Thoughts and Stories by Charlie’s Family

The Thin Place

The Thin Place

Over this past summer, our family welcomed another new addition to the crew.  Sweet Mackenzie joined the ever growing Cavanagh bunch.  No matter how big our family grows, each person is a special miracle that is just as important as the rest. My brother and sister-in-law provided me with the honor of being Mack’s Godmother.  When they asked- it was a no brainer- of course- I will love and support this child forever, love her like my own- no doubt! As the Baptism grew closer, I felt a little bit of anxiety creep in.  My parents, my in-laws- they are all very full of faith and seem to have a deep understanding of God and a life that is much bigger than us.  I believe in God, I teach my children about God- but I am at times confused.  When I go to church- I cry and feel angry or sad.  I wonder about why people have to hate, why some people are homeless, why children have cancer, why young mothers are taken from their families too soon- so many questions- so many situations I have been exposed to in my adult life that I can’t make sense of.  Then, I push it all deep down and get lost into the day to day hustle and bustle of things.  I find myself getting irritated about the little things; like the bed not being made, or my kids leaving their bikes in the driveway, my husband pooping in the downstairs bathroom before company comes over.  I tell you all this because I finally had an “aha moment”; one that I believe was a gift from my sweet Charlie Boy.  One that I will try to hold onto for all my life.

 We head up to Minnesota for Mackenzie’s Baptism.  The weekend was fun and full of laughs, and then came Sunday morning- the morning of the Baptism.  I wake up feeling that lump in my stomach- the anxiety about going to church- the anger surfacing that I never got to experience Charlie’s Baptism.  I begin to picture what that little boy would be doing right now- probably running in the church and making faces at us, flipping through books and dropping goldfish on the floor.  So many emotions.  Walking up to the church, holding onto my daughters hands, I feel so worried and my eyes are filling with tears.  We are quickly ushered into the bride room where we meet church staff that walk us through the mass.  My brother is holding onto Mackenzie- and she is fussing a bit but looking just beautiful- a little gift from God.  My head is swirling about and I am feeling overcome with emotions- and in that moment- she rests her little fist under chin and is looking right at her dad- there is light shining in… just like a movie.  Mackenzie has on a beautiful bracelet that her mother wore when she was baptized, dressed in all white, she looks like an angel.  Charlie- God- who knows- is saying that they are there- it is okay.  I can’t quite explain how I felt so calm and reassured in that moment.  Like I was in this sacred- Heavenly place and all was right with the world.   I believe that was the first time in my life that I truly heard everything that was being said in mass, that I really understood that life is so much bigger than me.  The Priest said- you will not truly be at peace until you learn to “let go”.  Just let go of whatever it is that has you so worked up.  Give it up.  For some reason- after 36 years of going to church- something stuck.  An “Aha moment”.

 This hour in Minnesota would replay in my mind for a thousand times to come over the next several weeks.  A few weeks later, Brendan sent an article about something my dad had been telling him about around the time that Charlie died.  It was called “The Thin Place”.  I had never heard of this (perhaps I had, but wasn’t listening).  Thin places are defined as places of energy.  A place where the veil between this world and the eternal world is thin.  A thin place is where one can walk in two worlds- the worlds are fused together, knitted loosely where the differences can be discerned or tightly where the two worlds become one.

 I am not sure if that is where I was on that miraculous day- but it sure felt like it.  Since that moment, I have found myself listening more and trying to be more forgiving and understanding.  Through opening my ears, I have found that there are so very many people fighting so many battles.  Some silently, some angrily- some that I don’t understand, some that I pray I will never face.

 At the lantern festival a couple weekends ago, a woman came up to me in the face paint line (right before my son had the creepiest clown painted on his face) and asked me to explain to her what “Charlie’s Corner” was all about.  There were about twenty people in the line who were all intensely listening to every word I said.  In my mind, Charlie’s Corner is all about bringing people together and finding happiness in sometimes the darkest places.  An entire community rallied around a family when they were at their lowest.  Strangers, friends, families… everyone was part of something bigger than themselves- there to lift up one another.  To me, this is very much another “Thin Place” if you allow it to be.  I am sure for others “Charlie’s Corner” may have a different meaning.

     I hope for myself and for all of you (hopefully more than three readers) – to find peace and happiness!!!  This was harder to write than you would probably think- and is really more therapeutic for me than anything else. I find therapy in writing the blog from time to time, others are out there running marathons, some are planting flowers, others may be quietly praying- to each of you, I love you!

