This past weekend, I had the overwhelming joy of meeting 3 of my Sisters by Heart moms in person. 3 women who I have become so familiar with as we've worked tirelessly to get Sisters by Heart up and running the past few months. 3 women whose children I've come to love like my own. But who I had never had the privilege of meeting in person. Jenny (Aly's mom - from Michigan), Stacey (Zoe's mom - from Arizona) and a third very special heart mom (who flew all the way from the East Coast) joined Sara (Townes's mom - from 10 minutes away) and I in Los Angeles this weekend. It was surreal to meet these women in person and to instantly feel like we had been friends forever. We have of course been friends for a long time. But I honestly was a bit nervous about meeting them in person. Would we mesh as well in person as we do online? Would there be awkward silences? Would one of them turn out to actually be a middle aged man who had somehow infilitrated our group posing as a heart mom? (yeah, ok, the last one wasn't a huge worry of mine, but I guess anything is possible!)
But I shouldn't have worried. It was the most amazing thing. From the moment I met each woman, it was like we had been friends since childhood. As Jenny wrote on her blog, it was like we picked up where we left off... but we've never "left off" before. It was kind of surreal. We talked, we laughed, we drank margaritas (turns out, my awesome husband makes a mean margarita), we packed Sisters by Heart boxes for mailing, we toured Venice Beach (my ridiculous idea of "something out of towners might like to see" that may or may not have entailed a ridiculously long walk down the boardwalk resulting in an equally ridiculously expensive parking ticket - it may or may not have, I'm just saying), we discussed the difficulties of being heart parents, we talked about our fears of upcoming surgeries (sweet Aly is having her Fontan, the last of the "planned" palliative HLHS surgeries, next week), we bonded...
Enjoying margaritas, sans Stacey, who, I'm pretty sure, was pumping! :-)
Prepping packages and we talked of sweet, sweet Travis.
Which brings me to the sorrow part. As wonderful as it was to finally meet these amazing women, they didn't just come for a social visit. They came, from all corners of the United states, because they felt they needed to be there to celebrate Travis DiCarlo and love on our heart sister Nicole. We drove down to San Diego yesterday for Trav's celebration of life. It was one of the hardest things I've done. When we got there, I actually offered to sit in the car and watch the kids (Sara had brought her youngest Paige, who is nursing and therefore too "boob dependent" to lose mom for the afternoon and I brought Bodie, who is clingy and therefore too "mom dependent" to lose mom for the afternoon). The other ladies, sadly, would have none of it and we all headed in together. It was surreal to hug Nicole outside (and the look on her face as she realized who Jenny, Kathy and Stacey were was truly priceless - although she knew Sara and I were coming, we kept it a secret that the other girls were coming as well). It was hard to walk in there and see all those pictures of sweet Travis and to know that he's not with us anymore. I think we were all in tears within minutes, if not seconds, of entering the room. The service was absolutely beautiful. Nicole gave a beautiful eulogy (oh how it feels so wrong to even use the term "eulogy" in the same breath as sweet 16 month old Travis). No parent should ever have to do it, but she did, with such grace and raw beauty.
The girls before the service
Bodie wasn't, shall we say, quite as well behaved as the rest of us? He was unbelievably squirrely, wanting to be held, then wanting down, then wanting crackers, then not wanting crackers, then wanting my Travis sticker, then getting his own and STILL wanting mine (one for each hand, right?), then pulling his shoes off, etc., etc...you get the picture! I'm still exhausted just thinking about it!
Nicole and Roger's pastor gave a wonderful sermon, and friends and family had an opportunity to speak. We nominated Sara (who we've now dubbed "the amazing Sara" because she truly is, well, amazing on so many levels) to speak on behalf of Sisters by Heart because the rest of us didn't trust ourselves to get through it. :-) Sara cried her way through it, but she did a beautiful job and spoke from the heart. And Travis's surgeon not only attended, but spoke at the service. I was absolutely blown away by this. What an incredible man. We all wanted to hug him for what he does everyday for heart kids.
At the end of the service, they had a slide show that so beautiful captured Travis's short life. That kid was amazing. The love in the room was overwhelming and it was just such a powerful reminder of how many lives sweet Travis touched. His smile and zest for life was absolutely contagious. We love you so much Travis and we will never forget you. And we love you Nicole and Roger; you have handled this unfathomable loss with beauty and grace. You are role models for how parents should walk such a treacherous path. All our love...
Over 1/2 of our Sisters by Heart in one place...
All of the heart families in attendance (I love how every kid except Trevor (cutie in the back - is having his Fontan very shortly!) is screaming!
Nicole and Roger, you will NEVER be alone. Your heart community will always be there to support you. And WE will NEVER forget Travis. Love you all.