Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Service Recap--Part II

April 21, 2009

We've made it to San Jacinto Day where Texans come off better than they have in the last week, when our governor has made news around the country for less auspicious reasons. We will celebrate today by going out to dinner with Ted, Joanie, and Payton Foote. Then we'll go and watch the White Sox (Jackson and Aaron's Little League team) play ball.

I made a giant step of accomplishment today, finally dispatching the last of my built up email correspondence. Given that I had gotten behind by about 350 "owed" responses, I can now breathe a sigh of relief. I still have the email that came in on Walter's account, so if you haven't heard from us, we're hurrying. I am not totally mesmerizing myself with the computer screen. The burst of beauty that has come out after last weekend's big storms has continually lured me outside (to walk the devildog and just enjoy the major influx of birds to the neighborhood, the medley of greens every where, and of course the famed texas wildflowers). I won't pretend we don't miss Erin terribly, but we are trying to let her vast spirit fill us up rather than empty us out. I find that I thirst for details about her--the tiny stitches that pulled the pieces of her life together.

We had five friends speak at Erin's memorial service (possibly over the top, but it didn't seem fair to ask anyone to fly solo): Lisa Villalobos, Ginger Freeze, Joel and Jackson Ross, and Chet Edwards. They all did such a fantastic job that I barely cried while they spoke for fear that I might miss what they had to say.

Here are their remarks:

Lisa Villalobos, Erin's soccer coach, my coahing partner, and team captain of my soccer team, spoke on soccer and team spirit. As is usual with Lisa, she went a little "off the book" during her talk, but these are the notes she prepared:

I’ve been asked to speak about Erin and her love of soccer and her participation on the team.

Some of you may look at this little girl and think that there’s no way she could have played competitive soccer.

Let me assure you that she did and was effective. I specifically remember one time her coming off the field and all of her teammates looking at her with wide eyes, saying “ooh, you made that girl mad!” The other girl obviously underestimated Erin, who repeatedly stole the ball away.

She would also come scrimmage my ladies adult team and do the same thing. Size was never an issue with her.

She was an excellent observer of the game and could quickly identify issues for her team. She would often come out at halftime and explain that if we could just do this one thing better, we’d gain an advantage.

If you know anything about me and coaching soccer, you also know that I put a lot of emphasis on the character-building part of team sports.

When the Mystic team met last Thursday, one resounding theme was that she was inclusive. They mentioned during minicamp that Erin taught them all a card game that included everyone. Erin was good at that. Whether it was one-on-one or in large groups, she had a way of connecting with people in ways that were meaningful.

Another story was about her persistence. We talked about how, in the state cup tournament last year, Erin got hit, hard, with a ball. But despite that, she got up and kept on playing.

Ask any of my team members what my rule #1 is, and they’ll say “sportsmanship.” Erin really lived the term. She carried a positive attitude and smiled, a lot. She was patient with people, whether it was on the field or off.

What I find remarkable is her belief that she can do anything, even when her body didn’t cooperate. Even through last spring when she started having more back pain, Erin was determined. She continued to attend practice and do as much as her body let her. It was never about I don’t feel like it or I won’t. She only stopped when it was “I can’t.”

I will say, however, that she was a real kid. I saw her get mad. I saw her play with toys. All she wanted to do most of the time was be a kid and do what kids do. And she did that with great gusto.

We had so much to learn from her. Her passion for life, her compassion for others, and her easy and contagious smile. She will be truly missed.

Ginger Freeze, learning specialist at Mary Branch Elementary was never Erin's classroom teacher, but in many, many respects was her mentor. She based her remarks on the words and feelings of many of Erin's teachers about Erin, school, and creativity:

Erin was a gifted and curious student who always excelled in everything she did because Erin never quit until she was satisfied with her work. She wanted to do and be in everything. In second grade, she began participating in UIL (University Interscholastic League) and continued to compete each year trying different events. When she was eligible to be on Student Council, there she was getting experience in government. As a fifth grader, Erin was a helper in a second grade class and on the video crew producing morning announcements. Erin was one of those students who needed more than the regular curriculum. Her curiosity and ability to think outside the box pushed many a teacher to have to dig for information or seek materials to challenge this one-of-a-kind student.

Erin always had goals for herself. She wanted to be an artist and she wanted to be the first woman President of the United States, but for the staff of Branch Elementary, Erin was our teacher. She taught us what it means to give of ourselves when she hand made Valentine cards for everyone in her class. Erin also taught us to always show our appreciation for others by passing out her ‘goodbye’ gift to those who touched her life while at Branch not only to the administrators and teachers but also to every lady working in the cafeteria. That is the kind of student we celebrate here today.

