For Carolyn Woomer, life without her precious son is excruciating. Jedidiah has been gone for three years. Three painful, heartbreaking years.
Talking about her son and sharing his life, is something Carolyn loves to do, “Jed was a lifeguard, Eagle Scout, captain of the swim team. He was a huge goofball with the biggest, softest heart of anyone I have ever known. He loved to travel, snowboard and loved being with his family more than anything,” Carolyn told us, “We found out he had cancer, sarcoma, just a few weeks after graduating high school. He lived exactly 8 months from the day he started chemo. He died at 19 on April 8, 2015. I still have a hard time believing it. His absence has left such a gaping hole in so many lives.”
It’s difficult to imagine. Impossible, really.
Sadly, the Woomers are not alone in their pain. Pediatric cancer steals far too many children; it’s a monster that snatches far too many innocent, sweet, beautiful children from their families.
And it can be extremely difficult for the families to process their grief. The folks at the P.U.N.T Foundation try and help them. They do amazing work. I know, I’ve seen it, covered it, reported on it and have been in awe of it.
They work so hard to help children facing a cancer diagnosis. They help the children, their families, friends, loved ones. They go above and beyond to give each family memories that will last a life time. But, the work they do does not stop with the loss of a child. In fact, the bereavement facet of their mission, is just as important as the rest of it. Helping these families – emotionally, financially, psychologically – is all part of their work. It just is.
The families have lost hope. Their child is gone and their pain is all-consuming, “And as you can imagine, the pain is now a lifetime sentence to some degree; these families will never be truly “whole” again without their beloved child.” Gwen Mysiak, Executive Director of P.U.N.T explains, “And many families say the only thing worse than losing their child would be if their child was also forgotten.”
So each year, the charity puts on a weekend of remembrance, “Remembrance Weekend brings together families who have suffered a loss to pediatric cancer down in Ellicottville annually to participate in activities both social and therapeutic. It also carves out a few days to honor and remember the lives that were lost,” Mysiak says, “Length of loss may be 10 years, or one month. Those further along in their grief journey serve as mentor families for those whose loss is more recent. It is a very impactful dynamic.”
Remembrance weekend is this weekend.
Nearly every family that started with Remembrance Weekend 5 years ago, returns year after year and they share openly how beneficial the event has been to their hope and healing. They generally have between 23-28 families participating and this year there are 25. It is a collaborative effort with psychosocial teams from Children’s Hospital, Roswell Park, Hospice, and CompassionNet who volunteer to help facilitate activities for both parents and siblings, “It means so much to families to be reunited with these important people who were such a huge beacon of support to them and their child throughout the battle. We also have several volunteers who help with the sibling activities and we truly could not execute this event without this team.”
And there’s more collaboration says Mysiak, “There is absolutely no cost to families who participate. P.U.N.T receives a $10K grant from the private foundation “Moore For Kids” and we raise the rest of the money we need through fundraisers and activities. Rob & Kristi Moore’s support has made it possible so we have had enough funding that we don’t have to “cap this” or turn anyone away due to budget constraints. Hospice also helps by underwriting the cost of a meal, as does the Jacquie Hirsch for A.L.L. Foundation.
The weekend is not only about dealing with the loss and the grief, but about remembering those precious children. Celebrating the life they lived. For Carolyn Woomer, it’s a time to reflect on her boy in a place, and with people, where everything just works, “There is a lot of support for families as their child is battling cancer, but once your child dies, most of that support dries up. You are left, shattered and now, alone. Having your child have cancer is very isolating. And then … if the unthinkable happens and your child dies … you feel even more isolated, more “weird” and more alone. Remembrance Weekend is a time for us to get together with other families who understand this horrible journey we are on together. It is a place we can go, be ourselves, and not feel “weird”. It is a place I can go and say the name Jedidiah, the most precious name I know, and know he is celebrated and not a name to be avoided. That is such a gift.”
Her son was a gift. Jedidiah was a gift.
Below is a link to the tribute video from 2017 Remembrance Weekend. Each weekend culminates with a video of the kids they are honoring.
Please take a moment and watch this incredible video.
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