Mattie Miracle 2021 Walk was a $125,000 success!

Mattie Miracle Cancer Foundation Promotional Video

Thank you for keeping Mattie's memory alive!

Dear Mattie Blog Readers,

It means a great deal to us that you take the time to write to us and to share your thoughts, feelings, and reflections on Mattie's battle and death. Your messages are very meaningful to us and help support us through very challenging times. To you we are forever grateful. As my readers know, I promised to write the blog for a year after Mattie's death, which would mean that I could technically stop writing on September 9, 2010. However, at the moment, I feel like our journey with grief still needs to be processed and fortunately I have a willing support network still committed to reading. Therefore, the blog continues on. If I should find the need to stop writing, I assure you I will give you advanced notice. In the mean time, thank you for reading, thank you for having the courage to share this journey with us, and most importantly thank you for keeping Mattie's memory alive.

As Mattie would say, Ooga Booga (meaning, I LOVE YOU)! Vicki and Peter

The Mattie Miracle Cancer Foundation celebrates its 7th anniversary!

The Mattie Miracle Cancer Foundation was created in the honor of Mattie.

We are a 501(c)(3) Public Charity. We are dedicated to increasing childhood cancer awareness, education, advocacy, research and psychosocial support services to children, their families and medical personnel. Children and their families will be supported throughout the cancer treatment journey, to ensure access to quality psychosocial and mental health care, and to enable children to cope with cancer so they can lead happy and productive lives. Please visit the website at: and take some time to explore the site.

We have only gotten this far because of people like yourself, who have supported us through thick and thin. So thank you for your continued support and caring, and remember:

.... Let's Make the Miracle Happen and Stomp Out Childhood Cancer!

A Remembrance Video of Mattie

December 31, 2013

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Tuesday, December 31, 2013 -- Mattie died 224 weeks ago today.

Tonight's picture was taken in December of 2007. We have very few photos with all three of us in them. This was perhaps one of the few Christmas photos we have as a threesome. Which is why I suppose it is so special to me.

Quote of the day: Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it. ~ Confucius

On behalf of Peter and I, we want to thank you for your wonderful contributions in support of Mattie Miracle over the course of this month (during our annual drive)! We can't think of a better holiday gift you could have given us. All that we accomplish would not be possible without you! A sincere thank you and we wish you all the best of health and happiness in 2014! 

I began my day with an email from a person I do not know. The message read:

I recently learned about a very safe and effective treatment for cancer, especially childhood cancer, that might have saved Mattie's life if only you had known about it. I want to do whatever I can to make it known and available to cancer patients throughout America, and I am looking for groups like yours to help in that fight. I am willing to have a set of 2 DVD's all about this treatment sent to someone who is sincerely interested in it, if you will just tell me who to send it to.

This treatment was discovered several years ago, has none of the side effects of chemo and radiation, and has been proven effective in stage 3 clinical trials. It would completely revolutionize cancer treatment as we know it today, and therein lies the problem. The big drug companies could not make a profit on it, and the entire system based on chemotherapy and radiation would collapse. The drug companies have convinced the FDA not to make it available in this country. I believe that keeping this treatment from those who so desperately need it is criminal, and I am looking for people who are willing to take on what will be a major battle against big PhRMA and the FDA. Will you help?


I am sure while reading the message above, you may have different feelings about it from FANTASTIC send me the DVDs to ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!!! Unfortunately my response was the latter. She particularly LOST me when she made it personal and said that I might have been able to save Mattie if I knew about this treatment!!!! What a lovely New Year's Eve gift to receive. A message from a stranger letting me know that I possibly did not do all that I could to save my child. I really question the integrity of this message. 

In any case, Mattie Miracle gets many solicitations and inquiries from professionals, individuals, and hospitals throughout the year. The key is to know which ones are sincere and legitimate. Naturally ALL of us want a cure for childhood cancer but the message above is NOT such hope. Instead it is falsehood that could possibly cause parents to decide not to use standard treatments to fight a horrific disease. 

Needless to say the medical treatment of cancer interests me and in all reality it must interest any one whose life has been touched by cancer. Yet at the end of the day, this is not where my passion lies. Instead it lies with direct emotional and psychological support of children and their families with cancer. The day to day management and life time management of the disease. I wish there were magic beans out there that would cure our children so that no family has to experience the death of a child to cancer, but no such thing exists and I resent those who prey on the desperation of others.  

This evening, I asked Peter if he remembered our first New Year's Eve with Mattie. That would be December 31, 2002. Mattie was eight months old. We had put Mattie down for bed earlier in the evening with the hopes that he would sleep through part of the night. However, about ten minutes to midnight, Mattie started crying and wanted out of his crib. None of this surprised us since Mattie did not sleep through the night until he was 15 months old. That was only because we read about the Ferber method and trained him to sleep! Any case, that New Year's Eve I brought Mattie downstairs and he sat with us while watching the ball drop in Times Square. We took that as a direct sign that Mattie wanted to ring in the New Year as a family. 

Since Mattie died, Peter nor I have the desire to watch the ball drop or anything associated with Times Square. In so many ways time marches on, but for us transitioning from one year to another truly has no meaning to us. Because each day is a day without Mattie, I no longer track it by years. I remember New Year's Eve of 2009. I was actually scared to move into 2010, a new year without Mattie's presence in it. As I watch my friend in cancer go through this now, it is ironic that she feels the same way I did in 2009. Even without us talking about it. I remember that fear that first year, but now the fears are different. 

This evening I went out to dinner with my parents. While at dinner, I observed a couple with an only child. The little boy had to be about four years old. As I stared at this family, it reminded me of me. Well except Mattie never sat down quietly at dinner. This little boy tonight was glued to an i-pad the whole dinner. That NEVER would have worked with Mattie! Mattie was all about stimulation and interpersonal connection. 

This is a photo of one the star lined streets in my parent's neighborhood. There is something quite magical about seeing stars in every front yard!

This is a view of the valley at night from my parent's neighborhood. Another magical sight!  

December 30, 2013

Monday, December 30, 2013

Monday, December 30, 2013

Tonight's picture was taken on Christmas Eve of 2008. That day Mattie was visited by his close preschool buddy Zachary. While Zachary was visiting, we also had the honor to be introduced to two marines. They were visiting children in the hospital for the holidays and giving every child a toy or two. Mattie loved seeing these men in their uniforms and their presence really caught his attention. Zachary also enjoyed the visit. It was a major change in our daily routine and it did bring us some holiday cheer.

