I have returned from my vacation and am officially back at work. It was a whirlwind of a journey throughout British Columbia and Alberta. I’ll be sharing some stories and pictures from the trip in the coming days, but first I need to pay my respects to a beautiful little girl and her family.
While visiting Vancouver last October, my friend Ana and I stumbled upon a busker on Granville Island. His name is Andrew Christopher. After swapping contacts and discussing his music and band, he became adamant about me checking out the online sites dedicated to his little girl, Lilee-Jean (or LJ).
Once I returned to Toronto from that trip, Andrew and I went through an interview process via email so that I could feature his story on this blog. I quickly became immersed in their world and the hardships that Andrew, Lilee, and Lilee’s mother Chelsey had to deal with on a daily basis.
In October of 2011 Lilee was diagnosed with Glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer rarely found in children. She was only ten months old. She had already been battling the cancer for a year when I first met Andrew, having undergone surgeries and chemotherapy.
In February of this year I had the chance to meet Lilee for the first time on my second trip to Vancouver. My trip thankfully coincided with an appointment she had at the BC Children’s Hospital, so I was able to make my way over to see her.
I had sewn a pink sock monkey just for her in the hopes that it might bring a smile to her face. I wanted her to know that it was specially made for her, so I embroidered a heart with “LJ” on its chest. As I sat in the coffee shop of the hospital with Lilee, Andrew and Chelsey, LJ played with the monkey while eating her treat — a giant cookie with Smarties (that she lovingly shared bites of with her parents).
Despite all her treatments, Lilee was a spitfire. She was constantly smiling and chatting. She gave us a few twirls in her dress; I watched as she lovingly placed her hand on Andrew’s arm and smiled up into his face; I experienced the love between mother and daughter as I saw Lilee play with Chelsey’s watch and pretended it was hers.
Emotionally, she was a healthy two-year-old. Physically, you could see her battle scars.
When she walked away from the table to wander, I noticed a slight limp in her gait, a result of the brain surgery she had. I could see the mark left from the blade on her tiny little head through her gorgeous blonde hair. None of this seemed to bother her, however. She still smiled. She was always smiling.
Andrew and I had been in contact prior to my most recent visit to Vancouver, making tentative plans to meet up for a quick “hello” while I was in town. A day or so after I arrived, Lilee was admitted to Canuck Place Children’s Hospice. During her time in hospice, Lilee’s health deteriorated. Our visit never happened.
Lilee-Jean Frances Putt passed away on September 6, 2013, three months before her third birthday.
I was on a plane returning to Toronto and didn’t find out until the day after. I had just finished work and was making my way home on the bus, passing the ride by scrolling through my Facebook feed. All I saw was “It is with broken hearts we make this post…” from the Love for Lilee page, and immediately it felt like I had been hit square in the chest by a tonne of bricks.
I was thankfully sitting in the very back of the bus with no one immediately around me. Although I tried to fight back the tears, some escaped. I tried to focus on the rain falling outside the bus windows, but then I cried some more.
Lilee, Chelsey and Andrew believed in the quote “Life isnt about waiting for the storm to pass; it’s about learning to dance in the rain.” This became a personal motto for them, their friends and family, and inspired many videos and pictures of loved ones showing Lilee support by embracing the rain and dancing in it.
Once I was off that bus and on my street, I danced a dance for Lilee.
How is it that one little soul can have such an impact on you, despite only meeting once? Why did my plans fall through the day I ended up on Granville Island the first time I met Andrew? Why did I start this blog just a few weeks before that, which allowed me to share Lilee’s story with you all?
I’d like to have a little faith and think that it was all meant to happen for a reason.
Lilee, you darling little girl, you will never know how your spirit has touched me. Thank you for letting me see just a glimpse of your beauty and charisma. You have touched the lives of so many and will continue to do so as you look down at us from above.
Chels and Andrew, I’m sending you hugs from Toronto. We may only be acquaintances at this point, but I’m blessed to have been able to meet your daughter and share your story. You two are an inspiration.
Keep smiling, Lilee, and never stop dancing in the rain ❤