We spent late day Friday, into the evening, with our friends, the O'Connell's. Joanne brought her three boys over, and Kevin arrived at dinner time. They're a great family that we met in the hospital. Their son, Tim, passed away the month before Maddie. He, too, was their second oldest. Joanne and I had both been having a tough day all that day so it was nice that we could come together and talk, completely understanding what each was feeling, and share in the much needed incredible margaritas that Joanne made!
Saturday morning, we got a visit from a high school girl, Jocelyn, who had been selling "Muffins For Maddie" throughout the school year, to raise money for Cops For Kids With Cancer. She came by, with her Mom, and presented us with the check. It was so thoughtful and we are so grateful. Thank you Jocelyn!
This afternoon, Maddie's doctor, Simone, is coming for a visit. She has not seen Maddie's headstone and would like to do that. She also wants to plant a flower in Maddie's garden. It will be nice to see her, but at the same time, it's difficult.
On this day last year, Maddie received her new bone marrow. Again, without having to re-hash it, you can pull it up from the Aug 30th '08 entry. Can you believe it was a year to date? The only good to come of this anniversary is that fact that you can contact the donor a year post transplant. I would really like to do that. I would love for the donor to know Maddie, to see her picture, to know her story. Everything was anonymous up to this point. We only ever knew that the donor was a 40ish year old European woman. So, I am going to look into contacting her now.
Thank you to whomever left the flowers and butterfly balloon down with Maddie last week. As always, we truly appreciate the love that continues to be showered on Maddie and our family. Enjoy the day. School is starting back up for most this week. New beginnings...
Friday -- August 28th
I had a really nice week with Thomas. It was so good to spend quality time with him and I think he enjoyed our time too, but I think he's happier now that the boys are home!
Thomas and I made the drive at 7am yesterday to get them. When we got there, we went right to the mess hall, where all of the campers were singing, dancing, and waiting for their parents. We found William first. There he was, in his mix matched clothes and dirty sneakers, his hair a mess. Looking every bit the camper. Big smiles and big hugs between the three of us! Thomas was so happy to see him. William immediately handed me a big red wooden box he had made for me and handed Thomas a wooden car he had made for him.
Now we couldn't wait to find Michael. He was directly across the room. When we got to him, he was looking out the window. I think he was looking for me. He turned around and gave me the biggest hug. It was so good to hug my big guy. He, too, looked every bit the camper. He was so happy to see us and we couldn't hug tight enough. Thomas really missed his brothers.
Several counselors approached me to let me know how great my sons were. They were fun, respectful, and so kind to all the other campers. I was so proud to hear that. I was told they both had a really great time.
William was able to find Michael for every meal and Michael helped him out a lot throughout the week. He really looked out for him. If the two of them weren't there together, I think it would've been a very different experience.
William told me he was homesick every night and cried "a little every night in bed." He says he doesn't want to go back again, but in the next breath he says he kind of misses his camp friends. He'll be going back next year. He came home with all kinds of fun little projects he made in wood shop and lots of fun little stories.
Michael had a really great time. He said he was more homesick this year, but he also found it easier because he was familiar with everything. He had great kids in his cabin and really enjoyed his counselors. He won a trophy for archery and said that was his favorite part of camp.
Every camper is given a made up "award name," that best suits their personality at the end of camp and I thought the ones Michael and William were given were perfect! Michael was given the "Silent Storm" award. They said because he is quiet, but very powerful. So true. He is quiet, but he is so deep, so strong, so wide eyed. William was given the "Braveheart" award. I love that! Again, so fitting. He is a brave little guy with such a huge heart.
So, after scooping up my guys and saying our goodbyes, I introduced myself to the two camp directors. I wanted to talk with them about what we have been doing to raise money in Maddie's name, and let them know that they are one of the two charities we have decided on, to always support in Maddie's memory.
The first man I met, Matty, told me how Maddie's passing greatly affected the staff who had met her last year. I told him about the beautiful letters and pictures we had received from the counselors. We chatted for a few minutes and I wrote our first charity check out in the amount of $1,500.00. On the memo line, I wrote, "A gift from Maddie." Matty was so genuinely moved. That's when I started to lose it. It felt so right handing him the check , but so hard, knowing why I was doing it. Never in a million years would I have imagined that one day I would be writing a charity check in my daughter's memory, sitting at a camp for children affected by cancer. Wow, how did I get there?