Quote of the day: Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.  ~ Chinese Proverb

As my faithful readers know, I rarely go to the movies. In fact, I tend to only go when I am in Los Angeles visiting my parents. They know that I will only go to see certain movies, so typically if they recommend I go, it is for something worthwhile. Today's movie, Saving Mr. Banks did not disappoint. Basically this is a true story about the author (PL Travers) of Mary Poppins and how Pamela Travers comes to sell the rights to her book to Walt Disney in the 1960's. Naturally most of us are very familiar with the movie Mary Poppins and even if you haven't seen the movie, my guess is most of us know the music. So much so that I bet you know the best way to swallow medicine....... with a SPOON FULL OF SUGAR MAKES THE MEDICINE GO DOWN. Honestly it would never have dawned on me that the author of such a tale could have such a dark, dysfunctional, and tumultuous upbringing. I think this movie is a three to four tissue event, so if you go see it, go prepared. I never thought I would leave a movie about Mary Poppins crying, with swollen eyes, and a massive headache. But it happened!

Inspired by the extraordinary, untold back story of how Disney’s classic “Mary Poppins” made it to the screen. When Walt Disney’s daughters begged him to make a movie of their favorite book, P.L. Travers’ “Mary Poppins,” he made them a promise—one that he didn’t realize would take 20 years to keep. In his quest to obtain the rights, Walt comes up against a curmudgeonly, uncompromising writer who has absolutely no intention of letting her beloved magical nanny get mauled by the Hollywood machine. But, as the books (yes she wrote multiple books about Mary Poppins) stop selling and money grows short, Travers reluctantly agrees to go to Los Angeles to hear Disney’s plans for the adaptation. For those two short weeks in 1961, Walt Disney pulls out all the stops. Armed with imaginative storyboards and chirpy songs from the talented Sherman brothers, Walt launches an all-out onslaught on P.L. Travers, but the prickly author doesn’t budge. He soon begins to watch helplessly as Travers becomes increasingly immovable and the rights begin to move further away from his grasp. It is only when he reaches into his own childhood that Walt discovers the truth about the ghosts that haunt her, and together they set Mary Poppins free to ultimately make one of the most endearing films in cinematic history. 

I naturally thought the movie was fantastic, well acted, and meaningful. But if you want other opinions, I attached two links below. The Vulture article lives up to its name. It attacked the movie viciously and felt that Disney produced this movie just to beef up its own name and reputation. The Vulture felt the movie was pro-Disney and did not capture the true essence of Travers. However, the LA Times interviewed several people for its article and from what I can tell Emma Thompson quite legitimately portrayed Travers. I suppose you can be the judge of that. However, what intrigued me about the movie besides the artistic genius of the Sherman brothers who transformed a story into a musical, was the power once again of the human connection. I have no doubt that Travers would never have sold her story to Walt Disney if he did not invest the time and understanding to get to know the real Travers. 

Travers characters within her book represented her own family members. Particularly her father and herself! Therefore something so personal, makes it difficult to alter or to see one's story through the eyes of others. In essence altering characters can be like a betrayal of the memory of a loved one. Yet it was through Travers' relationship with Disney that I think she was able to rewrite her own life script. He gave her the encouragement she needed to permit herself to let go of the past and to help her reshape her future. The movie enabled me to see that she had the power to take all past hurts and losses, not forget them, but accept them, and understand that she is more than the sum of these issues. The issues should not hold her prisoner, they are a part of her, but she needed to learn to forgive herself and not feel she had to be punished for the wrong doings of her family. Taking the courageous step to develop Mary Poppins into a musical and to sell the rights to her story, was an exercise in hope, awareness, and forgiveness. 

Clearly the story of PL Travers and my own are very different. The issues are night and day and yet at the core they are the same. We both feel trapped in our past, a past that influences our interactions, and our future. Finding a way through the hurt is no easy journey but I wish upon myself and anyone else struggling with loss and/or past issues to be able to develop a meaningful connection with someone who enables us to see a future and have a new script, different than the one playing inside our own heads.  

December 29, 2013

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Tonight's picture was taken in December of 2008. Mattie was in the hospital and getting used to life in a wheelchair. After Mattie's second limb salvaging surgery in November he never walked again. This was a huge adjustment in and of itself, much less having to battle cancer. That day a friend came to visit and she gave Mattie Christmas stockings and a cute magnetic Santa. Mattie attached Santa to his wheelchair and decided to wear the Christmas stockings rather than hang them up!

Quote of the day: You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do. ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

My mom and I went for a walk this morning around her neighborhood's track. While walking, my mom told me she noticed something moving out of the corner of her eye, like a big dog. Though I love dogs, I tend not to like encounters with stray dogs. However as we got closer to the moving target, we noticed they were deer. A mom and her baby in tow. I did not have my camera with me so I got out my blackberry (I can hear Peter screaming as I write this!) and snapped a photo of this scene. I realize this isn't very clear, but if you look closely you can see mama deer looking at me and baby deer was eating.

While walking around the track we bumped into one of my parents friends who lives in the neighborhood. I have met this neighbor before on previous trips. Any case he greeted us and as a caveat I should say that he has a very upbeat, high energy, and positive personality. As he was talking about his mom who is ill he mentioned that "God answers all prayers." Hearing this saying or platitude almost elicits an automatic response. It is almost Pavlovian in a way for me. Maybe because I have heard it SO often when Mattie was battling cancer. Nonetheless, my response to this is, "No God doesn't answer all prayers. He may hear all prayers but they aren't always answered." He began to counter my statement and said that we are all God's creatures and therefore not all of us are guaranteed a long time on this earth, some of us get called back sooner like Mattie. I am not sure if this was supposed to make me feel any better, but on the contrary what it produced was more agitation. I accept that all of us deal with grief and loss differently, but when I feel people are pontificating to me or suggesting that I need to deal with my grief in the same way as they do/did, that is when I get very defensive. 

I think religion and spirituality are personal issues for people on a good day and can be difficult topics to talk about. Now add into the mix a tragedy, loss, or misfortune, and a person can be all over the map about God. Because I have issues with God's decision to take Mattie, doesn't mean that I do not believe in God and that I am no longer Catholic. I have many people thinking this about me, which just isn't true. I think God is certainly powerful enough to understand my anger and my disbelief in Mattie's death and yet also know that coming to terms with all of this has to be on my time schedule. Not society's!