A fifth grade teacher said, “Erin was unlike any student I have ever had. She was truly passionate about learning and about helping me make sure my class was a family and remained as such. She cared about her friends and classmates just as much as she cared about pushing her envelope of knowledge.”

The librarian shared that Erin was always looking for a new story to read. She specifically remembered Erin's request for Agatha Christie novels during 5th grade!

The Art Teacher stated, “Erin’s smile was the outward expression of her love for learning, for creating, and for inventing. She was delighted and her whole being absolutely sparkled after finishing a particularly difficult art project to her satisfaction. … During the planning stages of projects she would often dream up unusual ideas that required further problem solving. She had the confident "can do" attitude knowing that eventually she always would figure out a way for something to work.”

Our PE coach wrote a letter to Erin and with his permission, I share a portion with you.

“I'll never forget the day we timed you guys for Jump Rope for Heart. I was part coach and almost felt like part father at the time as I didn't want you to push yourself too hard but like always, you refused to quit. … You may or may not have appreciated what happened in that room that day as your legs, heart and lungs were burning but the classes in that room rallied behind you like nothing I've ever seen. Even the kids that tend to be self absorbed and very ego centric in their behavior were clapping and chanting in unison with your jumping cadence and even as I write this I get chills every time I think about it.”

In closing, “Erin was a spark of energy and creativity that brought joy to all of us at Mary Branch. We will miss her so much. She was like a fiery comet in the sky that streaks through quickly and is gone; but oh, the magic and joy she brought us!”

Joel and Jackson Ross, one of Erin's closest, dearest friends and his dad. This may be the hardest thing you could ever ask a friend to do.

My name is Joel Ross. My wife, Shirlene, my son, Jackson, and I have been blessed to call Erin, Vickie, Walter, Davis & Moo friends these past 7 years.

Erin & Jackson first met in preschool at Covenant Presbyterian in College Station when Jackson was fondly known as “Monday-Wednesday-Friday Jackson”. Shortly thereafter, Erin was diagnosed with neuroblastoma. Over the years, Erin & Jackson have been schoolmates, teammates, playmates & most importantly of all, dearest of friends.

I know many of you have wonderful stories to share – each one special and unique- about what your friendships with Erin mean to you. Jackson would like to take this opportunity to share some of his thoughts with you.


Erin has been a great friend since preschool. We have played soccer together and done many fun things as best friends. I had the pleasure of getting to go to school with her for almost eight years. Although we had our differences we always saw past them and had a great time. I have come to meet some great friends because of her. Erin was a fighter and a brave girl. She fought for so long and fought so hard. She was courageous in the face of fear and a very smart friend. She was an extremely smart person who always had new ideas and thoughts on how to make things better and more enjoyable. Nobody will know what to do without her; we will all miss her good mood and gigantic grin. We will all miss Erin and we will never forget her. We are all so sad to see her go, but she is in a better place without pain or suffering. She is smiling again and as playful and caring as ever.

As many of you know all too well, Erin has a bright, vibrant, outgoing personality. She is so full of energy, life & love that she wants to share it with everyone. Just about everyone she meets comes to call her “friend”. Because of Erin’s circumstances, she has had the opportunity to develop friendships – and touch lives – in many different walks of life:

*Through school – her classmates, teachers, administrators

*Through sports – her coaches, teammates, & even opponents

*Through church – her pastor, ministers and church family

*Through NB – her doctors, nurses, other NB patients & families;

*Government leaders, & even a few NFL football stars

As you can tell if you have read the postings on Erin’s blog, she even has hundreds, if not thousands, of friends from all over the world that she has never met.

Erin is always so encouraging to her friends, even when her own circumstances are difficult and challenging, as when she cheers her kid-friends (& occasionally some adult-friends) who are playing WII while she is forced to watch from the sidelines. Erin is a true friend – never afraid to tell a friend what they need to hear, even though it is not necessarily what they want to hear.

You may have noticed that I continue to speak of Erin in the present tense. That is because she continues to live in all of us – in our hearts and in our memories – and through all of us – through our support for other NB patients & families and our support for the fight to find a cure for this terrible disease. She continues to touch our lives in so many ways. Through her efforts to raise awareness of the need for additional funding for children’s cancer research, she will continue to touch many more lives in the years to come –even the lives of people who have not been born yet.

Thank you.

Chet Edwards, Erin's Congressman and closest adult friend, came back to Texas at the end of his family's spring break trip to Vail (we were glad he made it to the bottom of the slopes every time with no injuries. . . no small accomplishment given the challenges and races he had with J.T. and Garrison down the most dangerous runs) to attend Erin's visitation/celebration and to speak at her memorial on the topic of service and inspiration:

Sometimes the best gifts come in the smallest packages. Such is the case with Erin Buenger. She was a divine gift to her family and to all of us blessed to know her.