Next I met Grahame, at the other end of the camp. Another really kind man, who also was so appreciative of our gift. I told him that we will continue to make donations in Maddie's memory, as the funds come in. This money has all been raised by the sale of Maddie's cards, and we thank everyone who has purchased them. It's a win-win. The cards are a gift for those who purchase them, and the money is another gift, for those who receive it. It's our way of making sure Maddie's love lives on. We still have more gift money in that account, and will donate it on a regular basis. Our next check will be made out to Cops For Kids With Cancer. I am looking forward to handing that one over too. This is what Maddie would want and we couldn't be more honored and proud to be doing it for her.
The boys wanted to go swimming next door when we got back from camp. William missed the pool. Michael stayed in and crashed on the couch. We also went for a bike ride and of course, William played in our pond, catching his little frog friends, just to let them know he's back! In the evening, I gave all the boys, including Ernie, haircuts, and couldn't get my campers into the showers fast enough. Ahh, clean again.
We sat on the couch together for a bit to watch t.v. before bed, and William smiled from ear to ear and said, "I missed our couch." The comforts of home.
As we were all on the couch, I looked at each of my boys and thought to myself how much I love them and how happy I was that they're back. I thought about each of their individual looks and their similarities. I studied their profiles and just took it all in. They all look alike, but different. They're all so similar in personality, yet so very different. I was happy for them, knowing they were happy to be home again...
Then I looked up and my eyes locked on Maddie's picture, on the table across from the couch. My girl. Her beautiful face, her twinkling eyes, and her amazing dimpled smile, looking back at me. God, I miss her. I didn't want to allow myself to feel sad, to cry, not now, not when the boys were so content. So, instead, I told myself that it was as if Maddie was looking at me, letting me know she was there with us, and telling me to be content and happy, and keep snuggling with the boys. She would say, "Don't be sad Mom. I'm here too." It was a silent moment between the two of us.
Tucked William and Thomas into my bed with me and Michael stayed up for a bit with Ernie. It was so good to snuggle, knowing my guys were home, healthy, happy and safe. We turned the lights off and William said, "Ahhh, there's no place like home." Isn't that the truth...
Monday -- August 24th
Michael had a great day on Wednesday. He took a drive down to CT., with Jeanne, to spend the day with his cousins, Greg, Dan, and Ryan. They didn't sleep there, so they got back home around 10:30. It was a long day, but a fun day.
Thursday morning was a tough one, as I knew it would be. Lauren, Kristen, and their Mom, Lorraine, came over at 7:30am. I had been up for a while. We each grabbed a pink or yellow balloon that I had blown up and headed for the roof, through Maddie's room. Thomas woke up and joined us. It was a pretty morning. It's very peaceful on the roof, that early in the morning. As we were sitting there, writing letters on our balloons, William woke up and joined us too. I didn't wake Michael. I thought he wanted to sleep. We all kissed our balloons and let them fly.
I spent much of the day walking around in a funk. Crying a lot. Re-living the day Maddie left. Remembering her words, "Mom if I go, I'm getting a one way ticket to the hospital." Of course I told her that wasn't true, but why did she say that? Did she know something the rest of us didn't know or was she just scared? Why didn't she ever tell me if she was scared? My guess would be was that she wanted to protect me. If she was scared, I wish she would've talked to me about her fears.
I have worked so hard at not living in the hospital memories every day, and it feels like I'm going back in, with the anniversary of all of this. I am truly dreading the next couple of months. I think the first year, you're still so numb and in shock. You don't remember a lot about the wake, the funeral. At the time, you just go through the motions to get through it all. I think now that some of the shock is gone, the pain and memory is even more vivid. Now things come back, you remember, and now you don't have the numbness to protect you. It's real and it's painful. Sometimes even more painful than in the beginning, if you can believe that.
Anyway, Thursday night was fun. When Ernie got home from work, we took the kids Go Cart driving. William was my passenger, Thomas rode with Ernie, and Michael drove himself. You have to be 55 inches tall to drive, so William was very disappointed. He told me to step on the gas the whole time, "all the way down and not use the brake at all!" Then he was trying to tell me how to skid. He's a nut. I did my best to impress him. They also rock climbed and drove the bumper boats. Michael and I took an extra drive on the go carts and I got so excited when I finally passed him on the lap. When we got off, I did my victory dance, only to be told that he "let me" pass him. "What?! No you didn't! I snuck in there and took you on that turn!" He swears he knew where I was the whole time and let me pass. He probably did, but for a second there I was feeling really cool.
The next morning, Friday, Thomas and I took Michael and William to camp, the Hole In The Wall Gang. The ride took about a hour and a half. I was very emotional about the whole thing, but didn't want the boys to know that. I wanted this to be about them and for them. I knew going back to the camp would bring back memories for all of us. We were one of the first families to arrive and get checked in. It was great because the boys got first choice on the bunks. They are three cabins away from each other. I got William settled into his cabin first, while Michael went ahead to claim his bed. William picked a top bunk, across from his brand new friend, Jeremy. Then the first thing he said to his camp counselor was, "Do you know Maddie Savoie?" He didn't tell the counselor the whole story, just wanted to know if he knew her. I filled him in and once I did, he recalled Maddie and knew she had passed away. He said some of the other counselors were talking about her, and knew her from last sunmer. We chatted for while and he promised to look after William and make sure he had a good time.