In addition to deer sightings, we also had a bunny encounter. There is a patch of grass near my parent's street which attracts bunnies. By dusk, they all come on out to eat. As you can see this fellow caught me spying on him. He had his eye and ears on me. 

This afternoon, we all went to see a play called Mom's Gift. This is a world premiere comedy with a heart. The plot entails a mom who has been dead for 11 months and shows up at her husband’s birthday party as a ghost with a mission. Like Clarence in “It’s A Wonderful Life,” she has to accomplish a task to earn her wings. Only what the task actually is, is a mystery.

I have seen this small theater group perform many shows in the past, but I would have to say this one may have been one of their best. The six actor cast was fantastic and the story line was much more complex and deeper than your average Christmas story. It was a real tearjerker. In many ways the mom was sent back to earth as a ghost to help her family members resolve many of the interpersonal conflicts between them. At the core all the dysfunction is a result of miscommunication or perhaps LACK of communication as well as the issues associated with grief and loss. Each of the characters in the play were dealing with the death of the "mom" in different ways and it was interesting to hear this dialogue unfold. I think discussing grief is no easy feat and yet this story did it in a very meaningful and heartwarming manner. Needless to say, just like in "A Wonderful Life" a bell was wrung at the end of the play and we we are left happy knowing that this mom's mission on earth was accomplished and she was granted her wings. 

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Tonight's picture was taken in December of 2008. Around Mattie's neck was a beautiful wreath his art teacher and classmates made for him. The leaves of the wreath were constructed from paper and on each leaf was a message from Mattie's classmates to him. This wreath hung on the back of our front door until this fall. The wreath carried special and yet painful memories for us. When Mattie was sick he received many cards, messages, and at times visits from friends. In the beginning Mattie enjoyed all of these things, but as his disease progressed Mattie retreated within himself and no longer appreciated noise, visits, or at times being in and amongst the "well world." This was a hard reality to accept, and therefore Peter and I also became absorbed in the world of cancer, sickness, and eventually death and dying. It is very hard to move from that world back into the "normal" world. Mainly because we know what the alternative looks like.  

Quote of the day: Change your thoughts and you change your world.  ~ Norman Vincent Peale

I began my morning with this sighting! A huge hawk
right outside my parent's home in a tree. He looked so regal and beautiful, yet I have seen up close and personal the kind of damage a hawk can do to a small bird. Several hawks have come to our bird feeders in DC, and plucked sparrows right from the feeders and killed them. To me these are noteworthy birds and this one definitely caught my attention this morning. 

My mom and I ventured for the day to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). I was introduced to LACMA when I was a high school student. I remember taking an art history class in high school, and though I had been exposed to art all my life, this class really made me turn a corner. I learned back then in my teens that art spoke to me and evoked certain feelings. Needless to say, I have been intrigued by art all my life and I think those who tell me they don't appreciate art or like going to museums, just haven't experienced the right art for them yet. I will never forget my art history teacher and she certainly took our class to some great museums in LA. Funny how such memories can come back just by visiting a place. 

We saw a special exhibit today entitled, Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic. One of the most important artists of the twentieth century, Alexander Calder revolutionized modern sculpture. Calder's most iconic works, coined mobiles by Marcel Duchamp, are kinetic sculptures in which flat pieces of painted metal connected by wire move delicately in the air, propelled by motors or air currents. His later stabiles are monumental structures, whose arching forms and massive steel planes continue his engagement with dynamism and daring innovation.

Installing a sculpture exhibition—particularly one in which works are bound to walls, sit on pedestals, hang in the air, hover close to the ground, and vary significantly in scale—can be tricky. In developing this exhibition, the senior curator reviewed historical photos of Calder’s studio and presentations he designed and compared them with exhibition design from the past 40 years. During Calder’s lifetime, displays seemed to mimic those found in his studio: crowded together, overlapping, presenting a riotous cacophony of competing forms far removed from contemporary concerns of conservation and visitor-circulation paths. In the past few decades, museum exhibitions have had to grapple with these real concerns, which are exacerbated by increasingly large museum crowds. Extensive plinths, protective barriers, and pedestals mitigate intentional or inadvertent touching, but can hinder the viewer’s ability to relate intimately with the works. Clearly, from the curator's perspective, decisions about density, space, light, and color would need to be weighed against concerns for the safety and protection of the art.

This mobile of Calder's is entitled, Laocoon (1947). Here is an interesting fact, in 1995, at Christie's in NY it sold for $992.500!!! I have seen Calder's works before, but never 50 at one time and in one huge space! I can't say you finish this exhibit and say..... how beautiful, or how exquisite! Calder was an engineer by training and therefore, I am not sure I see artistic beauty as much as creativity and fascination with structure, form, and the dynamics of movement. But for those who have never seen one of Calder's mobiles, they are huge. Much bigger than a person! Their size alone makes them impressive along with the fact that they move or dance gently with any breeze. 

Another aspect of planning the show that was critical to the curator was the desire to slow down people’s pace while looking at the works of art. She purposely limited the exhibit to feature 50 objects—giving the art ample space to breathe. The curator also wanted to encourage people to spend more time with individual objects so that the gentle movement could be observed in the mobiles. If you take the time in the show, you can easily understand the observation that Jean-Paul Sartre made in the 1940's after visiting Calder’s studio: “But suddenly, when the agitation had left [the mobile] and it seemed lifeless again, its long majestic tail, which until then had not moved, came to life indolently and almost regretfully, spun in the air, and swept past my nose.”

To see the entire exhibit, go to this slideshow:

After the Calder exhibit, my mom and I went to see a new exhibit by David Hockney. Hockney is considered one of the most innovative artists of the postwar era. British-born David Hockney has, throughout his career in Los Angeles and England, adopted various new media in order to investigate perception. Embracing cutting-edge technology including Polaroids, iPad and iPhone drawings, and most recently film, Hockney explores new ways to depict movement through multiple perspectives of a singular event. This exhibition introduces Seven Yorkshire Landscape Videos (2011), in which eighteen cameras, fixed to Hockney’s car, record drives through Yorkshire’s landscape. The film is displayed in a multi-screen grid that generates a larger, intensified image. For Hockney, these multiple perspectives “force the eye to scan, and it is impossible to see everything at once… [It] gives back the choice to the viewer, and hence…brings about possibilities for new narratives.”

