Monday, October 26, 2009

This was yesterday. Happy 14th Birthday. I said to Mom that you've been dead as long as you were alive, but she said that doesn't really kick in until the anniversary of your death in December.

I took some balloons from Emma's Bat Mitzvah and kept them for our visit out to your grave. If the weather had been cooler I think they would have stayed more blown up. I was really psyched that the pinwheel is still in place. I brought the extra one with us in case I had to replace it, but no worries. The cape we put up in the tree is still there. I am glad they don't take too good care of your plot.

I cleaned your headstone and the bench. I brought supplies with me - Formula 409. I also cleaned off Grandma Phyllis' grave. There is a song I saw last week on iTunes when I was listening to Bob Dylan that was originally done by Blind Lemon Jefferson, See That My Grave is Kept Clean. I was looking for this other song, The Groom Left Standing at the Altar. That song played after a Todd Snider concert that Mom, me, Aunt Tracey and Uncle Andrew went to last week the night after we got back from Samantha McCarthy's funeral.

It was so peaceful at your clean grave that both Mom and me fell asleep while we sat there. I kept reading your name over and over and over again and then closed my eyes. Either it was peaceful or we're bushed. No-one ever told me how tired you get from feeling a lot. I think it must be called emotional exhaustion. It's real.

Hey, you know how I am into coincidences, right. Well check this out. I had told you last year around this time - when I wrote to you about Ari's Bar Mitzvah - that he spoke and it made me think of a poem.

Do Not Stand At My Grave and Weep

Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there; I did not die.

Mary Frye, 1904-2004

Guess where I saw that poem. Right at the entrance to the cemetery. It was on a bronze plaque. I never saw it before but I spotted it on the way in yesterday. I took a picture of it.

Samantha McCarthy's mom wrote something the other day that also reminded me of the poem. I like that she writes +6. That is both incredibly hard and positive.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009 11:47 PM, EDT

Day +6

The last five days have been a complete whirlwind. We are finally at the lakehouse after five long and busy days. We were surrounded by family and friends since we arrived home on Thursday night and have had a constant stream of visitors delivering food and cleaning up and Dan and I decided last week that we would just lean in and let it happen. It proved to be the best way to deal with everything. We have the most wonderful friends and have been well taken care of.

Friday morning Dan and I woke up at 6:00am and left quietly to have breakfast before anyone woke up. Later that morning we went to the funeral home and worked out all the details. Right away we started to write Sam’s obituary. I knew why we were there but I wasn’t quite ready to start with THAT. Once we got through that we chose a casket. Not another good choice but had to be done. We chose a green casket, Sam’s favorite color. From there we decided to just dig in and go right to the cemetery. Talk about a surreal experience. It was kind of a gray and gloomy day and we drove around searching for the perfect spot. Fortunately there are not many spots for three so there weren’t many choices. We bought space for the three of us and I left there with a strange sense of calm knowing that Sam would feel safer knowing she was not alone and we would join her in time. The location is in the back part of the cemetery and is on the inside of a beautiful hedge row and is very quaint. We left there and went to visit the florist. We chose all pink flowers to go with the green casket. My plan was to make Sam feel right at home. Her bed is green and her room is painted pink and I hoped she would approve. Saturday we did lots of errands and had more visits from friends and family and Sunday we met with Fr. Kavanaugh to plan the funeral mass. We spent most of the time telling him a lot about Sam since he arrived just before we left OLP and he never really got the opportunity to meet her other than in the hospital over the last two months.

Monday morning Dan and I took a drive to the lakehouse to meet some movers that we had already scheduled. The drive was very relaxing and a good way for the two of us to prepare before the craziness of what we were about to do. Dan, they boys and I arrived at the funeral home about an hour prior to the start of the visitation and were pleasantly surprised at how beautiful everything had turned out. So much for, “in lieu of flowers”! The room was full of roses and lilies and I will always have that in my mind when I smell that beautiful scent. It was a beautiful sight in spite of the sadness it held. I know Sam was very happy with the pink and green. We decided to leave the casket open and Sam wore her favorite hat, Kermit t-shirt and green sweatsuit. The boys thought she looked like she was smiling and that made me happy and confident we had made the right choice. Finn and Jack left with friends for most of the evening but Joe wanted to stay and spent the evening hanging with us and the guests. There was a steady stream of visitors from beginning to end. We saw many people we expected and many we hadn’t seen in years. We closed the evening with a lovely prayer service and Jack did his best to make the mood as bearable as could be as he participated in the service repeating all the responses after everyone else!

