Happily ever after and once upon a time
On a flight from Minneapolis to Orlando, the onboard movie kept cutting in and out, much to the frustration of all who were trying to watch it. After many different stops and starts, all viewers were able to finally watch a good chunk of the movie until the pilot announced that it was time for our final descent, thus we would not be able to finish the movie. To hopefully soothe some ruffled feathers, he joyfully announced, “I am sorry ladies and gentlemen that we will be unable to show today’s movie, Dear John, to the end. Let’s just say the boy gets the girl, and they all live happily ever after.” Since I was only half-heartedly watching (or attempting to watch in between praying for my life and squeezing the blood out of my husband’s hand because this was a flight back before Freedom Day), I didn’t care much about the ending, concentrating much more on what survival skills I might need to employ should anything go wrong.
All that energy spent on worrying about nothing. I had already lived through my worst nightmare, and at that point was still daily living with its aftershocks of medications and therapy visits. Sometimes, I look back and wonder why I wasted so much of my energy on all that worrying, often missing the joy of some of the best blessings I have ever received. The greatest of those has been the friends who have come along on our journey and who have loved our family in incredible ways.
One of those dear friends found us through Caring Bridge. She was a two-time survivor of thyroid cancer, a prolific supporter of those battling other illnesses and injuries, a prayer warrior extraordinaire, an avid outdoorswoman, and champion to returning soldiers and their families. Just writing this, I am amazed at all she could accomplish in a day. She befriended our family while Sawyer was still a patient at St. Mary’s hospital in Rochester, a tireless friend and encourager who would daily post our prayer requests on her webpage. Having never met in person, she helped orchestrate for our family to be guests at a Minnesota Twins game. We asked her to join us, because she we really wanted to meet her.
From our first moment together, our kids were smitten with the dynamo, they quickly named their “Auntie Stacy”. Over the years, we had other times we would get together, where she would prove that “auntie” was the perfect title. Very few know this, but it was she who gave us the inspiration for the Reed-A Cheetah program, buying the very first Reed-A Cheetah at the Mall of America’s Build-A-Bear workshop. She encouraged our kiddos’ interests, and even went so far as to ask them to be official photographers of one of the military hunts she helped organize for returning soldiers. Imagine the pride they had at being a part of the official team helping military families.
Shortly, before graduation, I received a message from her saying that she would like to return the favor, by taking pictures at Sawyer’s graduation party. We were ecstatic for such a gift, because we knew our evening would be hustle and bustle. She was so proud of the young man, who called her auntie and for whom she had relentlessly prayed.
Sadly, she wasn’t able to join our party, in the way we had hoped. A couple weeks before our Boy Wonder’s graduation, Auntie Stacy collapsed at work. Although, she was rushed to the hospital, the woman who to all of us was larger than life passed away six days before his big day. Her funeral service was held the day of his commencement, just three hours prior. Due to the distance between our homes, we were unable to attend.
Our hearts were broken. How could this happen? I shared our sadness on Facebook, and another dear friend, who wanted to honor Stacy’s life, stepped up at the last minute to fulfill her wish to photograph our evening. Although her presence was not like the ending of that in-flight movie, tucked quietly into the decorations of his party was one of the photographs our kids took of her on “official” duty. It wasn’t the “happily ever after” moment we would have all wished for. Yet, a love like hers never completely dies, but rather lingers forever, because once upon a time, my children were loved by Auntie Stacy.
*Special note: The Reed-A-Cheetah program is our family’s way of giving back to the hospital where Reed died. The Reed Stevens Legacy program is available at the Avera McKennan hospital in Sioux Falls, SD. A stuffed cheetah is given to the surviving siblings of any child who passes away at that medical facility. The cheetah (which was Reed’s favorite animal) is extremely rare in nature and so, too are the relationships that siblings share with each other. The cheetahs symbolize three children in Minnesota who understand what it is like to lose a special sibling.