I am not sure I have ever seen a Hockney work of art. So after seeing this landscape video above, we went in search of Hockney's painting entitled, Mulholland Drive: The Road to the Studio. This painting is part of LACMA's permanent collection and this photo doesn't do it justice. Mainly because it is enormous. At least 10 to 15 feet long!!! It takes up an entire wall and the colors jump out at you. Basically he painted this to capture his drive from him home in the Hollywood Hills to his art studio on Santa Monica Boulevard. The sheer size and colors are remarkable.

Also part of the permanent collection of LACMA is another Calder mobile entitled, Hello Ladies. These three mobiles behind me are the "ladies." The wonderful part about the ladies is they are within a fountain and there are water jets that occasionally hit the mobiles. When the water hits the mobiles it makes a lovely sound and also turns the mobiles. This is a very clever and peaceful outdoor exhibit. 

I have visited LACMA before for many years but frankly I never knew that one could walk from the museum to the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum. They have now opened the gates between the two museums and therefore we migrated over the Tar Pits Museum. That may not sound like a big deal, but this museum was Mattie's favorite place to visit in LA. The museum is SO kid friendly and does a great job at capturing the mind and imagination regarding prehistoric animal life. Basically natural asphalt has seeped up from the ground in the area around the museum for tens of thousands of years. The tar is often covered with dust, leaves, or water. Over many centuries, the bones of animals that were trapped in the tar were preserved. The George C. Page Museum is dedicated to researching the tar pits and displaying specimens from the animals that died there. Outside the museum is this model of a prehistoric elephant captured in the tar. I have many photos of Mattie in front of this model. It seems simply impossible to accept that the model remains, but not Mattie. I emailed Peter this photo today and asked him to guess where I was! Naturally he knew and responded within seconds! One can never forget what one's child loved and became animated over!

At the Tar Pit museum is Pit 91. This is an overhead view of the pit. Basically this is where scientists excavate prehistoric animal bones from the tar. They comb through a 6 inch layer of tar each year. This has been going on for decades. 

These are fun facts about Pit 91. Mattie just loved all of this kind of stuff and it continues to be a very odd feeling to walk the paths Mattie once did and know that he isn't physically with me. Other people around me have their children growing up along side them. Mine, not unlike these animal fossils, is long buried and it takes purpose and determination to keep Mattie's memory alive. 

December 27, 2013

Friday, December 27, 2013

Friday, December 27, 2013

Tonight's picture was taken on Christmas of 2008. That was a hard day for all of us. We were home from the hospital and were alone. Which was a night and day difference from living in the hospital. In the hospital there was constant noise and people around us 24/7. When we were home we had more privacy but then again we also had NO physical or emotional support. Mattie was in a very depressed and anxious state that day. One of Mattie's friends sent us these Christmas hats and noses and Peter decided to put some on which inspired Mattie. They posed for a photo on Mattie's hospital bed, which was in our living room. However, what you see here was probably our most happy moment that day.

Quote of the day: Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom. ~ Marcel Proust

This morning I felt like I was Mrs. Danvers in Daphne Du Maurier's book, Rebecca (also a Hitchcock movie). For those of you unfamiliar with Mrs. Danvers, she was the ultimate snoop. She knew exactly what was going on inside and outside of a home. I wasn't purposefully snooping this morning, rather I was a sun seeker. I went outside of my parent's house and stood on the front lawn in the sun for the few minutes. To me being in the sun for short periods of time just makes me feel good. While standing around looking at the vegetation and mountains, an old car drove by, down the street, turned around and parked across the street at a neighbor's house. The person in the car was an older gentleman, who opened up the driver side door and began to stare at me. We had a staring contest for five minutes. I wasn't moving and he wasn't getting out of his car! When he did emerge from his car, we was dressed oddly for a warm day. He was wearing a wool hat, covering plenty of his hair! He opened his trunk and took out a large burlap sack. If he was portly and had a red suit on, I swear he could have been Santa Claus! But this Santa looked dazed and confused and I did not understand why he was carrying a big sack. Any case, he proceeded up the neighbor's front walk way. He mulled around a bit, dropped the sack and then crossed over the driveway and was looking over a gate into the backyard. He popped the latch on the backyard gate and walked in. I found his behavior beyond odd especially since he kept walking back and forth. Not getting into the house but walking in circles. 

I told my parents about this character and we wrote down his license plate number, tried calling the neighbor's cell phone, and then proceeded to call the security company for the neighborhood. Literally within seconds a patrol car was in front of the house and I came out to talk with the officer. I told him what I observed and that he could find "skinny Santa" (if you know me well, I have a nick name for practically everyone in my life) in the backyard. The officer did find the burlap sack by the front door and told me clothing was inside! It all checked out in the end, because he was our neighbor's father, but he was disoriented and did not know how to get into the house. He did not know where the key was and I guess he was watching the house while his son was away. Any case, the officer thanked me for taking this seriously, calling him, and agreed with me that the man seemed questionable and appeared disoriented. Now I could have just let this all go, but what if something was wrong in the end? I would have felt terrible for keeping it quiet!

This afternoon we all went out to lunch. My dad had some medical tests today, so we discussed them, and we got a better understanding for some of the issues he has been dealing with. Dialoguing is important and I think it is vital for family members to all be on the same page about medical issues so that we can ultimately advocate for what is in the best interest of the patient. 

Peter and I are both dealing with our own lows. It is rather ironic that we are on separate coasts now but we are both feeling the lows. We hadn't discussed them until today, but as soon as we did we both got it right away. Both of us went on Facebook recently. I must confess, I rarely visit Facebook. I only do on occasion to post about the Foundation or to check on my friend in cancer. Otherwise, I have learned for survival purposes, I try to limit my exposure. But today I went on to look at a few friends' pages. After five minutes I had to STOP!!! I was getting super depressed, then angry, which then moved to intense bitterness. I just can't process these cutesy photos of friends, family, happy moments, and other holiday gatherings. It turns out that Peter had a similar experience yesterday which sent him into a funk. So we both agreed, no Facebook during the holidays. I think it is rather a sad commentary. Facebook is designed to keep people connected and to share things between friends and family. Whereas to me Facebook is a social media tool that highlights exactly what we are missing and flaunts it in our faces minute by minute, hourly, and daily. 