  There is so much that I wish I could do better, make better, heal, change- but I am just going to be happy in where I am today and always dream about that “Thin Place”. 

Love, Aunt Brittany

Brett & Mackenzie

IMPACT

An impact can be made in a single moment.  Imagine if you had 2 weeks to make an impact.  How many “moments” could occur in those 2 weeks? 

For Charlie Cavanagh, unfortunately this question was a reality.  There were “moments” at the hospital when Keegan and Kiernan were not able to be there but through the impact of Charlie (and maybe a greater power), Brendan and Sarah were able to meet “Keegan” and “Kiernan” there.  I know that Charlie’s impact on me has allowed me to strengthen my relationship with what is now know as the GE (Glen Ellyn) Cavanaghs.  I have strengthened my relationship with Brendan, as evident in his gifting me beer in exchange for services of babysitting Keegan.  Sarah and I have always shared a love of pizza.  I am not as passionate about the 50/50 raffle as she is but because of her, I acknowledge it more and find myself wasting money on it.

 There have been a few times when I feel like I may have “scarred” Keegan with some of my jokes and pranks.  Now, though, I love getting together and playing with him/letting him hit me.  Why do I always have to be the Joker? 

Perhaps one of the biggest impacts from Charlie has been the relationship that I have formed with my Goddaughter Erin.  It makes total sense as I was the one that tricked Sarah into telling me that they were having a girl.  I have watched Erin grow in the last 14 months, smile like crazy, and love the baby shark do do do song.  Damn that’s a catchy tune!  Maybe these relationships would be as strong without Charlie but I feel like his impact, his moments, really drove this. 

I even find myself (as a passionate Chicago Cubs fan) embracing the red cardinal.  So ask yourself, what kind of impact can I make?  Charlie only had 2 weeks and his impact has been amazing. 

                                                                        Love,

                                                                        Uncle Darren, The Joker

To Charlie:

To Charlie
I am Charlie’s Uncle Brett, Brendan’s Brother, and proud godfather of Charlie!
I have been wanting to write a post since the foundation was started and have put it off for many reasons. Mostly, it has been fear of what to write and how it will be perceived. I have a history of being a bit long-winded…. but I have so many things I want to share with you, so I’ll muster the courage to do so (one of the many things Charlie has taught us.)
Like all of us, I was lost the day you left and continue that sadness often, mostly when I am reminded of certain things. I also have had many moments to treasure and to be proud of, and I want to share them with you. This is what I choose to focus on every day when I think about you and what I try to focus on in my everyday life too! This letter is to highlight those happy memories and how they have shaped my life since we met.
The day of your funeral was a day I will never forget. You were with us for way too short of a time, way way way way way too short of a time. I feared this day would highlight that reality and be a constant reminder… but for me it wasn’t. The first moment to share came when your dad delivered an unbelievably true and touching eulogy. He spoke of what you taught us. How you filled our lives in the time you were here and what you will remind us of forever. Relationships, Humility, and Courage. Brendan went up and spoke of you in front of a church filled with family and friends during his saddest days and he never wavered. He even teased our beloved Father Brad. He had so much courage and he touched us with his words. He changed my view of that day and the days moving forward. He made me realize it was the time to focus on the positive. I can honestly say from that day on, I have tried to focus more on what matters. Family and friends, being present, and truly caring about those you love regardless of any differences. Since that time, myself and your Aunt Jackie were fortunate to have your cousin Tucker, we decided to focus on what was important…being near family. We decided to make the hard decision to leave Canada and move back to the U.S.; it has been a blessing being near family again! Jobs and material things come and go, I know that now more than ever. This is just one example of how your daily reminders shape our view on what really matters in life.
Another example of how you continue to leave your mark on this world is through your family. Your parents created Charlie’s Corner Foundation to give back (but in my opinion they do far more than just that). They bring people together. There are so many ways to grieve, and it differs per person. I hurt all the time and can only imagine how your Mom and Dad grieve. Your parents have been able to turn their grief into something positive by building relationships with family, friends and the surrounding communities through special events to honor you! It is obvious that this has already been effective. For Jackie, Tucker and I, we get two more special trips back home to Chicagoland to see family and friends each year. So much money has been raised and donated. The foundation is rightfully recognized for that. I am proud of your parents and Grandparents (and Aunts and Uncles, cousins, etc.) on how much they give and the time they donate. Each of your events. (in true Cavanagh/Kiep form) are a ton of FUN! Every time we get to go to the Cavy Classic or Lantern Walk I am amazed… humbled personally by our friends coming from near and far to participate and donate, Canadians too! I’m amazed at how many people care and show their love. I’m amazed again at the strength of your Mom and Dad… It fills my heart and reminds me again to stay present and remember what is most important in life, Relationships! I find myself reaching out to friends and family more often because of it. And relationships have grown all due to your lessons! I encourage all to try to remember this in good and hard times.
Lastly, we have the lesson of humility. This is evident through so many of the stories already mentioned, how lucky we are to be surrounded by so many people that care? And further evident by how humble your mom and dad are. They constantly tell all of us that ‘we (speaking of everyone but themselves) do too much!’ I know you were there to see them be honored as a top donator to Lurie and become Glen Ellyn Park District’s Volunteer of the Year. ‘Ho-Hum’ is there response all the time and not ‘why they do it’. I know that but am just so proud of them. How much time, effort and care goes into every event they do amazes me. It doesn’t stop there; your Grandparents donate and give so much time. Grandma and Grandpa Kiep drive up from Texas never missing a thing. Grandma and Grandpa Cavanagh too are at every event. Both are designing, building, painting, setting up, watching kids, donating and so much more. The strength, kindness, and humbleness of your Grandparents and Parents are a tremendous reminder to us all on how to be the example. A reminder on how to create a legacy and raise such phenomenal people. A humble reminder that how you live your life is what matters. We don’t get to choose when it ends.
Because of you Charlie I choose to focus on the positive. To remember the value of relationships, the importance of humility, and how to be courageous at the toughest times. I miss you every day, especially this time of year. Love you and know we will meet again, especially if I can keep following your lessons. Love you!
– Uncle Brett