Next I went over to Michael's cabin, to see how he was doing. He had grabbed a top bunk and was already up there, hanging out, chatting with his new bunk mates. They all seemed like a really cool group of boys. I talked with one of Michael's counselors. He was so nice and it turns out, he has worked with several of the Norfolk EMT and is good friend's with one of them. Small world. He too, assured me Michael would be well taken care of, and he would have a great week.
So, I said good bye to Michael, from the door. He was already too cool to climb down from the bunk and give me a hug. I guess that made it easier. I went outside and William and Thomas were having a blast on the huge foam slip and slide! Not a shy bone in William's body. I could see the counselors had already taken a liking to him as they laughed at his antics. He fit right in. I sat on the rock and watched them play for a bit, trying not to look over at Maddie's cabin, but I did. It was right there. I could picture her in her orange shirt, the day I dropped her off. I could pictrure her out front, in the circle, waving good bye to William and I until we were out of sight. I'll never forget that good bye.
I just sat, looking around at all the kids, all the people, just thinking about how crazy life is. You're here one day and gone the next. How does that happen? You're just gone. Poof. Everyone and everything keeps going on. Maddie WAS there. She pushed open all those screen doors, walked all over that field, swam in that pool, slept in that bunk, made these same counselors laugh, as William was now doing... It's just so unfathomable to think she was just here, so alive, so full of life...then Poof! What happened? I find myself asking that question all the time...What the hell happened? Did that really happen? What the hell happened?
I know the boys are going to have a great week and I'm so happy they're there together. I miss them so much and cannot wait to pick them up on Thursday. Thomas is lost without them. He's a whole new kid. Very quiet, slow moving...definitely not my normal Thomas! I'm trying to keep him entertained and busy.
Saturday night Ernie and I took him out to dinner at the Wrentham Outlets and walked around afterwards. A beautiful rainbow appeared in the sky and Thomas said, "Maddie painted that for us."
Sunday morning I went for a 21 mile bike ride with Heather and our neighbor, Paul. Looks like he's in for next year's PMC! It was a beautiful morning for a bike ride. Ernie got a lot of alone fishing time this weekend. He's learning how to fly fish and he loves it.
So, today we'll run errands and spend some time with Thomas' cousins, Charlie and Abby. Then after today, "only 3 more sleeps 'til we get the boys!"
On a much lighter note, Uncle Mike got the Maddie butterfly tattoo! You all know Mike by now. We talk about Mike and Priscilla a lot. He's Ernie's cousin. Anyway, he got the "manly" version. Just the black outline, no pink and yellow. He loves it and it looks very cool. We'll post the picture. He's number 11!
I know Maddie is getting quite a chuckle out of all of this tattoo hoopla!
Tuesday -- August 19th
Still trying to keep busy.
Went for a great bike ride with Colleen Duffy on Friday morning. We had such a great talk and it felt so good to get on the bike again. We rode about 22 miles. We plan to continue doing it through the Fall. I'll have more flexibility when the kids are all in school full time.
Hosted a surprise baby shower on Sunday, for my next door neighbor, Stephanie. She's having a baby girl on Sept. 17th, her first baby. It was a great party. Lasted much longer than the usual baby shower..from 2pm until around midnight!
Maddie was so excited for Stephanie to get pregnant. Sadly, it didn't happen until after Maddie passed away. Maddie waited every month, eagerly for news. Stephanie and I always said how great it would've been to see Maddie's face when she found out she was pregnant. I don't remember many conversations during the first days after Maddie passed, but I do remember the first thing I said to Stephanie after she heard the news was, "She's going to send you a baby." I don't know what made me say that, but I knew that once Maddie got settled in up there, one of the first things she would do, would be to put in a good word and ask that favor. I think Stephanie was pregnant that next month, or maybe the month after.
Anyway, it was a lot to think about the day of the shower...celebrating the upcoming arrival of a new baby girl, while mourning my own girl, who has been gone 10 months on the day of the shower. Life is so incredibly fragile and precious.
Shopped for the boys' school supplies last week. They are actually excited about going back to school. We drove to the schools and got their class lists and teacher names. I am so thrilled Thomas got William's Kindergarten teacher, Mrs. O'Shea. She's wonderful! William got a teacher I'm not familiar with, but I hear she is wonderful too. Michael is off to a new adventure in middle school. He got a male homeroom teacher, so he's excited about that.