December 26, 2013

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Tonight's picture was taken in December of 2008. That day Mattie was in the clinic and as you can see he wasn't feeling well. He was depleted of energy and running a high fever. There was a pillow on Mattie's lap because that was where he was laying his head. When Santa and Mrs. Claus came in to visit Mattie, he literally picked his head up from the pillow long enough to say hi, take a photo, and check out the toys he was given. With the help of Santa's elves (Linda - Mattie's Child Life Specialist and Jenny - Mattie's Art Therapist), Mattie received many of the toys he loved playing with. As soon as Santa left the room, Mattie's head collapsed right back onto the pillow.

Quote of the day: Since you get more joy out of giving joy to others, you should put a good deal of thought into the happiness that you are able to give. ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

Today is the day after Christmas and I suppose because it is a weekday and a working day for most people, things seemed to return to business as usual. However, I am very aware of the fact that those who are grieving the day or days after Christmas are anything but usual. In fact these days are far more difficult than Christmas itself. I have a feeling the main reason for this has to do with the psychological preparation and bracing we go through in order to survive the holiday. However, once Christmas is over we lift up these barriers (because to sustain them long term is impossible) and our reality becomes even more unimaginable. I think most people who try to support a family member or friend in grief are unaware of the impact of post-holiday blues. We all can get post-holiday blues, but it seems far more extreme for those who lost a child, and I would go a step further, for those who lost an only child. I guess my one piece of advice which I feel I can share because I have learned it the hard way is the importance of continuing to reach out to those who are grieving a child. Because Christmas has come and gone, doesn't mean that things have returned to normal or have stabilized. In fact, the exact opposite may occur and therefore your presence in a friend or family member's life is actually quite crucial now. 

My parents continue to feel under the weather, so therefore doing non-taxing things and staying close to home are important. We went out to lunch today and sat outside. It was a glorious weather day, it had to be in the 80's, and I truly believe that fresh air and sunshine can cure many ailments. As I look around me I am not sure others truly appreciate the weather they have in December. To me it felt like a spring day. By the time we got back home, it just seemed too lovely to be inside. So my mom and I went for a walk. While out walking we ran into a neighbor of hers, I got to meet his adorable dog, and we also got to see the sun setting. I have found through Mattie's battle and then death to appreciate the simple day to day things, because they are really quite special and memorable. In fact if you talk with anyone who has a grave and terminal illness, the one common thread no matter the illness is the loss of one's daily routine. The longing for the mundane and the ordinary. Things we find annoying or take for granted when healthy. Yet having the freedom to drive one's car, to have lunch out, to watch a sunset, and to take a walk all are things I very much wanted when Mattie was sick. As opposed to being trapped in a hospital for over a year and being unable to provide solutions to Mattie's disease. Therefore when I have these wonderful freedoms now, they do not go unrecognized by me.    

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Tonight's picture was taken in December of 2008. This was our last Christmas with Mattie and it was really a brutal holiday. Mattie was recovering from his limb salvaging surgeries and was also in the process of developing a full blown case of medical post traumatic stress. Peter and I were at our wits end caring for Mattie at home and when I look back at this now, I just don't know how we met his physical and psychological needs. Especially when we practically had NO sleep. Mattie's disease left him unable to sleep and therefore that meant we also got NO sleep. While Mattie was home, he was visited by my friend's uncle who dressed up as Santa. Mattie loved Ed's visit and it is sad to think that both Mattie and Ed are no longer with us.

Quote of the day: And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled 'till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store? What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more? ~ Dr. Seuss

Christmas of 2008 will always remain firmly in my mind. It was the last Christmas we had with Mattie. I have learned that everything in life is relative. Meaning that I thought in 2008 we had it hard. Little did I know that Mattie with cancer was better than no Mattie at all (never really planned for that option). Looking back, I thought our life in Christmas 2008, was absolutely impossible. Mattie was home from the Hospital (since hospitals work hard to discharge you before a major holiday if they can) and trying to recover from two limb salvaging surgeries. Mattie was also dealing with pain, immobility, and the beginning of medical post traumatic stress disorder. We were on overload balancing Mattie's medical care at home which was enormous and his psychological needs. Needs which his doctors couldn't appreciate until they saw him a week later in clinic. I remember vividly the sadness that surrounded us that Christmas and just how depressed Mattie was. We hear of people struggling with depression, which is an all encompassing issue, but observing this nightmare happening to a six year old is hard to stomach. Especially when it is your six year old and he is also struggling with cancer. Cancer that physically ravaged his body. Mattie's cancer, unlike some other cancers, was a very visible cancer. A cancer that removes limbs! So unfortunately if you ask Peter or I about Christmas and how we feel about it, at the core you most likely will hear our sadness and our final memories of Christmas as a family. 

This evening, we had a big dinner party with several of my parents friends. I have been planning this dinner for days but wasn't sure we could pull it off since my parents have both been so sick for almost a week now. I tried to do most of the work so that this day would be possible. While cooking in the kitchen today, don't you know my HUGE grasshopper friend came back to hang out on the window screen. He later jumped away, but he was with me for most of the morning. As I mentioned last night, I take Mr. Grasshopper as a sign from Mattie to me! It had to be close to 80 degrees in Los Angeles and I had all the windows open to get fresh breezes throughout the house. People here take this for granted, but since Washington, DC was 25 degrees today, I know this sunshine is to be cherished. 

I started off my morning however with text messages back and forth with my two nephews and my niece. That was a special highlight and my nephew closest to Mattie's age shared with me his favorite gift he received under the tree. I could hear his excitement even through his words. 

When Mattie was battling cancer, we became friends with a young lady named Bridget and her family. Bridget is courageously battling cancer and Peter and I have always been fond of her and her entire family. Bridget's mom, Cathy, writes to me every holiday, and today was no exception. Some of my faithful readers may recall that I had a chance to reconnect with Bridget during Mattie Miracle's Chocolate Therapy workshop at the hospital in October. Cathy wanted me to know that our littlest and brightest star was being remembered today and also how much Bridget enjoyed my visit with her in the hospital. I still recall that visit because Bridget introduced me to her doctors as Mom #2! That made me feel very good and I only wish Bridget and her family never saw and experienced the insides of a pediatric oncology unit and clinic!

I want to thank so many of our near and dear friends who contributed to Mattie Miracle this holiday season. I can't think of a better gift you could have given us! It is deeply appreciated and we value your support. Along the way today, my lifetime friend Karen wrote to me and said she wished for Christmas she could clone me. I took that as a high compliment and it is feedback and caring messages like this that truly help grievers become reinvested in the world.

