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
I know many of you have wonderful stories to share – each one special and unique- about what your friendships with
As many of you know all too well,
*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
You may have noticed that I continue to speak of
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.