Packing their backpacks, I went through our filing cabinet of school supplies from last year to see what we could re-use. I came across Maddie's Kindergarten folder. It's navy blue, with her name on it. Found other folders of hers, her ruler that she wrote her name on, and much more. I put a label over her name on some of the folders and re-used them for Thomas. They'll bring him good luck.
Maddie loved packing her backpacks for school. Girls like to do the organizing thing. I still have Maddie's pink camouflage backpack hanging on its hook in the basement stairway, with the others. Can't bring myself to take it down. She really loved school.
Getting Michael and William ready to leave for the Paul Newman Hole In The Wall Gang Camp in Connecticut, on Friday. They'll sleep there until the following Thursday. Michael's not too excited to go but William is. William has never done a sleep over. I know it's going to be emotional going back there, for all of us, but it will be an incredible adventure that the boys deserve. I will miss them both terribly, but really hope they have a great week. Unfortunately for Thomas, you have to be 7 to go. I'll have to keep him entertained all week.
This Thursday, the 20th, will mark the year to the date when Maddie left home to go into the hospital. Heavy week. I plan on sitting on her rooftop, with the girls, Lauren and Kristen, as she did the day she left. The picture of that morning is on the website from last Aug.20th. We'll get out there at 7:30am, and release balloons. I'm sure the boys will want to join us too. In fact, I think Ernie might too! I just hope the roof doesn't collapse with all of us on there!
I think I want to do this. I wonder if it will make things harder or easier for that day, but I just feel like I need to do it. I don't think anything can make the day easier, I just don't want to make it harder. It's going to be extremely sad and I don't want to upset the kids, but maybe we all need to get it out together. I don't know. I know Maddie loved sitting out there and she'd probably get a kick out of us all doing it together!
So, if you happen to drive by the house early Thursday morning and see us all out on the roof, don't worry, the house isn't on fire and we're not crazy. We're just missing our girl, and saying hello to her!
Thursday -- August 13th
Concerts on the town hill are always so much fun every summer. Families come with pizzas and spread blankets, to watch the performer. The kids all find their friends and run around. Thursday night was a performance by Ayla Brown. She was the 13th finalist on one of the American Idol seasons. She lives in the next town. She's really very good.
So, I brought the boys and our neighbors, Lauren and Kristen Altmeyer. We put our blanket down next to our other neighbors. My whole group of kids immediately took off to find friends. I walked a few feet away to chat with a friend and then noticed Thomas was back on the blanket, by himself, and he was wiping his eyes. I ran over to him and plopped him in my lap. He was crying and said he missed Maddie. He said the music and the kids all made him really miss her. I was feeling the same. I had a huge lump in my throat and really did not want to be there. Ernie was on his way from work, and I contemplated leaving when he got there. I'd let him stay with the kids.
The show started and all the kids came back to our blanket. They were all giggling and having fun. I sat slightly behind them...Michael, the girls, and Maddie's other friends, directly in front of me. It was so hard to keep myself from falling apart. I thought about everything while sitting there. I even tried to pretend the back of another girl was Maddie, sitting with everyone. Just for a moment, I wanted to feel like everything was ok, even if it meant pretending. It wasn't Maddie of course, and it wasn't ok.
At one point I turned around and saw, from a distance, the Mom of one of Maddie's old friends, mouthing the words, "Hi, how are you?" I was grateful for her asking, smiled and mouthed back, "Good." Then turned back and thought...wow, that was weird. How did I even fake that smile? Why can't I just say, "Not good. Pretty crappy actually, but thank you for asking." I guess I just feel like I have to smile, especially out in public, for the sake of my boys, and to put everyone around me at ease. Anyway, Ernie arrived and we all stayed together for the end of the show.
As hard as it was to sit through that show, I want to stress that I still do live in the moment, at the same time that I’m struggling with everything else. It’s hard to explain. Even if my deepest grief, I thank God every moment for what I have, for my boys, my husband, my family, my friends, my health, my faith. I truly do. I have not lost sight of any of that, even in my darkest moments. They are what pull me through those moments. I realize how blessed I am to have all of that holding me together. I never want my boys or anyone who reads this site, to think for one second that I don’t cherish all I have, while mourning what I’ve lost, what we’ve all lost.
While watching the show with a heavy heart, I found so much to smile about. Watching Michael having fun with Lauren and Kristen. Their silly antics. William running around with his pals, asking me for money for the ice cream truck, and giving away all of our juice packs. Him climbing a tree, only to get stuck in it, and have to send a little girl to our blanket for help! Thomas’ delight at finding his pal Spencer there! They all found fun and I was so happy for them.
