I wrote about Gabriella Miller last December when she sparked the public world with not only her cancer diagnosis, but with her exuberant personality, determination and wish to make a difference. This little girl packed spunk, brilliance and compassion into one tiny package of adorable.
I have been diligently following the Facebook page, Make a Wish with Gabriella, throughout the year. It is on that page that I learned about her involvement in fundraising for childhood cancer, the family’s trip to Paris, Gabriella not only authoring a book but also her getting an honorary college degree at Shenandoah University. I was also entertained with her giggling, her poems and many wonderful photos of daily life with her ‘younger’ brother; “he’s 6 years old, but he’s not my little brother – he’s my younger brother! He’s taller and heavier than me,” wrote Gabriella in a blog entry on the Smashing Walnuts Foundation site.
On Wednesday I read that Gabriella’s health had declined and she was at home with the care of hospice. My heart sank as did all who have been touched by Gabriella and her family (to include the 19,268 and growing by the minute followers of the FB page). I obsessively thought about Gabriella and her family almost all day of every day. How could I not? How could any one not think about this bright personality being snuffed out by the beast that is cancer?
The community rallied with hope and prayer. On Friday there was a request on the Make a Wish for Gabriella page to make tissue paper flowers. ” We are going to take all of these flowers and create giant bouquets of hand-made flowers in bright colors, just like Gabriella loves.” And so the flowers bloomed, big, beautiful and bright like Gabriella’s smile and personality.
This morning, I learned that Gabriella passed away last night. Heaviness abounded. Her spark has been darkened, but not extinguished; Gabriella was fierce and has left behind an energy and passion that will continue. She stated in her interview for Truth 365 “if I lose my battle, I want other people to carry on with the war, they’re going to win this war”.
Gabriella, I pray with all of my being that we will continue your war and win it. Like your mom frequently posts “I HATE cancer”. No one should ever have to hear the words “your child has cancer”. I thank your family for sharing you with us; I can’t imagine how difficult that must have been, caring for you and your brother, dealing with personal grief and continuing to advocate, fight and share with all of those who care so desperately about you, your battle and childhood cancer. Gabriella, may your memory be a blessing, Z”L.
Gabriella’s family has requested that those who wish to honor Gabriella make a contribution to her cancer awareness and research foundation at www.smashingwalnuts.com.
How many of you know I have a website? I don’t talk about it much (read: never), but I was just over there checking on it and thought you might want to go on over for a visit and say “hi”.
The site talks about me and my practice, Laurie Levine LCSW LLC. There is a bit of my professional background, my ideas about therapy, a confidentiality policy and then a more involved page about the different services I provide. I have included information about fees and policies and a contact area as well.
There is a spot for this blog where each post that is published here is also published over there. Sometimes potential clients may find the website from a web search, or from one of the therapy search engines to which I belong (Psychology Today, Good Therapy, Theravive), but they don’t necessarily find this blog. I wouldn’t want them to miss any of my ramblings, so I include the blog in both spots.
There you have it, the official run-down on the Laurie Levine LCSW LLC website. How would your day be complete without such vital information? 🙂
Let’s talk about high school reunions. My 30th reunion was this past weekend and I was unable to fly North to attend due to a much too heavy Fall travel schedule here in the not-so-South South. Several of my friends attended and based on the pictures, texts and phone calls I have received in the post-reunion de-briefing everyone seemed to have a good time.
I sit with high school kids every day, in my office, who share their pain about feeling left out, being different and believing that they are alone in suffering through this hell we call adolescence.
I have two thoughts running through my head as I re-read those last two paragraphs:
1. Why would anyone choose to go to a high school reunion after swimming in that pool of hormones and insecurities for four entire years?
2. By the time we are 48, isn’t it nice to realize that everyone has joys and worries, emotional maturity does happen and no one is supposed to weigh at 48 what they did at 18?
I was looking at a photo of my son and his tenth grade buddies and commented to my husband, “this picture will be priceless in 30 years”. Simultaneously, my son saw the hair loss and belly expansion in his future and wonders “how can I make it stop?”
Would I really make it stop if I could? There has been so much living and learning over the past thirty years.