December 24, 2013

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Tuesday, December 24, 2013 -- Mattie died 223 weeks ago today.

Tonight's picture was taken in December of 2007. As you can see it features the Christmas train I wrote about in last night's blog posting. Mattie loved this train and he wanted it in his Christmas photo each year. This photo was featured on the front cover of our Christmas 2007 card!

Quote of the day: As long as we know in our hearts what Christmas ought to be, Christmas is. ~ Eric Sevareid

We spent a good part of today at home. Both of my parents have been ill since I arrived and though they are beginning to improve, my mom seemed to take a turn for the worse today. Tomorrow several of my parent's friends are coming over for Christmas dinner and I have been working away on this for the past two days. I am making some of my favorite bigger dishes that I rarely get to make at home, since it is just Peter and I. 

While my mom was resting today, my dad and I sat down and chatted. We had the windows open and it was lovely to have the breezes from the 70+ degree weather pouring into the house. Something that I know I wouldn't be getting in DC. My dad has had quite an illustrious career and he typically doesn't share his stories and experiences with others. He is rather humble in that way. Nonetheless as he was recounting some of his experiences with people, places, and life lessons, the time this afternoon past by very quickly. Before I knew it, we went to wake my mom up for Christmas Eve dinner. When my dad was working I was a kid, a teenager, and then as a young adult I moved to the East coast to attend college. So I really did not get to understand or appreciate the true nature of his skills and what he accomplished. However now as an adult, I have a better perspective and I am happy to be able to take the time to listen. It was a non-planned moment today, which are the best kind of moments!

While I was talking with my dad, I noticed a HUGE visitor on the screen. I naturally was fascinated by this and took a photo! I never liked or was intrigued by bugs until I had Mattie. Mattie gravitated to them and naturally over time I had to accept some of them into my life. However to me this is the Christmas Grasshopper. Certainly I know this fellow isn't Mattie, but I accept this visit as a sign from Mattie, letting me know that he is thinking of me. In his own way he is with me, though of course I would much prefer the real boy! 

When I went outside to take a photo of the grasshopper, I also captured the hills that serve as the backdrop of my parent's home. Living in DC, I am used to non-stop noise, traffic, and airplanes overhead. Up in the hills of Southern California, it is peaceful. You rarely hear anything. 

This evening we went out to dinner. I am always amazed who is out and about during the week and the holiday is NO different. I really do not think people eat home anymore. Or at least this is my assessment based on traffic and FULL tables at our restaurant and other restaurants we drove passed. 

As Christmas is upon us, I assess our situation. This Christmas will be our fifth holiday without Mattie. I remember Christmas of 2009, our first Christmas after Mattie died. Three months after Mattie died to be specific. Peter and I weren't sure if we were coming or going back then. We went through the motions and back then we had friends who walked the grief journey with us for a year. However, losing a child to cancer affects more than just the first Christmas. It impacts EVERY holiday, EVERY day, and one's future. As tomorrow is Christmas, I am in Los Angeles and Peter is in Washington, DC. As you can see we still haven't figured out how to cope with the holidays! At the core, holidays are not the same for us and how we need to manage these times also varies. I do admit that even my own needs change from time to time. Some times I need to retreat and remove myself, and at other times I crave for someone to pull me out of a funk to do something fun. Something I wouldn't allow myself to do normally. It is hard to balance these feelings as an individual and it becomes even more complex to balance them as a couple. Because chances are each member of the couple won't be at the same place at the same time. Which is why surviving the loss of a child for couples is traumatic and takes work and understanding.   

As we drove home tonight from dinner we passed many houses filled with outdoor decorations. You couldn't miss this Santa!

My parent's neighborhood is known for its huge star decorations. Mainly because it is high up in the hills, close to the stars. It has been a Christmas tradition for decades to display 10 foot or higher stars in the front yards. It makes for a stunning sight as you drive up the hill. 

If I had to name this house I would call it "lights everywhere." You can't miss it, it is like driving passed General Electric! Mattie loved driving at night and seeing the lights. In fact, when Mattie was a toddler we took him to San Diego one summer. Typically we did not take Mattie out at night when in DC, but while on vacation we were out at night and driving. I still remember Mattie's reaction to seeing the city of San Diego aglow at night (not going out at night much he had never seen sky scrapers all lit up!). Seeing something for the first time through Mattie's eyes was indeed magical. 

December 23, 2013

Monday, December 23, 2013

Monday, December 23, 2013

Tonight's picture was taken in December of 2006. Mattie was four years old and truly got the whole concept of Christmas. In fact, one of Mattie's favorite parts about decorating for Christmas was taking out and assembling his Christmas train. He loved to have this train go around the tree. This train played Christmas music and also puffed out smoke from its stack! As many of my faithful readers know, I spent a great deal of time cleaning out Mattie's room and closets this fall. However, the Christmas train is still with us. Not that we have a tree, but I know how much this train meant to Mattie, that I just can't seem to part with it. This photo was featured on our Christmas 2006 card!

Quote of the day: There are three classes of people: Those who see. Those who see when they are shown. Those who do not see. ~ Leonardo da Vinci

As promised, I have another animal tale for you this evening. I hope you enjoyed the beautiful story of the friendship between Jack the goat and Charlie the horse last night. It seems like we can learn a great deal from our four legged friends. Lessons that can be captured throughout the year, but somehow the holiday season seems to put all of us in a reflective mood. 

It is rather timely that soon after learning about Jack and Charlie, I would be introduced to another beautiful story of Jack the Christmas Mule. This is not an actual photo of Jack, but I think seeing this cutie enables us to follow the story along a bit better. Or at least it makes our friend Jack the mule a bit more real. 

Peter and I had the opportunity to meet Mary Jo, a respected psycho-oncologist, in February of 2013. Mary Jo works closely with Mattie Miracle to develop a psychosocial standard of care for childhood cancer. Mary Jo knows I am an animal lover and emailed me back and forth yesterday about a stray mule that found a way onto her property. 

After hearing the story about Jack, I felt inspired and renamed him the Christmas Mule. This seems like a very fitting name for this fellow because at the end of the day there are many moral, emotional, and meaningful messages his journey can teach us.

