Sunday, January 17, 2010

Wow! Can I say it again?


Yesterday was amazing! The service was beautiful, the reception was beautiful. Everything was perfect. I was amazed at not just the number of people in attendance but the people who had come from all over the state...all over the COUNTRY be there for us. Not to mention the numerous people who watched the service virtually via the LiveStream hookup. If anyone missed it, you can still go to our website and watch a rerun. I understand that at its peak, there were 210 computers viewing the service (and we know that there were computers with multiple viewers watching). The auditorium holds about 600 people so all together, we probably had about 1000 people "with us" on Saturday.

Can I say it again? WOW!

Everything was fabulous and I know that it did not happen magically. There are many people to thank (most of whom are listed in the program). HUGE kudos to Kim Thies and Meredith Hayes for orchestrating the multiple volunteers who helped in all kinds of ways. Much thanks as well to the many talented musicians who made the music happen. Much thanks to Rev. Ed Tracy and Rev. Kent Rahm for their words, time, and talent. Much thanks to our families for being here with us (both here in VA and virtually online).

If you want to see some of the pictures from yesterday's event, you can check out Beth's photos.

There are also links to her Disney and Mary Poppins pics on the same site. Deb Harper was also taking pictures and I am sure we will post those soon.

I know that I saw and spoke to many people yesterday and there were even more who I probably did not get to see and thank and hug. Roger and I were separated for much of the reception so I hope that he got to talk to everyone to whom I didn't get to speak.

I was so happy to see so many children there. Our goal was to make this event as child-friendly as possible and I think we accomplished that.

We spent the rest of the afternoon/evening hanging out with the family. The food (and wine) were copious and there was much laughter and sharing and talking. Much of the family will disperse today and tomorrow and Roger and I are starting to gear up for a busy week ahead.

Just so everyone knows, the website is not going anywhere and neither is the blog. Our board will be meeting this coming week to plan our next steps for CJSTUF. We already have multiple fundraising events and efforts in the works so keep your eyes and ears peeled. There will be opportunities for everyone and we plan to use this forum to keep everyone in the "loop".

A few people have asked us about a DVD of the service. We will definitely have one available and I hope to have more information about that within the next week as well.

Roger posted the text of his speech at the memorial service so I thought I would post mine as well. I will close for now but you'll hear from me again soon, I promise!

Every child is special. Every child is a gift from God.
Charlotte Jennie was something else. Something beyond words.

Those of you who know Roger and me well know that there are few things that we prize in terms of material possessions; however, our books and our music are very dear to us. Our music collection rivals that of a small radio station and I can never, ever throw away a book. It is difficult to even give one away and I rarely walk out of a bookstore empty handed.
Needless to say, Charlotte’s life was full of books as well. I guess the reading vigil was just a natural extension of her spirit (and ours). Her name actually was drawn from a favorite childhood story, E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web. The story of an eloquent spider that helped a pig discover his own talent, one word at a time.

It goes without saying that Charlotte was a verbal child. She devoured language. She consumed it. She was speaking single words before her first birthday and could speak in small sentences at 18 months. Her vocabulary reflected that of much older children and she always spoke with that clear, sweet, innocent voice that just made you stand up and take notice. She was always attracted to books and could sit and have people read to her for HOURS. I think Granny’s record in one day was 46 books.

I could spend hours telling you stories of her verbal abilities, funny sayings, and parrot imitations. Instead, I want to share some pieces of literature that always bring Charlotte to mind. In these, I see her spirit and in these I will always keep her memory.

Charlotte: The little spider with the big vocabulary and the big heart. She was a friend to all and while her life on this planet was short, her legacy lived on in those whose lives she touched.

Matilda: The Roald Dahl story of a precocious little girl whose love of books and learning was never appreciated fully by her family. She found a teacher who helped harness her talents to their full potential. Matilda discovered that she was powerful, indeed.

Olivia: The pig who is never afraid to speak her mind. She always marches to her own beat and has very patient parents who support her creative endeavors.

Ariel: A mermaid with an innate curiosity about the world beyond the sea. Her determination and spirit help her to get her one true wish: she finds legs on which to stand her ground.

Emily Elizabeth: Clifford the Big Red Dog’s human owner. Her love was what made Clifford grow to such a large size. Charlotte’s love brought people together from around the community, around the nation, and around the world. It is a size beyond measure.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar: In her final days, the steroids that helped continue her life caused Charlotte to eat (and eat) (and eat) like that caterpillar whose appetite would not be satiated. That caterpillar was just preparing for the next part of the journey. And then she slowly crawled into her cocoon to become a beautiful butterfly.