When I sit with distraught, angry and sad teenagers, I know my “I’ve been there” mentality is not what can help them. I can listen and validate, sometimes I can throw in a story or advice (my favorite to share is that I skipped class once; Mr. McKerron’s 11th grade Honor’s English class because I hadn’t finished the reading for a quiz. As I left the cafeteria that day, I walked head-on into Mr. McKerron). That was my story and my shame having to explain to Mr. McKerron ( who spared me from any harsh detentions), but my telling it does not help these kids learn their life lessons. They need to experience their own “bustings” and consequences to develop their own personal morals and values.
When I want to shake my clients and explain that the “popular people” have insecurities and worries just like they do, they roll their eyes at me as if I am clueless. I get that it feels miserable at this moment in this teen’s life and I know that she doesn’t know that the pain will subside and heal in thirty years time. In the meanwhile, I give her the tools she needs to believe that she is as wonderful as the next girl; what are her strengths, what makes her feel good, how can she fill herself up with joy when she is feeling so low?
Everyone has suffered in some way – insecurities are universal. I didn’t know that then and I know these kids don’t know it yet. As I looked at the beautiful photos of my high school classmates I know that they each have happiness, troubles, insecurities and great laughs. Some have more money than me and less BMI than I, but at 48, I know that we all have bad days, silly annoyances and big challenges, even the popular ones!
I went to college. I had roommates and exams and parties. I stayed up late and slept even later. I hibernated in the library for what felt like days and existed in a world of 18-22 year olds. We ate at weird times and were usually awake while the rest of the world was sleeping.
Fast forward thirty years (yes, my 30th high school reunion is this weekend).
I just returned from my first Parents Weekend at my son’s university. The students are young and fit and beautiful and young. There were parents EVERYWHERE. The car line in front of the dorm was like pre-school pickup; parents shuttling their kids to dinner, brunch and shopping trips to Target. My son remarked how different the campus looked this weekend with all of us baby-boomer parents schlepping behind our eighteen year olds.
A mere eight weeks ago these “rising freshmen” were anxious, new and still a little clingy as we dragged them through Bed Bath and Beyond, and every other big-box store to stock their dorm rooms for the year. They seem to have acclimated themselves to this new way of life; the dorm room smelled like sweaty sneakers, the back pack looked broken in and there were nods, hello’s and a few hugs to classmates as my son showed us campus from his viewpoint.
I learned about the “swiping” of the card which gets one in to the food halls, the gym and many other campus venues. I was instructed about when and where they were permitted to eat what and about these periods called “late night” dining; that would be the “9:30pm I haven’t had dinner because I got up at 12:00pm meal” that the campus provides for these college students and their unique daily routines.
My son pointed out the classrooms, the faculty offices and the big and beautiful new student center adjacent to the gorgeous campus pool. I saw his particular nook at the on-campus Starbucks where he gets most of his work done (“I like the white noise, it’s not too quiet like the library, but not loud and distracting”) and the Student Government Office where he and his peers will convene weekly as members of the newly elected student government (may they have better luck than their Federal counterparts).
So many thoughts as a parent were swirling through my head, first and foremost being, when can I go to sleep since I have been up since 5:30am and you rolled out of bed when we landed at the airport? But seriously, how their lives have changed so much in just two months. Which experiences will be the impetus to their future adult lives? Who from this campus will be their lifelong friends, partners or spouses?
It was also interesting to note how the freshman are learning to negotiate their way through life challenges. One girl had an ear infection and had to spend three hours waiting at the health clinic because she hadn’t made an appointment only to realize she had no cash on her to purchase her prescription. A few classmates switched majors and thus have an entirely new schedule from the one that they had constructed over the summer with mom and dad by their side. There have been fights, injuries and student probationary periods prompted by overindulging in underage drinking and I read a flyer on the dorm wall about “alerts” that a professor will send home if there is an academic concern.
The freshman are learning that the “Welcome to Adulthood” banner includes the joy of the greatest.party.evah. and the realization that “it is time to do some work” all wrapped up in the same college experience . I am grateful that these students have the opportunity to wear the banner in a somewhat protected environment. There are faculty, staff, resident advisors and upperclassmen all available to share both the joys and the great lessons of the freshman year.
May all the Freshman of 2013-2014 find joy, learning, great adventures and safety this year (and don’t forget to call your parents, okay, a text will suffice!)
Addendum: Between completing this post and making final edits, I got a text from my son “I think I’m going to go to the health center to get my sinuses checked out”. Since he had been having symptoms all weekend, I praised his idea and reminded him to make an appointment to avoid a three hour wait!