Living the Legacy of Lilee-Jean

Sharing a moment with Lilee-Jean as her principal after her first day of kindergarten. (photo by Andrew Putt)

Sharing a moment with Lilee-Jean as her principal after her first day of kindergarten. (photo by Andrew Putt)

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.
  • Snow for Christmas in August. (photo via Chilliwack Times)

    Snow for Christmas in August. (photo via Chilliwack Times)

    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…
    #loveforlilee Hallowe'en

    #loveforlilee Hallowe’en

    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.

A family that changed me forever.

A family that changed me forever.

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.


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.