Finally, Frosty the Snowman. I do not know why Frosty became Charlotte’s favorite song. Somewhere along the line, though, she developed an attachment to the tune and it stuck like glue! At three and a half, she already knew most of the words by heart and by four, she could sing the entire song better than many adults. It was a constant source of comfort for her during those weeks and months in the hospital. We began our journey in the chills of winter and our journey took us through all four seasons back to winter’s snow. Even in the triple digit heat of a Houston summer, Frosty the Snowman was sung by employees at the Proton Therapy Center in Houston with great enthusiasm. Somewhere in the process, I realized what the words of the song were saying to me. They were Charlotte:

Making just a few adjustments to the lyrics, I can see her in the song completely:

CJ the wonder was a jolly happy soul.
With blond curly locks and a button nose and two (dark brown) eyes made out of coal

Just like Frosty, our Charlotte knew that her time would be short on this earth. She wanted to “run and have some fun” before she melted away. She didn’t waste time with naps or resting. She just wanted to go. To learn. To BE in the world and soak it up with her curiosity.
Unfortunately, one day in January, that traffic cop came out and hollered “STOP!”.
CJ the wonder had to hurry on her way but she waved goodbye saying, “Don’t you cry. I’ll be back again some day.”

My final source of inspiration actually came through friends of friends, as many of our recent connections have this past year. During the December snowstorm, we were trying to keep the reading vigil going as best we could. One mom wanted to come but the weather just would not allow. Since she couldn’t share stories in person, she emailed me to tell me that she was looking to Shel Silverstein (one of my favorite poets) for inspiration. While looking in the index of Where the Sidewalk Ends, she found a snowman poem on page 65. It goes like this…

Twas the first day of springtime
And the snowman stood alone
As the winter snows were melting
And the pine trees seemed to groan
“Ah you poor sad smiling snowman,
You’ll be melting by and by.”
Said the snowman, “What a pity,
For I’d like to see July.
Yes I’d like to see July, and please don’t ask me why.
But I’d like to, yes, I’d like to, oh I’d like to see July.”
Chirped a robin, just arriving
“Seasons come and seasons go,
And the greatest ice must crumble
When it’s a flower’s time to grow.
And as one thing is beginning
So another thing must die,
And there’s never been a snowman
Who has ever seen July.
No they never see July, no matter how they try.
No they never ever, never ever, never see July.”
But the snowman sniffled his carrot nose
And said, “At least I’ll try.”
And he bravely smiled his frosty smile
And blinked his coal black eye.
And there he stood and faced the sun
A blazin’ from the sky--
And I really cannot tell you
If he ever saw July.
Did he ever see July? You can guess as well as I
If he ever, if he never, if he ever saw July

Thank you all for your love and support and thank you Charlotte for letting me be your mama. I am blessed.


  1. Thank you so much for sharing the service with us. Our family, even my mom watched and felt even closer to Charlotte! We watched to make sure you both were okay!!! You are a constant inspiration to us! You have enlightened us in so many ways that you aren't even aware of!
    You are in our prayers, always....Lara

  2. I had plans from long ago to be out of town on Saturday.(Actually,I was in Charlotte, NC) to visit my 86 year old aunt. My husband and I have read every blog, so the first thing I did upon returning home was to watch the memorial service on the computer. Thank you for sharing the service ! I thought it was a beautiful tribute to Charlotte and I shed tears along with you all.

    Marilyn and Mike

  3. Thank you so much for having the service available to all who could not be there in person! I have really felt an attachment to Charlotte and your family in the last 6 months, and feel honored to have "been" at her memorial service! Your speeches were eloquent and really reflected all who Charlotte was! You are a true inspiration to me! You will be in my thoughts and prayers in the days/weeks/months ahead!
    Jody Thuemmler-Sheboygan, WI

  4. Don't know how you two kept it together - that celebration for Charlotte was overwhelming. Such complete planning to touch each and every facet of that wonderful little angel's personality - the butterflies to plant, the balloons, the CHOCOLATE fountain, the children's service. How we have all learned from you two - we will be forever in your debt. Love from Illinois - Lois

  5. Roger and Rachel,

    Thank you so much for sharing Charlotte's service with us all. I was finally able to watch it. It was absolutely perfect, such a wonderful celebration of a special girl. Please know that we will continue to keep you in our prayers and will think of Charlotte every time we see a butterfly...

    -Julie Sherrill

  6. Roger and Rachel,

    You are both amazingly strong individuals and couple. Thank you for sharing your beautiful words and service with us. Charlotte was certainly something, and an inspiration to so many people. Godspeed.

    -Lori Brown


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