(I know I normally like to share a giggle with my snark-casm and ornery behavior when you come for a visit to my Land of Story. Those little behaviors have been sent to their rooms for the night so the “grown-ups” can have a chit chat. Not to worry, Snarky and Ornery will be back to play soon. I promise! How about grabbing a cuppa goodness and letting me share a sweet story with you? All cuddled and ready? All righty then…..to the Land of Story we go…)
I am a lover of stories. I especially love stories about heroes and heroines who overcome great difficulties to inspire others. Allow me to share a story about just such a heroine. She may be a bit young for a heroine, but she is fierce and determined. She may be little, but she is mighty. She is sugar and spice and well, maybe a wee bit of Tabasco…here, let me just tell you her story.
Our story begins last night, March 1, 2015. Trips to the Land of Nod are underway for our heroine and her brother. Their mother (aka me) is doing a last minute tidy around the kitchen. I glance at the clock which reads 11:22 pm. My heartstrings tug a bit and I take a deep breath to ease them. I head down the hall to my sweet daughter’s room. She is sleeping soundly with her arms wrapped around a mini stuffed Santa Claus doll. Even though she is twelve years old and just a fraction of an inch shorter than me, I can’t help but see her as the nine year old girl who held that same Santa doll on December 27, 2012 at exactly this same time…11:22 pm. Again, those heartstrings pull a little as I bend down, give her a smoochie on her cheek then leave her to her dreams. I notice the clock in her room on my way out. 11:25 pm …heartstrings are loosening…a little less anxious now.
Time is a funny thing. The moments that really get me are those when time literally stands still. When numbers on the clock are etched into your heart forever. 11:22 are those numbers for me.
On Thursday, December 27, 2012, I was sitting on our coffee table facing my children. My daughter, Catherine, was curled up next to my mother holding the stuffed Santa doll her daddy had given her on Christmas morning just two days before. My son, Connor, was sitting with my dad just to the left of them. My sister was standing behind me and my best friend, Kristin, was sitting next to me with her arm around my shoulders. I closed my eyes for a moment, pulled every bit of strength I could muster into my body and looked at the clock behind my kids. 11:22 pm…the moment that would forever change the lives of my children.
It was in that moment that I had to tell my children that their beloved father had died. I will never, ever for as long as I live get the sound of Catherine’s primal sobbing out of my mind. The vision of her clutching her Santa doll so tightly while she cried in such agony will always be with me. I will never be able to erase from my soul the look of shock on Connor’s face as he took in my words in disbelief. I will forever remember how he buried his face into my dad’s shoulder and silently wept. 11:22 pm…the moment that our lives were completely shattered.
Gently coming back to the present… After I left Catherine’s room, I peeked into Connor’s room to check on him. He’s 18 and a senior in high school, but I still do my nightly “peek” in to make sure he’s ok. He was sound asleep with his guitar next to him and headphones still on. Feeling that my wee ones were still safely visiting the Land of Nod, I went back to finish the tidy up.
As I walked through the dining room, I was overcome with emotion. Our dining room has temporarily been turned into an art studio. Our table is covered with wooden hearts. Some are waiting to be painted. Some need bits, baubles and bling. Some are finished and waiting to go to their new homes. Every single one created by my beautiful daughter.
If someone would have told me on that dark and fateful night two years ago that my daughter’s lovely handcrafted hearts would touch the lives of so many people, I would’ve had a difficult time believing it. If I were told that she would become a fundraising dynamo in her efforts to save others from what her daddy died from, I would be surprised. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe that she was capable of such great things. It was because at 11:22 pm on December 27, 2012, I saw my tiny girl go into such deep and terrible grief that I didn’t know how she would find her way out. I only knew that I would do whatever it took for the rest of my life to help her and her brother heal from that tragedy.