Saturday morning, I biked down to Maddie's site, with a bag in my hand, containing our laminated PMC bracelets and the picture we wore on our backs. When I got there, Jeanne and Heather were there. The others couldn't make it. Heather brought a beautiful dozen pink roses, Jeanne brought a pretty pink rose and a huge pink butterfly balloon, and Ernie's coworker, Jie, had given Ernie 3 huge amazing sunflowers to place down there the night before. There was so much beauty. We stood there for a few minutes and then we kissed the butterfly balloon and let it go. It had been at Jeanne’s house for a few days and it wasn’t fully inflated anymore, so we really thought it would just get stuck in the trees. Well, it went straight up into the clouds until it disappeared. We were so shocked that it went so high. It was so pretty.
Saturday afternoon I sat with the kids all day at the pool next door. It was fun because the Altmeyer's and the Findlen's joined us and the kids had a blast. We ended up having an impromptu cook out here for dinner. Ernie was up in New Hampshire for the night, with his family, celebrating his brother's wedding that took place a few months back.
Michelle is still home from Florida since the PMC ride, so the kids have been able to spend a lot of fun time with her and I've been able to get a lot done around here. I’m trying to stay busy. Having a really hard time. I think with the PMC I had something to focus on, keep busy with. Now it's over and everything sinks in again.
I can't help watching the calendar, remembering each of these days last year. This Sunday will be 10 months since Maddie's passing, and then next Thursday, the 20th, will be the one year anniversary of the day Maddie left our house for the last time. I just can't believe it will be a year since Maddie's been home. So, without getting into it, I feel like I'm taking several steps backwards in my grief. The pain has been unbearable again at times. I know this is normal. It's a roller coaster, but I pray I can get off of it and stay strong for my boys.
I will share this with you...
Michelle had the boys at the pool yesterday afternoon, so I went down to sit with Maddie at her site. I sat there for quite a while and completely fell apart. I laid there, on the grass with her. There are days when I think about the fact that everyone driving by can see me and I should sit up. Then I think, I shouldn't care what people think. I can't imagine a mother not wanting to just lay with her baby. I just wanted to look up at the sky and talk to her.
So, as I was crying, out of nowhere, my eye caught a huge hawk, flying close by and above me. I sat up to watch it. I thanked Maddie for sending me a sign. Then the hawk started to fly away and I asked her not to go. The next thing I saw were 7 hawks, circling high above me - 7! The big one disappeared. The group of 7 circled around and around and I swear they were forming a heart. They just circled, like they were having a dance party. I sat in utter amazement and watched them until they completely disappeared, little tiny specs to nothing. They didn't fly away to the side and off into the distance. They literally went straight up and disappeared. Then the big one flew back, again, out of nowhere, and stayed above me for quite some time, until, it too, disappeared. It was beautiful. It was as if Maddie caught my eye with the first big one, to say, “Look Mom, I hear you, I’m here with you, and I have a show just for you. Watch!” The big one then flew to the side, after introducing the show, and returned at the end, to see my reaction, as if Maddie was saying, “I hope you feel better. I want you to be ok. I love you. Gotta go now.”
I KNOW this was my Maddie doing this all for me. She didn't send one hawk, one hug, she sent a bunch of hawks, a bunch of hugs, because she knew how deep my sadness was, and how badly I needed her. I was in such awe, and I knew Maddie wanted me to go home now. She wanted me to be ok and she wanted me to go home to the boys. So, I stood up, wiped my tears, and went home to my boys, to where Maddie wanted me to be.
Friday -- August 7th
WE DID IT! We really did it! We finished the PMC! It was the most amazing experience!
Friday night, Jeanne, Amy, and I, drove to Wellesley to check our bikes and luggage in. When we got there, I parked the truck and a downpour struck just as we were unloading the bikes. We had to hop on them, in our flip flops, carrying our duffle bags, and ride down the hill to the tent, in the pouring rain. It was pretty funny. We were drenched.
Everything was so organized, so check in was very quick. When each of us stepped up to register, we, as first time riders, were greeted with cheering and cow bells ringing! We got our wrist bands and official biking shirts and we were ready for the next day. We stayed for a quick slice of pizza, or two, or three, to start filling up on our carbs, of course.
None of us slept very well Friday night. We were all anxious. We got up bright and early and hit the road by 5am. We were at check in for breakfast by 6am. We found some of our teammates, Heather Bellwin, Colleen and Frank Duffy, and Tim Cronin. We sat down for a quick, carb loaded breakfast. Everyone kept saying "Eat! Eat! Eat!" OK, so after 2 bagels, one with cream cheese, and half a banana, I couldn't move. I have never eaten so much for breakfast. How do you know when enough is enough and not too much? My stomach was bulging. Very humbling in spandex shorts. We found our bikes, and lined up for the starting ceremonies.