Her life, her joyous spirit and her indomitable courage will inspire us all for as long as we shall live.

Like so many others here, I fell in love with Erin Buenger the first time I met her. How could you not, given her sparkling eyes, her exuberance for life and her commitment to helping others.

Each of us has our own Erin stories. Mine is that I first met Erin several years ago when she came with her mother to Washington to speak out for more research funding for children’s cancer.

I’ve met a lot of lobbyists in my lifetime, but never one more persuasive than Erin.

The problem is that with rare cancers such as neuroblastoma, private companies simply aren’t going to spend millions of dollars to research new drugs, so, as Erin pointed out to me, the government must do more. Because of Erin Buenger, the government will do more.

From that day forward, I joined the legions of Erin fans.

Teaching, at its best, is about inspiring others to be better, to do better. In that sense, this remarkable little girl was one of the finest teachers I have ever known.

Through Erin’s joy of living every day fully, she taught us how precious life truly is.

Through Erin’s positive attitude, despite her daunting medical challenges, she taught us what courage truly is.

Through Erin’s thoughtfulness to others, she taught us that life is not about self but rather about making a difference for others, about being our brother’s keeper.

What a difference her life has made in yours and mine and for so many others.

Whether we here have never met, or just known each other for a few moments or for years, our common bond is our love for Erin. I believe we can honor that love by living every day more fully, by facing adversity with courage, by making a difference for others and by sharing the story of this beautiful little girl.

My faith teaches me that heaven is a better place today, and the world will be a better place tomorrow because of the spirit of Erin Buenger.

Thank you, Vickie, Walter and Davis for sharing your precious Erin with so many of us. For that, may God bless you and forever keep you and Erin in His loving arms.


  1. thanks for posting these vickie. i know that you are doing it for yourself - but as one of the erin fans that never got to meet her and couldn't be there i'm glad i get to read them.

    also - glad you are getting outside. it's 72 degrees here in logan right now (which is warm), and very sunny. i just got back from another paddle (kayak) up the flat little bear river. simply wonderful and good for my aching soul. if it's half as nice down there, then i know being outside is good for your soul too. anyhow - keep being kind to yourself, i'll continue to check in on you.

  2. Vickie, Please don't feel like you need to return every email. that's the beauty of a blog!! I love the recap part 2. Even though I never met Erin, I sure felt like I did. She's the child you wish were yours, NB and all, and I never thought I'd say that last part. I've wished for Ryan's to never have existed so many times. She's one of the few inspirational people I (never really) knew! and I hate to say that publicly, but it's true. after watching Ryan suffer, I don't give too many people too much lee-way in the putting on your big girl panties dept. Erin was just amazing though. As sick as I've felt, and I mean I'm sitting here in some pretty mean pain right this minute, I just can't give it too much weight or "to-do" when I think of your sweet Erin. Allow yourself to feel what you feel. I'm so glad you are letting her spirit fill you up. That is smart, and that's where she got her great attitude- from you and her daddy! Feel our prayers that are being poured out for you. We wouldlove to ease your pain somehow. Thanks for your efforts to continue the fight. We're making a donation to honor all of you. Love, Missy

  3. I've followed your blog for about a year and a half but I've never left a comment (aside from when Erin requested stories of middle school shenanigans).

    For days, I've been fighting to find the right words but I continue to fail. I am sad and grief-stricken at the thought of your loss. I am heartsick at the image of Jackson giving a eulogy for his best friend. I am disgusted with this disease and angry at the reality that such a kind, pure light in this world is gone. I had always harbored a glimmer of hope that Erin would be the lucky one, the one who was spared, the one who grew up. I had visions of her in the Oval Office or in a lab giving an interview about the cure she had discovered.

    I don't know you and I never had the honor of meeting Erin, but my life has been deeply touched by your story. A reflection of her light will glow in my heart for as long as it beats.

    Your Erin has changed the world.

  4. Hi Vickie...
    Thank you for posting the comments. Reading them just made my day. Your little girl continues to touch lives...

  5. hi vickie -
    just wanted you to know that i made sure not to forget my erin lanyard when i went into my oral defense of my comps. "i can do this, yep, i can do this" inspiration. i passed my comps with flying colors and my committee said it was fun. they said it's not a usual occurrence for an exam to be fun. i don't know if erin had a part of it, but it certainly seems like the kind of comps that erin would have had.

    thanks for sharing her with all these strangers around the world.