Fast forward to a few weeks past the Celebration of Life service, going through daddy’s belongings, the business side of death. The Jump Rope for Heart campaign began at school. Mind you, this is only a few weeks after Catherine’s father has died from a heart infection. The school was exceptionally compassionate toward Cat. She was told that she didn’t have to participate if she chose not to and that it was completely ok to opt out of the event. My darling daughter wasn’t having it. She picked herself up out of her grief and went about the task of learning how to jump rope. Her PE teacher, Mr. Petty became her inspiration. He encouraged her and stood by her while she navigated this challenging territory. She then went on to collect over $2300 in donations! The local news came out to do a story on her. She was given special recognition by the American Heart Association for her efforts. She had become a hero, or in the words of the American Heart Association, a true Heart Hero. Her heroic journey as a fundraiser had begun.
In 2014, she raised another $1100 for Jump Rope for Heart. We created a Facebook page for her to share her efforts and inspire others to help those with heart disease. In September of 2014, Catherine decided to create something she could sell to raise more money for the upcoming Hoops for Heart event at her school. She decided to make a heart and paint it like a candy corn for the upcoming Halloween holiday. She sold them for $5 each and put away 100% of the proceeds to donate in the spring for the American Heart Association’s Hoops for Heart campaign at her school. Her hearts were immediately a huge hit! Thus began Catherine’s Grateful Heart Shop and her event “From My Heart to Yours.” (more on that another time.) It was also during this time that Miss Cat received some wonderful news.
The American Heart Association had created a special award in her name. The Catherine Smith Grateful Heart Award was going to be given to the top fundraising Jump Rope / Hoops for Heart students at Acacia Elementary and Esmond Station Elementary Schools (our heroine’s alma maters.) She was overjoyed! She was so excited that she wanted to create medals to give to those same top fundraisers from our family in memory of her dad. She has since done this very task and they are sitting on our entry table waiting to be awarded to their recipients in a few weeks time. She did a wonderful job as you can see 🙂
Catherine has raised over $1,000 over the last few months with the sale of her hearts. ( I have an exact figure, but we are keeping that a secret until Friday, March 6 when the donations are due to be turned in.) Our heroine puts a great deal of love and creativity into each and every one. They are really lovely and wonderful creations. There is even a very special one just for me. It’s a Mary Poppins themed heart and means so very much to me (and Catherine!)
I look back over this journey of Catherine’s grief and realize that I am not the healer of our heroine. I am the one who was healed. My daughter showed me that even during your darkest moments, you can still find the silver linings in the storm clouds. She turned her grieving into blessings. She did not stop believing in goodness because something horrible had happened to her. Instead, she chose to bravely walk in the light and continue to believe in the kindness of others. I am beyond amazed by this young lady who has become my hero.
As I look over the paint brushes, hearts, ribbons and other ephemera spread around our dining room, I don’t see a mess. I see a big bunch of love about to be scattered across our town. I feel the love she puts in each heart and know that whoever holds it in their hands will feel it too. Her daddy would be so very proud of his wee heart heroine.
The clock now reads midnight. A new day is about to dawn. I have an epiphany. Maybe instead of 11:22 pm being a time of sorrow, we look at it as a time of love. Rather than seeing it as when we learned of a great loss, what if we see it as a time we gained an angel? What if we believe our tears, while borne of sadness, were watering and giving life to the seeds of heroism? I say YES, INDEED to that. The storm may have passed, but clouds do still find their way here. However, now our heroine will embrace those clouds and soak up the blessings sent to her from her special angel. She’s done a pretty spectacular job so far! So tonight when the clock strikes 11:22 pm, rather than feeling my heartstrings become heavy, I will feel blessed because I know that our special angel is very, very proud of both of his children. You can’t ask for more than that. Here’s to Grateful Heart Heroes and Heroines of all ages! (raises my cup of Clipper Tea) May you be brave, hopeful and kind just like my Heart Heroine ❤
UPDATE: Catherine raised over $3400 last year during her Grateful Heart “From My Heart to Yours” online shopping event combined with her candy corn heart sales 🙂 So proud of my Heart Heroine! Three local elementary schools are now awarding their top fundraising students with the Catherine Smith Grateful Heart Award on behalf of the American Heart Association. The power of one can make a huge difference for many!