It was so surreal. The day had finally arrived and we were now in line with thousands of bikers. There were all kinds of decorations on the helmets of different teams, and there were so many specially decorated shirts, honoring loved ones lost or still fighting cancer. On the back of our shirts, we had pinned a picture of Maddie and Meghan together. The picture was taken of them at the PMC Pedal Partner Party at Fenway Park in '07. The picture was on a yellow background and cut into the shape of a butterfly. Around the girls were the words, "Angels On Board. Riding In Memory Of Our Girls." It was beautiful. We were riding for them, and our friend Tim O'Connell.
We had decorated our helmets with butterfly stick-ons and of course, a little yellow squishy ball, to help us find each other in the crowd. We also all wore matching butterfly socks. We looked great! I wore Maddie's cross necklace around my neck and pinned a pin she made for me onto my jersey that says, "#1 MOM." I really wanted to wrap her prayers shawl around my bike bar, but I was so afraid it would get lost or fall off into my tires, sending me into a ditch!
There was a brief opening ceremony, completed with the National Anthem, and then we were off! It was so unbelievable to be cycling out, with the crowd of bikers. There was so much to take in. It was very emotional. I felt so proud of all of us, for making this commitment so long ago and for actually following through. There was the most amazing sense of comaradery in the crowd and within our team.
The first 20 miles seemed to go pretty fast. You're still taking everything in at that point. The people on the sides of the road, cheering you on and thanking you for riding, really gives you the strength and support you need. Some people had pictures of their kids on posters that read, "My son/daughter is alive because of you." I high fived the hands of several little onlookers as we rode. Other riders say your first name, offering support, as they drive by, as if they know you. We actually all have our names on the backs of our bikes. One biker said to me, "Kristen, you can't go wrong with Angels on board." I said, "Nope, never."
The first 20 miles, for me, was very emotional. I knew we would be stopping in at Maddie's site and I knew after that, we would be stopping at the Wrentham watering hole, where we had stood as a family every year.
As we got closer to the cemetery, my heart really started pounding and I got really choked up. Our little group was still together: Jeanne, Heather, Amy, and myself. When you slow or stop in the ride, you have to announce, "stopping." There was the cemetery. I broke from the crowd, pulled left, and said, "Stopping. Gotta go see my girl." I turned down into the driveway and there were beautiful pink and yellow balloons and the best friends in the world waiting for us. I jumped off my bike and into the arms of Colleen, who had beaten me there. She hadn't seen Maddie's headstone yet. I fell apart in her arms. Only she could know my real pain. She feels it every day with the loss of her Meghan. It was overwhelmingly emotional and so surreal.
Another rider, Dave Dimond, had stopped and left a piece of his ID tag. Another rider, Ted Callahan, stopped and visited. His daughter, Molly, was a friend of Maddie's from the hospital. She is doing very well. Then there were my friends, who have supported me and my family from day one, in more ways than I can ever express. I love them all so dearly. The rest of our little group stopped too. We all hugged, drank a cup of orange juice and had to go. Before leaving, I knelt down in front of Maddie's stone and talked to her. I know my baby was there, listening, and she made me get back on my bike to continue. She would not let me quit.
Next stop was the Wrentham watering hole. Again, my heart was pounding as we got closer. I could see our families waiting. I slowed down and took Jeanne's hand, so we could pull up hand in hand. We were wobbly, but it was great! Ernie, the boys, my parents, his Mom, her friend, Jeanne's husband and kids, Beth and Doug Hill, the Dimonds, Jeanne's friends, Amy's family, were all there to hug us. I high fived Maddie in the air. I know she was standing there too. Ernie and I just hugged and cried, without saying anything. My boys gave me huge, awesome hugs. Especially Michael. Man, is he strong! As Thomas hugged me, he said, "Mom! Where have you been?! What took you so long?!"
First mishap at this stop. Amy, who was a little ways ahead of us, was waving to the crowds as she pulled into this stop and wiped out! I wish I had seen that! Of course, I'm sure it wasn't funny at the time, but when we imagine the re-enactment, and if you know Amy, it was probably comical. She did get a scraped elbow and didn't realize until the finish, that her leg had a good sized bruise on it. She toughed it out.
We stayed at the stop long enough to apply more sunscreen, get a quick drink, use the port-a-potty, and head out. Now we were getting towards the end of the pack, after our stops. With the two most important stops for me under my belt, I tried to just focus on having a good time, staying upbeat, and finishing!