Jack lives down the road from Mary Jo. His owner is away for the holidays and recently Jack's mule friend died. Jack seems to be out of sorts and escaped from his home on a journey. Jack walked his way to Mary Jo's farm. Now I realize Jack and I are a completely different species, yet I am intrigued by the notion that under times of stress and grief, we both turn to walking. I relate to his need to escape his place filled with memories and the desire to seek out some sort of comfort somewhere or with someone. 

Any case, when Jack showed up unannounced at Mary Jo's, animal control was called. It took awhile for the authorities, Mary Jo, and several neighbors to piece together where Jack ran away from and lives. The authorities literally walked Jack back down the road to stay at another neighbor's farm. This was decided since animal control had no space in their facility for Jack to spend the holidays. In essence there was NO ROOM IN THE INN! However, in the midst of deciding Jack's temporary home (until his owners returned), he got to spend a night in Mary Jo's stable. It was there that Jack met Winnie, Mary Jo's horse. 

As we all know, sometimes we immediately connect with others and feel they understand us, but what I find so fascinating is that this same type of camaraderie can happen in the equine world! After spending one night in Mary Jo's stable, Jack and Winnie developed a friendship. So much so that when the authorities walked Jack back down the road the following day to stay at a neighboring farm, Jack escaped again! However this time the escape was purposeful. He was coming back to see Winnie and spend time with him. What Jack points out to me, and perhaps my lens is skewed, is that seeking out support, comfort, and friendship after the loss of a loved one is so natural. Almost like a survival instinct. 

Other than walking and being physically active, I would say that the only other way to survive a devastating loss is through meaningful connections to other people. People who understand and accept us. Why I refer to Jack as the Christmas Mule is because of the symbolic nature of having no room in the Inn (because of animal control), and then Mary Jo opening up her stable for Jack. Any one familiar with Christianity would see the connection right away. But in addition to this, the welfare of Jack has united Mary Jo's community. They have all come together to discuss where Jack should live and how to help him. To me this is the ultimate Christmas gift, when people are working together not to buy things, not to out-decorate their neighbor, or get the best material presents possible. But to work together to help something or someone. I have found that through this unity we uncover life's greatest gifts and in the process learn more and feel better about ourselves.

May we all glimmer something from the story of Jack the Christmas Mule and may each of us have a Winnie to turn to in times of grief, despair, and feeling loss and disconnected. For it is within this type of connection that survival and getting re-invested back into the world are possible. 

December 22, 2013

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Tonight's picture was taken in December of 2005. One weekend we took Mattie to Rockville, Maryland to have lunch at one of his favorite restaurants. This particular restaurant has a pond, fish, turtles, and a little bridge in front of it. When Mattie would get antsy inside the restaurant we would take him for a brief walk outside. That particular visit, I went with the notion of capturing a photo of Mattie for our Christmas card in front of the pond. As you can see Mattie looked wonderful in RED. He just gravitated to bold, bright, and happy colors. This charming photo was featured on the front cover of our Christmas 2005 card!

Quote of the day: Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.  ~ Mark Twain

Last night I had the opportunity to watch an animal documentary with my parents. I love all sorts of animals and I believe this is the case because I grew up with cats and a dog in my life. Not to mention learning to ride horses. The documentary was interesting because scientists are studying the concept of FRIENDSHIP in non-human animals. Newsflash..... animals also make friends! That this bond is not just reserved for the human species. In a way I found this whole scientific debate that I was listening to absolutely crazy. Any one who has been a pet owner knows right away that animals are VERY capable of friendship, compassion, and showing love. In fact I would beg to say that they express these emotions better than humans at times. They do it freely without thinking, analyzing, and assessing the consequences. 

Several animal examples were provided to the viewer illustrating that animals can become friends with each other, specifically animals across species such as a deer with a dog and my favorite example was that between a goat and a horse. I included a link below to the touching story of a decade long relationship between an "old" goat by the name of Jack and a "blind" horse by the name of Charlie. The notion of Jack and Charlie remain with me today, which is why I wanted to share it with you. 

If you watch the video clip, you will see a woman with a green t-shirt talking to you. She is the owner and operator of a rescue farm for animals. Hearing about all the animals she has rescued is inspiring and she did a wonderful job describing two of her residents. Charlie was a very old horse, 40 years old to be exact. As he aged he lost his eye sight. The owner of the farm was thinking she would have to put Charlie to sleep, well that is until Jack came on the scene. Jack seemed to understand Charlie's limitations and without being trained in any way stepped up to the plate to help his friend Charlie. Jack acted like a seeing eye dog for Charlie. For over 10 years, where ever Charlie was, Jack was right beside him. EVERYWHERE!! In pastures, trails, under trees..... steadfast and loyal. They spent so much time together that Charlie naturally recognized the sound of Jack's hooves on the ground. 

The owner went on to explain that Charlie benefited greatly from Jack's company and assistance. Meaning that without Jack, Charlie's life probably would have been terminated. However what surprised me is she said that Jack does this without getting anything in return. I was surprised by this because in my mind at the end of the day the greatest gift we give to ourselves in helping someone/thing out. Jack was needed, wanted, and had a purpose in life by caring for Charlie. I do not think that should be downplayed at ALL! In my opinion the relationship was symbiotic, which is the best kind of friendship. A friendship in which spending time with together nurtures in both directions. How thoroughly beautiful. 

But the story gets even more poignant, and perhaps I honed into it because it focused on loss and grief. Some people may think animals don't grieve, but that is NOT true. I saw it with our cat Patches and our resident Jack Russell Terrier, JJ. Both grieved Mattie in their own ways. Since Charlie was an older horse, he eventually died. When he died, Jack (the faithful companion) was right by his side. The farm owner observed Jack's behavior while Charlie was dying and thereafter. At first she thought that Jack did not understand that Charlie died. But of course Jack got it, he knew his friend had died. The sad part is that Jack's grief impacted him so much that in a way he lost the will to live. The owner of the farm discussed the physiological and emotional reactions that are the by-product of grief. Or at least what she observed from Jack. The irony is whether we are talking about Jack or me, the reaction to the loss of someone near and dear to us is devastating. Needless to say, at times I felt just like Charlie in this story and at other times, I related completely with Jack! All I can say is as we approach this holiday season, may we all find or nurture a Jack and/or Charlie in our lives. The beneficial nature of friendship is well documented in the social science literature specifically as it relates to enhancing our health and happiness.  