Charlie Bird

My brother recently asked me if I would be interested in writing an entry for the blog page. Immediately I was excited and couldn’t wait to get started- but I froze. What in the world would I write about? Who wants to hear what I have to say? How do I honor my sweet nephew in my everyday living?

These questions stuck with me and at times haunted me for days to come. I pondered and was just blank. Then I began to feel kind of bad about things going on around me. Summer was coming to an end, my kids were headed back to school, I was headed back to a job that I was very unhappy in. Some friends were behaving in ways that friends shouldn’t and I stated to feel kind of glum.

Everywhere I was turning, there seemed to be bad news. A friend of mine from high school lost her battle with cancer and left behind a husband and two adorable young kids. Another friend of ours had a massive stroke while on vacation in Argentina with his family and is fighting for his life. Our “Uncle Pete” passed away this year- a man who was larger than life and one of my all time favorites. My heart felt heavy- it is so easy to focus on the negatives and fall into a depression. I began to feel lucky for what I have but then guilty- how can I help everyone else who is feeling this immense pain?

Then, our trip to Minnesota came. My nephew, Tucker, was turning one- so my family (husband and four kids- Darren, Madison, Cooper, Cullen and Grace) picked up Brendan and Keegan and made the trek to Minnesota. Our parents joined us there as well. We had an amazing time. Spent a day on a boat, went to the Mall of America, played cards, stayed up college- aged late. The kids giggled and made memories they would go back to school to write small moment stories about. It was like the fog had lifted. I felt happy!

The next parts of this story are not fabricated or embellished at all- we pulled out of my brothers driveway after our trip to Minnesota and a friend of mine called. She has thought of me for a great job opportunity in our school district. She wanted to know if I was interested. This friend is someone who has been along for a lot of the journey and a big supporter of Charlie’s Corner- but she called and said she had already sent a message to her principal- that she believes in me and I am a wonderful person for this job and just sang my praises. I could toot my horn all day- but won’t bore you with those details. It is not normal and does not happen often that you have someone so willing to go to the mat for you.

Anyway- Darren and I were feeling super excited about the idea of me having a new job. More income, I would be happier with this new role, get out of the toxic environment I was in, and be doing what I want to be doing. Needless to say, the excitement wore off and the panic sank in. The millions of questions kept me up at night. What if I get the job? What if I don’t get the job? What if leaving my current job is a mistake? What if, what if, what if??? How do I know this is right???