We had perfect weather. It was hot, with some shady areas, and very little humidity. Thank Goodness. I honestly don't know how riders do it in the humidity. These next 24 miles were still not bad. You're still on a high at that point and you know you're riding to get somewhere - lunch! We were STARVING! You burn everything off so quickly. We got into the lunch line and another rider said to me, "Adorable picture." "He was referring obviously to the picture of the girls on my back. I thanked him and told him my daughter was the one on the left. He smiled and said again, "Adorable." We found a table and sat down and chowed! Again, never eaten so much for lunch in my life! Sandwich, two little bags of fennel/soy chips, hummus, tabouli, juice...all healthy stuff, but lots of it!
Just as we were getting ready to get back on the road, we got a call from Stephanie and Michelle Knowles, our other teammates, who were riding the two day ride, starting in Sturbridge. This ride meets up with ours for lunch. They were 2 miles away. We waited for them and then we were able to all ride together for the rest of the ride to Bourne! It was perfect. Well, I say "together" but not so much...let's just say that I'm a bit slower than the others...
OK, now the third leg of the trip was really hard. A LOT of HILLS! Uggh! It was getting harder now. What kept me going was the fact that Maddie didn't have a choice throughout her fight. When things got tough, she couldn't quit. It wasn't an option. I thought about the writing she hung in her hospital room, "Never, Never, Never Give Up." I said those words to myself throughout the ride. Maddie had to keep fighting and she did it with a smile. So, I started finding things to laugh about along the way. And laugh we did! There were so many funny highlights:
Referring to each other as a name and town, as it says on the back of our bikes, like Heather Bellwin from Norfolk, MA...
Michelle dropping her camera and phone into the port-a-potty and going in after them...if you could've seen the port-a-potties...
Amy getting "complimented" on her "nice bike," PMC code language for get a real bike!,
Jeanne and I being alone at one point for a very long time, before Jeanne finally asked me if we were going the right way! Thankfully, we were!,
One of us, not me, ditching their underwear in the port-a-potty because it weighed about 2 pounds from sweat, and it was starting to ride her, not the other way around,
A little bug flying into my nostril, and as I'm trying to go in after it, I ride by a guy videoing the ride...probably for a major tv network. Yep, finger in the nose...,
The road rules, so many to follow and shout out as you go, became comical as we started over exaggerating them all...
You really just had to be there. We were all so sweaty, smelly, dirty, tired, and literally becoming slap happy and delirious.
OK, last leg. We'd done 62 or so miles already. We all got off our bikes, used the bathrooms, splashed cold water on our faces, and Jeanne shoved a banana in her mouth and said, "Look at me! I'm eating like an animal!" We were ready to go...again.
As we were getting our gear back on, we met Fred and Bob. They were both older gentlemen, volunteers, and Fred came from across the parking lot, carrying a big plastic jug. I asked him if he was bringing over moonshine for us. It was just cold water - darn! So, he introduced himself, looked at the back of my shirt and asked our story. We told him and then he shared his. Everyone has a story at the PMC. It was very moving. Bob then joined us and told us that Fred is always chatting with the "pretty ladies." We're weren't lookin' so pretty, but hey, it worked. We all giggled, finished chatting, and it was time to go. Fred told us to make sure when we get to the finish line and have a beer in our hands, to raise a toast to Fred and Bob! We promised we would.
We were told it was all downhill for the next 20 miles, by a group of LIARS! It was getting REALLY hard now. Still trying not to complain. Maddie never complained. In fact, I don't remember hearing any of our teammates really complaining, other than in jest. I started to watch my mileage, one mile at a time, until finally realizing how that made the time go so much slower! We all planned to stop at the last water stop, 9 miles from the finish and off we go. Before I knew it, the whole butterfly group had flown, leaving just Jeanne and I. At one point, Jeanne told me not to ride with her, not to talk to her. I was making her laugh and she couldn't pedal...
Not only did our group disappear around the bend, but Jeanne and I were alone...for miles...and miles.
Surely, they're all around the next bend...nope. Where did everyone go?! That's when we started to wonder if we had missed a turn! Oh, someone just shoot me!
Turns out we were going the right way. How did I know? I knew because a guy out of nowhere came bombing by me on my left. I shouted out to him, "Hey! Hey! Hey! You! Get back here! You stay behind me! I will NOT be the last one to cross the finish!! Do you hear me?!" He was cracking up and as he passed me said, "Don't worry you won't be the very last. There's a few more coming." Oh, well I feel much better now... "Jeanne! Wait for ME!!!!!! Do you hear me?!? Jeanne Baker from Franklin, MA! STOP!!!"
