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How Kristin and Cindy’s Grief Journeys led them to be Co-Chairs of Gala

May 1, 2019
Kate's Club
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Kristin Olson

My dad diedat the age of 42 after a very short battle with an extremely aggressivecancer. He was diagnosed with terminaladeno carcinoma in May 1994, given six months to live, and died less than twoand a half months later on August 4th, eight days shy of my mom’s 37thbirthday. He also left behind threechildren, ages 12 (me), 11 (my brother, Steve), and 5 (my sister, Brandi). It has been 25 years this summer since hedied, and I have spent more than two-thirds of my life without him. I wish I could know him now that I am anadult. I hate that I cannot conjure uphis voice in my head. I would give anythingto see him as a grandfather to my three daughters and my two nephews (and thechildren yet to be born to our family). It isn’t as often, but I still cry (like now, while writing this). But, I am okay. Despite that incredible loss and trauma, Ihave had a really good life.

Like ourKate’s Club kids, I have experienced a myriad of emotions during my griefjourney from denial to anger to sadness to anxiety to loneliness toregret. But, my siblings and I did nothave a Kate’s Club to help us navigate this grief, and it was several yearsbefore I met a peer who had lost a parent (or had any close loss for thatmatter). I definitely carry somebaggage, but it’s small enough to check in an overhead bin. However, I can’t help but wonder how mysiblings and I might be different if we had Kate’s Club in our lives.

Although weall experience our own unique grief journeys, there are so many things that tieus together. One of my favorite Kate’sClub quotes (on the wall in the teen lounge) is, “We all come from differentplaces, but we’re all coming from the same place.” I have known about Kate’s Club since I joinedthe Junior League in 2007. I ended updoing my placement with Hospice’s Camp STARS but long admired Kate’s Club. In 2015, a sweet friend and neighbor,Stefanie Ballard, died unexpectedly, leaving behind two little girls and anadoring husband. Pete signed the girlsup for Kate’s Club, and it was the kick I needed to figure out how to getinvolved. I joined the Board in January2017, and the work Kate’s Club does continues to blow me away. I am honored to be part of this organizationand am fully committed to our mission of empowering children facing life afterthe death of a parent or sibling.

On the 25thanniversary of his death and in honor of my beloved father, James (Jim) Laneri,I am especially excited to be a Co-Chair of this year’s Spirit of Kate’s ClubGala: Mourning Glory. There may be painin the night, but joy comes in the morning. Now, let’s raise some big dollars to support this important work andreach more grieving kids in Atlanta!

Cindy Schoell

I have been involved with Kate’s Clubsince 2011 and as a result, a part of my heart has been filled that I didn’teven realize was empty. My grief journeystarted 11 days after my 4th birthday when my mom passed away frombreast cancer. She was diagnosed withcancer when she was pregnant with me so many of my memories of my mom arecentered around doctors and hospitals. My parents were amazing people and wayahead of their time when it came to how to help kids deal with illness anddeath. My mom’s illness was not hiddenfrom my sister and I; it was incorporated into our lives as normal so that wecould be with her. I celebrated my 4thbirthday in my mom’s hospital room and remember being excited to be able to“ride” the hospital bed and drink the pineapple juice from the nurse’s station.

I remember clearly the day my dad cameinto the bedroom I shared with my sister to tell us that my mom had died. We all hugged and cried together. We attended all aspects of her funeralbecause my dad knew it was important for us to be a part of it despite ouryoung ages of 4 and 6. My dad,grandparents and extended family openly kept our mom a part of our lives withstories, pictures and love. I grew up ina family where it was “ok to grieve” and talking about death around kids wasn’ttaboo. My dad was the best, and he, mymom, and my family did everything right regarding helping me grieve. Yet despite all of this, I often felt aloneand different. I felt the discomfort andsadness adults experienced when they asked where my mom was and I said, “shedied.” I knew that outside of my bubble, there wasn’t an acceptance of grief orcomfort with allowing a child to grieve. Despite having amazing friends, I felt loneliness at times because itappeared that my sister and I were the only kids in our world who had lost aparent. I felt my mom’s absence when Italked with friends, shopped for my prom dress, graduated, and got married.

At 27, my grief expanded when my fatherpassed away after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. My heart broke. It’s the only way to describe it. I had been grieving since I was 4, but thiswas a new grief, a new sadness with anger. I was described by someone at my dad’s funeral as an orphan. My grief journey became morecomplicated. The support I received frommy husband, my friends and my family was amazing, yet there was a sense thatagain, my sister and I were alone in this.

I was introduced to Kate’s Club over 30years after my grief journey started and its impact on me was powerful. I wish there had been a Kate’s Club for mewhen I first lost my mom, but I’m glad there is one for me today. I have had the honor of being a board member,chair of the board, a member of the advisory council, and now co-chair of theSpirit of Kate’s Club Gala. As I reflecton the impact Kate’s Club has had on me, I realize that I am now part of acommunity that I’ve always unconsciously needed. Kate’s Club provides a healing space andcommunity for kids who have experienced the death of a parent or sibling, butit also attracts adults for service and volunteering who were once children whohad lost a parent or a sibling. I am now surrounded by peers who understand myexperience because of their own grief stories.

When I found Kate’s Club, I was too oldto be a member; however, I have still experienced its healing powers throughthe work I have done to help Kate’s Club grow and strive to create a worldwhere it is ok to grieve.

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