We left the funeral home after saying our last goodbyes. On our way home we tried to tell the boys how we were coping with the loss of Sam and our ability to “see” Sam in different places when Finn says, “hey, there’s Sam’s Auto Body Shop!” Just like that she was right there in the car with us. Ever since then we have seen Sam everywhere wether its a shooting star, a ladybug, a rainbow in a cloud, a warm breeze on your face or just a song on the radio. She is with us everywhere we go.

Tuesday morning we were up bright and early with the blessing of yet another gorgeous day, Thank you Sam! We arrived at the church and just about 9:56 we gathered at the entrance to the church. As they pulled the casket from the back of the car I fell apart. I thought I was ready until that moment. No parent should ever have to see that. Major tears. We covered the casket with the white cloth and proceeded down the aisle to our pew in front. The service was perfect, the boys, the music, the readings, everything was perfect. The 23rd Psalm has always been a source of comfort for Sam and Fr. K focused on that throughout his homily. He explained that Sam’s faith was strengthened as her body abandoned her and he challenged each of us to strengthen our faith by abandoning something in our lives even for just a week as a way to honor Sam. More tears (MT). We finished the mass with our friend Dave reading a letter that we received from another friend that was just what we think everyone has been trying to say since Sam’s death. I will share that letter with you when I get home tomorrow but I forgot to bring it with me. MT

The night before at the funeral home our friends filled out cards with a message to Sam. Our friends at OLP attached all the cards to pink and green balloons and white for the family. After the mass everyone gathered quietly outside to the sound of the bells as they put Sam back in her car. Once we were ready the boys started the release and let go of their white balloons. There was a brief moment where a bunch of five balloons all together got caught in a tree. Just when we started to worry a gentle breeze lifted the balloons and they floated up into the sky. I think Joe said it best when he said they looked like “floating lollipops”. It truly was a beautiful sight. More tears. I will post pictures as soon as I get them. I hope I never lose that memory. Sam was certainly smiling. As we drove out of the driveway the sixth grade class released yet another set of balloons as Sam rode past. More tears than I thought I ever had.

I am going to apologize now for making everyone wait for Dan and I to make a pit stop just before the start of the graveside service but we “really had to go!” I am sure we weren’t the only ones!! Just like the smell of the flowers the crunching of the leaves will always bring me back to the walk from the car to that blue tent. It felt like it was all I could hear as we walked over to pay our last respects before leaving Sam for the last time this week. Again, Jack brought laughter amidst the tears when we asked him to say goodbye to Sam. He looked down under the casket to the empty space and shouted, “she’s not in there!!” No, she is NOT in there. Her body may be in there but the important part, her spirit, is with us in our hearts and she is with Jesus safe and sound.

Of course the event turned into a party as we celebrated all that Sam did in her short life. We had everyone at our house and the party went late into the night. That might be why I am a little sluggish today or the fact that once I woke up at 5:30 and couldn’t go back to sleep. Whatever it is I miss Sam terribly. There is a giant hole wherever we go. I feel a little guilty for being able to do things we couldn’t before and I am sad that we don’t have her with us. Either way we are sad and I don’t see any end in sight. I am sure we have to keep going and I am going to do that but its really hard. In spite of it all we have had some laughs today... Joe annoying Finn and “running from the law”... just to name a couple!! (We weren’t really running from the law)

For now we are focusing on being together and as before we move forward into unchartered territory. The boys seem to be coping fairly well but its been barely a week. I am going to wrap this up. I have a lot to say that I have already learned from Sam but looking back this is already really long. Bear with me, this is my only way of keeping a record of everything and its something I need to do for us and the boys. I will share more later but for now I am off to bed.

