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Thursday, January 12, 2017

Showing up for Kate 1-12-17

A year ago this week, I wrote about one of the most heartbreaking losses of a child that those of us in the pediatric cancer community in this area have had to endure. Four year old Kate Rhoades had finished her treatment plan for leukemia only a few months before. Her family had held a party, readied her for a return to preschool and looked forward to a future shining blessedly bright before them. The return of her cancer on the heels of that joy and relief was an ambush of unspeakable cruelty. There was no time to process that the disease had returned before she was gone. A year later, for her family and friends, the enduring continues.

I'm not even sure that "endure" is the appropriate word to use when speaking of those who were affected by the death of Kate. No words are adequate to describe her family's journey forward in the wake of her loss. Merriam-Webster's website mentions synonyms for enduring that include bearing, suffering, tolerating, and standing.

Yes, Kate's family and friends have done all of that.

The site mentions that many of these words imply "the power to sustain without flinching or breaking."

Um, not so much. There has been flinching. There has been breaking. And yet, the calendar page turns indicating that it has been one whole year since the enduring, bearing and suffering began. I wish I could say it had ended.

There will not be human words or actions and certainly not any amount of time that will have the power to sustain us without some breaking and flinching. Nothing will cancel out the fact that Kate is still gone. That her parents' arms are empty. That the world lost someone crucial and important and needed and that we cannot get her back. So, then, what is there to do? What do we do when we are flinching and breaking?

I think the only thing to do is to keep showing up for the enduring.  Bruised and battered; baffled and bitter, and most certainly, broken, we clear the ash and dust from the air and we show up in search of something to sustain us. We show up desperately looking for beauty, for hope, for light - in essence for anything that might move us toward wholeness.

And oh, how sweet little Kate Rhoades's people showed up for her in the last year. Oh, how they showed up.

That team of baseball players I wrote about last year? That group who had claimed Kate as one of their own for the Kyle's Kamp Memorial Day Tournament? The boys for whom I worried with a relentless list of "what ifs"? Despite their brokenness, those kids showed up for their girl.

The Loudoun South Eagles - eleven and twelve year old boys - attended her funeral in matching Kate's Crew shirts. They took part in Random Acts of Kateness throughout the year. They encouraged friends to send pictures to a gentleman battling MS. This man received over 100 beautiful cards colored and decorated in the memory of Kate. On Kate's birthday, the boys handed out gift cards to strangers all over town with a note about her in hopes of raising awareness for Childhood Cancer.

They participated in "reading buddy" sessions at a library that Kate had frequented with her Grandma. They purchased a baseball for the Dream Wall at Nats Park so that Kate would forever have a place on the wall at her parents' favorite ballpark.

Oh, and those boys played some baseball, themselves, too. They surely did. They adorned their jerseys with an emblem bearing Kate's name and showed up on the baseball field like never before. Inspired by her to be their very best, they recorded win after win throughout the year and had their most successful season yet with an astounding record of 25-7. They claimed numerous tournament championships, always posing after their victories by holding up the number 4 for their "forever four years old" best girl.

In the Kyle's Kamp Memorial Day Tournament Kate's boys set aside their regular jerseys and played each tournament game in special Kate's Cause tshirts. The team raised over $10,000 for pediatric cancer research at Children's National Medical Center in honor of Kate.

Even the siblings of the team members held Kate in their hearts all year. A sister of one of the Eagles wrote her "Thankful Essay" at school about her sweet friend.

Kate's family, the most broken of all, showed up, too.

Lindsay and Michael Rhoades attended Kyle's Kamp's Casino Night fundraiser a mere six weeks after her passing. They chatted with other parents of children with cancer and supported various organizations in their efforts to fund better treatments and research for children like their daughter. Kate's grandma showed up for our Kyle's Kamp Holiday Shop this past December. She helped pediatric cancer patients choose gifts for their families. She smiled at them and chatted with them, wrapping their gifts in bright colored paper and adorning them with ribbons. She did all of this while memories of her granddaughter swirled around us as real and as present as the very air in the room.

Lindsay bared her soul online, writing some of the most agonizingly beautiful words on loss and grief that I have ever read; letting the world know that we could not shut our eyes to children like hers. She would not let us forget her Kate. We needed to know about her. We needed to understand the magnitude of her loss. I am personally forever grateful for the way her words remind me of the gift of every breath that my children take. I am in awe of the talent she has for spilling the broken pieces of her heart on to the page. The importance of her writing cannot be measured. And I would guess this is only the beginning. Through her words, Lindsay shows up in front of the world for Kate. I would argue that Lindsay is determined that her pain will not be wasted. She has something to teach us. In her brokenness she is showing up here not just for her beloved daughter, but for you and for me as well.

It is through reading Lindsay's words, that I have found that Kate has shown up as well. In big ways and small, she has shown up when her mama needed her most. Through sunrises or a smiling forgotten photo, Kate has shown up. Through images of foxes on socks or on sweaters, she has shown up. And even, in the stare of a real live, honest-to-goodness fox, sitting in the cemetery or on the sidewalk of a suburban street, Kate has let her family know that she is near.

We should never doubt the ability of broken people to do beautiful things. In the midst of crushing grief the Rhoades family has and will continue to share their story to help other families. I had worried that the introduction of young boys like the Loudoun South Eagles to tragic loss would result in young men irreparably harmed. And yet, they took their broken hearts and showed up in their community to do remarkable, irreversible good.

And even more, we should never doubt the ability of the inexplicably brief life of tiny little girl to change the world for better. I would contend that the good things that will come out of the people broken by Kate's loss eventually will number more than all the stars in the sky.

God bless you, Kate Olivia Rhoades. We promise to keep showing up for you.

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