So, I finally caught up to Jeanne, who said she didn't hear me yelling her name. She thought I must be "enjoying myself," "having a moment." I was "having a moment" alright. I was having several "moments!" So, we both ride to the place where we said we'd stop, 9 miles before the end. They waited. Our girls were there!
We all used the bathrooms, got a quick, last drink, and got ready to leave. Right before getting back on our bikes, and just when you think you can't go any further we looked up and saw a hawk flying high in the sky. I had been looking for one the whole ride and hadn't seen one. Now we had our sign. We stood there watching it and I said, "Aww, it's Maddie. She's saying you guys can do this! Mom, you can do this! You can get back on that bike and finish, even if your crotch does look like a hamburger bun!" We all giggled, got on our bikes and headed out. Right before getting back onto the road, the next best thing happened...
Caroline Lane, Maddie and Meghan's pal, was there with her family and screamed my name! They had waited for me and they were just about to leave! Caroline jumped out of the car, ran over, and I gave her a HUGE hug! I felt like I was hugging all three girls, Maddie, Meghan, and Caroline. I so desperately needed that incredibly special hug! Thank you Lane's! You gave me that last push I really needed.
So, we did it! The 6 of us stayed close together and got to the finish line as a group! Again, I slowed and said to Jeanne, "We cross that line together!" We rode side by side and that's when the tears starting coming, for both of us. It was so incredibly emotional. We crossed the finish line together, got off our bikes, hugged and cried. I had so many thoughts going through my mind. I know Maddie was SO proud of us, I missed her so terribly and wanted her to be at the finish line to hug me. I wanted to see her smiling and jumping up and down. We did it! We did it for her! I was so proud of Jeanne, who did the ride with a bulging disc in her back! I was so proud of our whole team.
We were all greeted by a yelling and cheering Beth and Doug Hill! They had followed us, on their motorcycles, to every stop to support us and take pictures! Thanks Guys - you're the best! That meant so much to us! I also want to thank Theresa Knowles, who met us at every water stop and filled our water bottles with fresh water. It was so nice of her to be there!
We didn't even have time to shower. It was now about 4:40 and we had to meet our team, Pedals For Pediatrics, for the team picture at 5pm. We had to run into the port-a-potties, change into our team shirts in there, and run to the meeting place for the picture. We just made it! Got the team shot in, and now it was time to hit the beer tent and then the dinner tent! Priorities! We were thirsty, hungry and beat! We grabbed our beers, raised our cups, and cheered, to FRED and BOB! We all sat together to eat and then Jeanne, Amy, and myself, had to catch the 7pm bus back to Wellesley. Our bikes were brought back by a truck. We wish we could've hung out longer, but it was time to go. The bus ride took and hour and a half to get back to Wellesley, and then we had to drive an hour home from there...not before stopping at Friendly's for extra large soft serve cones! Never tasted better!
It had been a very long, emotional, exciting, fulfilling, inspiring day and we were zonked! I hit the sheets and I was out like a light, only to have to get up early on Sunday to get ready for a cook out I had planned, for our families, our team, and a few neighbors. It was a great ending to a great weekend.
So, that's it. It's over and I'm already looking forward to next year. Thank you to everyone who supported us, financially and emotionally. We couldn't have done it without you. If you would still like to make a donation to the cause, you can. Donations are accepted until October 1st. Any amount would be so greatly appreciated by the families still fighting this awful disease. Just click on this link: http://www.pmc.org/profile/KS0189
By the way, I was NOT the last one to cross the finish line! "Heather Bellwin, from Norfolk, MA" was... Just kidding. Actually, as our bus was pulling away to leave Bourne, the last two riders came in, headed by a police escort, and followed by all the ambulances and trucks who followed the riders, all sounding their sirens and horns. It was neat. What a way to end their ride - like celebrities!
I love you Maddie and I hope you're proud of me and the rest of our team! Thank you for pushing me to the finish, just as I knew you would!
Our team is meeting at Maddie's site tomorrow morning. We'll all ride our bikes there. I have all of our PMC bracelets, laminated together in one sheet. We'll leave it with Maddie. It's because of her that we did the PMC, and it is because of her that we will continue to ride, to raise money to help others, in her loving memory, and in the loving memory of all of our little Angel friends.
Tuesday -- August 5th
The PMC was a great success. We have a number of pictures to post and Kristen is working on her entry about it. In the meantime I received an email from our friend Don Etkin who rode in the PMC. Don is a Ewing Sarcoma survivor, which is the same type of cancer Maddie has. He contracted Ewing's back in 1968 when when he was 13. Each year Don rides in the PMC. He has been doing it since 2001. For the past few years he has been sending me (as well as his supporters) his notes and observations from each of the rides. I thought you would enjoy them. You can read them here