The day of my interview, I was pacing- going to the potty every ten minutes, very upset stomach- and I get an email from my old principal. Interview tips- words of wisdom- a million and ten things to again- lift me up- sing my praises! A few minutes after receiving that email I look out the window and a “Charlie Bird” aka- cardinal- is staring back at me for what felt like forever. Sent shivers down my spine- a sign? Who knows… Eventually the interview rolls around and I arrive 20 minutes early- so inevitably spend a large amount of time sitting in the lobby. Millions of thoughts running through my mind, is this right? What am I doing? How do I know I am making the right choice- no joke it hit me smack in the face. A life size cut out of a cardinal- a “Charlie Bird”. Animated- but a cardinal nonetheless. My eyes start darting around the lobby. There are cardinals all over the place. Even the pillows on the sofa were covered in cardinal fabric. I jump to my feet and begin exploring the room. There are pictures on the walls of students who have won the red bird award- a school achievement for displaying school PRIDE (perseverance, respect and responsibility, integrity, decision making and excellence). I couldn’t believe it, there were signs everywhere! I do not believe this to be a coincidence. I believe Charlie was giving me the courage to make the change, to take the risk, to believe in myself.

Again, bringing my community of friends and peers close to me to let me know that I am loved and I am deserving.
I am sure everyone is so super curious- but I did get the job and I have accepted.

Sometimes life can really get you down, and some days just plain suck. There are so many people out there just like you- feeling the same way, going through struggles and needing someone to be their cheerleader. How lucky am I that I have so many great people believing in me- when I struggle to believe in myself. I have a wonderful family and friends that are always so supportive.

Brendan says this time and time again- but really, don’t wait. If a relationship is important to you, work on it, pick up the phone. Believe in someone- let them know you care. Stand up for what you believe is right. Be a friend to your friend. Always be the rainbow in someone’s cloud.

I will leave you with a quote that has traveled this journey with me- and thanks to Sarah I carry with me every day. “Sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in your heart”- Winnie the Pooh.

One small act of kindness changed my path.
One small red bird made me a believer.
Without sounding too much like a hippy- go out and be that rainbow!

-Aunt Brittany

And so here we are…

Welcome to a new blog by Charlie’s Corner. Our plan is to have family members share things going on in their lives and around them sharing what we have learrned, observed, enjoyed, etc…

So I will kick it off!! It has been 2+ years since we welcomed Charlie into our little world and we can never imagined where he would take us on this crazy journey. We were lucky and blessed to welcome Charlie who was born on big brother Keegan’s birthday. After a few short happy healthy days our lives were forever changed. We lost Charlie all to soon, we miss him everyday and we will do our best to honor him for the rest of our days.

We have been blessed by great family, friends and community continually showing us support in this life long journey. Sarah and I quickly learned that we needed to learn how to accept this love and support and embrace it. And we have tried to do our best at that. We started Charlie’s Corner Foundation to honor Charlie and to also create great events to bring this community that has shared in our grief together to have fun while raising money for great charities. We are proud of the way the foundation has taken off, we have hosted two golf outings, the first annual Glow in The Park Lantern Walk (second one coming up September 16th), and ran a marathon with Sean Collins and many other tributes as well.

And speaking of marathons Brian Davies and his sister Michelle are running the Detroit Marathon October 21st and will be raising money for our foundation and Lurie Children’s Hospital.

Brian and I were great friends in college, always having fun and causing trouble, and maybe skipping class for an NCAA College Football battle. We had a great friendship and then over the years through too much late night drinking and bad decisions our relationship faded away. It had probably been almost 10 years since Brian and I last spoke when Charlie passed. Soon after Charlie passed I received a text from Brian sending condolences. Brian and I kept a text chain going and he let me know he had decided to run the marathon and raise money to honor Charlie. Through our discussions we soon discovered we had both named one of our son’s Keegan, a fun coincidence and we can’t wait for the two Keegans to meet. Without me babbling on two much there are two points I want to make about this story:
1. If you know someone going through a hard time, or has lost someone or battling a disease, reach out to them.
One little text/phone call/email can really help that person, it means alot and can do great things for
someone in there time of need.
2. Relationships matter!- I said it during the eulogy at Charlie’s funeral and I will say it again, cherish
those relationships who have and make them as good as you can. You never know what is going to happen each
and every day so do your best to keep in touch with the people you care about!

I am forever grateful that Brian reached out and rekindled our relationship and can’t wait to cheer him on in Detroit October, 21st, https://www.charliescorner.org/events/2018-detroit-marathon/, if you want to donate click the link.

I look forward to having people write blogs on here and seeing where this goes. For now, as always, we can never say enough thanks to all who have supported this foundation in its first two years and I can never thank Charlie enough for all he has taught me and taking me on a journey that any child takes their parents on.

Keep your relationships strong!

Brendan Cavanagh