I hope I have intrigued you enough to check out the link below. Tomorrow, I will be continuing my writing on friendship with another real life animal story. This next story, which I entitle the Christmas Mule, was shared with me by one of the wonderful psycho-oncologists working with the Foundation. Mary Jo's story is so touching and illustrates the bond of friendship, the impact of grief, and how animals can unite a community. All of which illustrate the magic of Christmas. 

Jack the Goat and Charlie the Horse

December 21, 2013

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Tonight's picture was taken in December of 2004. Before Mattie was born, Peter and I used to decorate our home for Christmas both inside and outside. I am not sure why we did this since we were rarely home for the holidays. We usually were traveling to see family which is sadly why Peter and I really do not have our own Christmas traditions. Nonetheless, I love antique Christmas ornaments. Not the ornaments you get in Target or most stores. I would literally go to antique shops and buy ornaments over the years. So really we have many vintage ornaments which are beautiful. When Mattie came into our lives, he enjoyed our ornaments as well (and though I loved my ornaments, that did not prevent me from having Mattie touch them and play with them, and YES several broke!). However, Mattie added a wonderful dimension to our tree with his many hand crafted ornaments which provided a sweet and childlike feeling to our tree. The last time we had a Christmas tree in our home was 2007. Tonight's photo was featured on the cover of our Christmas 2004 card!  

Quote of the day: We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. ~ Albert Einstein

I started the day by decorating my parent's house for Christmas. There is no way I would do this in my own home, but it seems more manageable here. As I sit here tonight writing the blog, I can see Christmas lights on the tree and the boughs on the banister. It is very peaceful to look at and now I can relate to why Peter and Mattie always loved putting up lights together. As I was stringing lights today, I thought of both of them. 

This afternoon I went to visit two friends of my parents. Though they haven't seen me in years, they are both contributors to Mattie Miracle. Our Foundation has support from wonderful individuals all over the Country. My visit was to drop off a tray of cookies that I baked yesterday. Needless to say the cookies were a hit and it is nice to know that I shared them with a fellow sweet tooth! 

Peter and I text messaged back and forth today and despite being on opposite coasts we keep very connected. Also another by-product of losing Mattie. Any case Peter wanted me to see something posted on Facebook, but I was in the car and unable to view it. But the conversation became absolutely hysterical. Because Peter has had it with my Blackberry loyalty and made it clear that if I had an iphone I would easily be able to access the Foundation's Facebook page. I am not doing his humor justice. But basically Peter is giving me a countdown to the new year in which he will be tossing the Blackberry and bringing me into the 21st century. Needless to say these kind of changes do not go over well with me. I associate my Blackberry with the time period Mattie was battling cancer. In fact, I got my first Blackberry around the time of Mattie's diagnosis and in so many ways I couldn't have managed his care without it. It became my security blanket and to this day my Blackberry goes everywhere with me! I mean everywhere and it sits on my bed stand at night. So parting with this device seems symbolic for me, saying goodbye to another item or remembrance from when Mattie was alive. I am sure that sounds ridiculous, after all this is ONLY a phone. But I have found after such a traumatic loss, things have become my lifesaver and also enable me to feel closer to the Mattie in some way.  

Friday, December 20, 2013

Friday, December 20, 2013

Tonight's picture was taken in December of 2003. The process we went through to capture this photo is beyond memorable. Mattie was an active one year old and there was NO way he was going to sit still and take a Christmas photo. So I had the brilliant idea of taking him to Home Depot and Lowes. Mattie seemed to like these stores, though he wasn't wild about sitting in a shopping cart. During the holiday season, these stores are filled with lights and all sorts of decorations which captured Mattie's attention. So literally Peter and I entered Home Depot first, took Mattie's coat off, and started walking around the aisles until we found a good back drop. However, our Home Depot photos came out awful. So we put Mattie back in the car and drove to Lowes. We did the same thing at Lowes, we got Mattie out of the car, into a shopping cart, removed his coat, and started strolling around the holiday aisles. Here was one of the photos we captured and was featured on the front cover of our Christmas 2003 card!

Quote of the day: Healing is a matter of time, but it is sometimes also a matter of opportunity. ~ Hippocrates

It if funny, Los Angeles is only three hours behind East Coast time and yet for some reason the initial days here are always an adjustment. I was up at 4am, which is unheard of for me. I attempted to go back to sleep but by 6am, I got out of bed and decided to bake cookies. My mom had asked me to put a couple of cookie trays together for friends and I figured there was no time like the present. 

I remember when Peter and I used to take Mattie to Los Angeles as a toddler. Mattie had an awful time adjusting to the time difference. Literally for days Mattie would wake us up at 4am and be totally on and ready for a FULL day of activities. When I look back at those days, I thought they were challenging but in all reality they were a cake walk in comparison to managing Mattie's cancer. It is interesting how life experiences but other issues into context.

Neither of my parents are feeling well at the moment and therefore from my perspective I came to visit at the right time. Though I have no holiday decorations in our home in Washington, DC, I do try to decorate things within my parent's house for Christmas. One could try to analyze why this happens....  why it is easier for me to do this here than at home? I am not sure I have any real answers to this predicament, other than escaping DC and my own environment can serve as a temporary diversion. 

In my parent's neighborhood there is NO mistaking that it is the Christmas season. Many of the houses display a HUGE star on their front lawn. I mean HUGE. Each has to be 5 or 6 feet tall and it signifies the fact that the community is high up in the hills, close to the stars. I suppose one could even say these man made stars light the way, as a symbolic gesture of the bright star that guided the Wise Men when Christ was born. I can see lights everywhere, unlike where we live in DC. In our DC complex, very few people decorate and therefore it is much harder to develop holiday community spirit. 

Certainly one shouldn't need community direction and energy to feel the spirit of Christmas. However, I do find that now that Mattie is gone, I need more incentives, prodding, and energy from those around me to inspire me to want to engage in the holidays. Perhaps on some level when people encourage me to participate in things for the holidays, it gives me the permission to allow Christmas in. I say permission because no matter how many years go by there is a level of guilt and sadness that is ever present when you know you have outlived your child. I am not sure one ever gets over that feeling and instead the feelings become much more pronounced when holidays approach. Perhaps they become more pronounced too because if we do not focus on Mattie's memory, what he meant to us, and what we lost, who else will? My responsibility now as Mattie's mom is to keep his memory alive and I take that role very seriously from blog writing to running his Foundation. Losing a child to cancer is a journey that I wouldn't wish upon any parent because it is a true testament of resilience and survival.