All our love,

Nik Dan Finn Joe and Jack

There was a story in the newspaper yesterday about Sam and her parents and her brothers. I sent Sam's mom and dad some books that I read after you died. If they feel like it they can read them. Maybe they won't want to. Everyone does this thing their own way. There's no real guidebook. You gotta figure it out for yourself.

A young girl's death helps the living puncture stereotypes

Sunday, October 25, 2009 3:37 AM
By Joe Hallett

So beautiful, so peaceful in her casket, Samantha McCarthy breathed hope into the funeral parlor without breathing and spoke optimistically without speaking.

She had, through the words of her mother, Nikki, come to life while dying, instructing thousands how to be courageous while facing the unbearable -- death at age 11.

Although I have known Samantha's father, Dan McCarthy, for years, I was not aware his daughter was dying until several months ago. He never mentioned it in brief conversations during our chance meetings, never giving cause to perceive him as anyone but Dan the lobbyist.

Sifting through the sadness as I knelt beside Samantha's casket Monday night, I understood the falseness of such superficial relationships.

For years, Dan McCarthy has been the very likable president of The Success Group, a Statehouse lobbying firm with about 35 blue-chip clients.

Lobbyists are easy to dehumanize as behind-the-scenes dealmakers who have no scruples or consciences. That stereotype, of course, is false. The vast majority of Capitol Square lobbyists are honorable and necessary.

McCarthy is among the best of them. But he is more than that. Being a good lobbyist is what he does. Being a good husband and father is who he is.

That came through profoundly in "Samantha McCarthy's Journal," an online chronicle of Samantha's journey written with touching candor by McCarthy's wife, Nikki. (

She started it on Nov. 15, 2005, about a year after Samantha, then 6, was diagnosed with Fanconi anemia, an extremely rare blood defect that leads to bone-marrow failure. Bone-marrow transplantation is the only long-term cure for the disease.

Besieged with inquiries from family members and friends about Samantha's condition, Nikki decided to write the journal to keep everyone apprised. It turned out to be cathartic. "When she feels good, I feel good," Nikki wrote in her first entry. The journal had recorded nearly 63,000 visitors when Samantha died on Oct. 15.

Over four years, Nikki's journal portrayed the emotional highs and lows for a family -- Samantha left behind brothers Finn, 9; Joe, 6; and Jack, 2 -- trying desperately to hang on to their precious daughter and sister after a bone-marrow transplant had failed.

"She looked like an angel," Nikki wrote May 19, 2006, feeling "blessed" that Samantha was well enough to celebrate First Communion with her class. Many of Nikki's postings discussed Samantha's erratic hemoglobin counts, her stays in children's hospitals in Cincinnati and Columbus, and the ups and downs of a little girl wanting nothing more than to play with her friends.

On Oct. 11, Nikki's posting about Samantha was ominous: "She is losing her fighting spirit big time. I can't really say I blame her. We've asked so much of her over the last 400+ days. We've asked her to do more than most people in an entire lifetime and she is tired. She is sick and tired."

Four days later, Nikki wrote: "If you have ever gotten a shot or an IV stick, you know the question the nurse always asks: 'Should I count, or should I just do it?'

"Sam's answer was always, 'Just do it.'

"She never wanted a warning, just do it was how she preferred the pain. So it is with great sadness but some relief that I can just do it and say: Sam died tonight.

"We were not ready."

Before Samantha died, her brothers came to the hospital room for a final visit.

"We know she knew they were here when she responded to their kisses on the cheek," Nikki wrote.

At the funeral home, Samantha lay serenely, attended by the hope and optimism that other children with Fanconi anemia will benefit from all that was learned during her courageous fight.

In one of those awkward moments when you never know the right thing to say beyond "I'm sorry," Dan smiled understandingly, nodded toward one of his sons and said to me, "We still have the boys."

A lobbyist is not just a lobbyist.

Death has a way of clarifying the living.

Joe Hallett is senior editor at The Dispatch.

After we visited the cemetery we drove back to town and went out for dinner at your favorite restaurant, Cactus Cantina, with your favorite people, Ari, Jake and Simon.

I still can't imagine what the 14 year old Henry would look like.

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