed their screams of excitement, I did manage to grab my phone in time to catch the last half of the scene (sorry about my talk-to-the-kids-voice).

These guys (the one on the left in particular) could drive on and do their job as they have been directed to do.  Instead they take the 45 seconds to do their job AND make a small effort to make a big difference to my daughters.  Why do they do this?  I am not sure but I would assume that they want to make my daughters smile; in addition, the feeling they get from the waves and smiles from the girls probably brightens their day too.

As parents, educators, and community members, how often do we walk right past people to do the job we have been told to do.  How often do we do the job AND brighten another person’s day with a hello and a smile.

I do not know these gentleman, but I do know that my kids get so excited to see the “Gar Kuck” every Tuesday.  It is the small efforts of these guys that make a big difference to our family.

To these Sierra Waste employees: thank you for doing what you do every day – and thank you for demonstrating and teaching how easy it is to make people smile.

Thanks to Johnny Bevacqua for relating this to the book “The Fred Factor“.  These guys are definitely “Freds”.

14

Leadership: How We Treat People

Lessons from a friend.

This morning I lost someone who brought so much laughter and joy to all those around him.  Ben Meyer – a caring friend, committed teammate, and wonderful person – lost his battle with cancer.

I recently had a conversation with a close friend who lost his mother to cancer at a young age. I asked him,”How do you continue on in life after such a devastating loss?”.  He said, “We have no choice… we live and continue to model and teach the lessons that my mom taught us.  Her legacy lives on each day through me, my brothers, my students, and our children.”

There has been much talk on Facebook about the laughter that Ben brought so many of us with his story-telling and positive outlook on life; you had no choice but to get sore cheeks from laughter when he was telling his legendary stories.  No matter how many times you heard them, (because there was always someone there that had not yet herd them), his strength in re-telling it sent tears rolling down our faces.  Just 3 days ago, when he was struggling to talk, he retold one last story to 5 of us surrounding him in the hospital… that is what he was all about – making people smile.

He treated EVERY person around him with the same care, energy and happiness that just made you feel like you were better because you spent time with him.  Ben was a leader and he knew his strengths.  He never hacked down those around him; instead he chose to build everyone else up.  Ben was not the best ball player… but he played on the best teams because of the positive impact he had on others.

My director of instruction said to me the other day, “People do not remember positions or rank or certificates… they remember how you treat people”.  Ben treated everyone as if he was so glad that you were near him at that moment.  You had no choice but to “catch” his positive energy.  Ben will always be remembered… for the wonderful way he treated people.

The legacy will continue... all smiles, all the time.

When someone passes on, we often hear the good things that he/she brought to our lives.  For Ben Meyer, he heard this throughout his life because that is how he led his life – it was all about the good things.  He continually challenged himself and savoured the moments.

Ben taught me a lot as a person but the most important lesson was a simple but  essential one: treat people well.  I am thankful for the 11 years I knew him.  It is now up to those of us who knew him to continue to model and teach the lessons he taught us… and the impact and legacy of Ben Meyer will continue on forever.

We love ya Benny…

5

Learning from 6 year-olds

I woke up today with a sense of failure.  Not failure because of my beloved Canucks and their loss in the Stanley Cup Final (or win of 2nd place) but because of what occurred with our city following the game.  Many of our citizens made decisions last night that made me watch in disgust.  In other countries, they riot for freedom, democracy, and equality; last night, some unfortunate people rioted just because.

At school today, many intermediate teachers have used the riots as a teachable moment – to discuss the issues such as mob mentality, groupthink, and the impact of bystanders.  As I was walking down the primary hall, I came across the bulletin board of all the posters from the Canucks playoffs… but the kids had added something that, to me, said it all:

A thank you from our grade 1/2 class.

A thank you from our grade 1/2 class.

Leave it to 6 and 7 year-olds to, again, teach me what it is really all about.