Tuesday, April 6, 2010


April 6, 2010

I have read that Universal Studios will debut the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter to coincide with Erin's birthday weekend this summer. That brings back memories of what an important role Harry Potter played in our lives during Erin's treatments. You may not realize this, but the first book came out just days after Erin was born. The first four (through Goblet of Fire) existed by July 2002 when Erin started treatment.

That fall, we would pass the hours in the hospital reading Harry Potter mixed in with more age-appropriate books. I don't remember how we started in on those. Perhaps the prospect of reading yet another Boxcar Children mystery led me off the deep end. Somehow, it didn't seem that wicked to me to let a five-year-old engage with wizardry or potentially nightmare-inducing spiders, serpents, and dragons or even Voldemort and his reign of terror, even though, at the time, I would not have dreamed of letting Erin watch PG movies. Whatever started it, it soon became an addiction. All too quickly we had plowed through the books and had to face the truth that we would have to wait until June for the next in the series.

Of course, we found other books to read, but since back-to-back stem-cell transplants loomed in our immediate future, we knew we would have more hours to fill than my voice could sustain. We bought the books on CD and over the pair of three-week stints we enjoyed almost fifty hours of Jim Dale's unabridged reading utterly and completely. (If you haven't heard or heard of Jim Dale, you have really missed out. He made up and remembered unique voices for each of the characters over the enter series.
He got the manuscript to Goblet of Fire on a Friday-the third person in the world the read it--and had to be ready to record the 760 pages with 127 characters by the following Monday. You can read more about Jim Dale in this interview by Rochelle O'Gorman and you can listen to this short clip if you have never heard him.)

After we cleared the transplant hurdle, life became more normal-ly for a long stretch, but we didn't put Harry Potter behind us. The whole family looked forward to the summer release dates. Our first time through was always voiced by Vickie with Walter as the able understudy and stand in. We tried to keep each other honest and not allow any one person in the family to read ahead. The whole HP thing really promoted family togetherness, because we all (including the teen Davis) looked forward to family reading time so that we could continue the action.

Here are some HP moments:

Erin and Clayton Sue with their wands:


Erin at the HP midnight release party at Barnes & Noble (thank goodness Davis took her):


Erin with her turquoise "wiggie" doing her best impression of Tonks:


Harry Potter has more meaning for me than just this reminiscence. Our family bonded over Harry Potter. We shared it across literary tastes and generations. It carried us through hard hospital days, made long car trips exciting, and stimulated our fantasies. Harry Potter, all seven volumes, is also a metaphor I use to explain how I feel about Erin's death.


The rate of people asking had tapered off for a while, but invariably around holidays or, in this instance, the approaching one-year anniversary of Erin's death my friends and other well-meaning people ask "How are you doing? How is Walter doing? How is your mom doing? How is Davis doing?" as if I can actually answer the question in any meaningful way.

I'm not saying that as criticism. I am glad people ask. These inquiries mean the world to me and in some ways evoke a greater emotional response (and quicker tears) than reflecting on Erin herself. It means that other people--people not related to her--think of her, remember her, have her on their mind. But I can think of no meaningful way to explain how I'm doing or feeling a year later.

In some ways, Erin dying feels like getting to the end of The Deathly Hallows and instead of Harry living and Voldemort dying in the final epic battle, it turns out the other way: Harry dies; Voldemort survives. That would just be wrong. Not merely sad or maddening, but plainly wrong. The plot wasn't meant to turn out that way.

I feel the same way about Erin's death. I don't regret a single moment of her life, just as I wouldn't regret having read the thousands of pages of Harry Potter even if the outcome wasn't what I expected. That doesn't keep me from believing with all my heart that the story turned out wrong, miserably wrong.

The metaphor isn't perfect. In literature we can use devises, like Jo Rowling did. Rowling, in essence killed Harry, but in his conversation with the already dead Dumbledore, Harry learned that the horcrux inside of him was destroyed and that Voldemort could do him no harm. He returns to continue the battle and slew Voldemort. In non-literary death, there are no such devices and nor any re-writes.

Knowing that the story ends, as written, may be the hardest thing for me.


  1. Beautiful post, and how I love Harry too... and I can see Erin engrossed in the tales, truly wizardly wonderful books.

  2. Just wanted to pop in and let you guys know I had Erin on my mind a lot today. One of my kiddos at work was picking a prize from our treasure chest and came across this tiny green beanie baby bear with a 3 leaf clover on its chest.

    The kiddo proceeded to hand it to me and say here you need this. After the kiddo picked their prize I went over to my computer and looked closer at the beanie baby..... and her name is ERIN.... She now sits on my desk wearing her pink lanyard amongst all my NB kiddos.....

    Beautiful post....


  3. So many of us who never met Erin or your family who have continued to think about her and the gifts she gave the world every day - are keenly aware of the significance of the next few days. She (with you and Walter and Davis) have left as lasting an impression and legacy as HP - and the ending is all wrong. Hopefully your continued work and that of all those NB families and supporters will help to change the ending for kids being newly diagnosed. Though I have never met you - you feel like a friend and I wish you peace and love in the upcoming days and weeks.

  4. Dear Vickie,
    Yet another poignant,and beautifully written post! How lovely; and a definite "Yes" as to how the story of Erin turned out so wrong!!! Like "Eating" a million artichokes" nothing can bring these little angels back to earth! However, you and Walt, Margot&Neil,Melissa &Andy,Rhonda&Mike,Donna&Paul, Sherry&John& Christi's parents Ryan's parents;All the family's NB angels, have to live life so fully and to see the beauty in each day and find something of your respective angel in each day! (which you, Vickie, "do it" from bluebirds nesting to glorying in the passage of the health care bill by continuing to work with your senator Chet ?) You are a beautiful writer, Vickie, and truly inspire us to "Do It" I hope I can see you the weekend of the 24th, but it is looking less likely as I have medical problems of my own; and you are going to be so involved in the wonderful garage sale at Jane Long Middle School!! I hope it raises a ton of money in Erin's name; and if I get there I'll surely buy lots of stuff; but, my favorite thing is still the beautiful lanyard in all my favorite colors of blue that I no longer wear to school, but have it hanging on a Mexican mirror right next to a little card of my favorite little red haired girl Erin Buenger, next to my favorite little red haired boy,Sam!
    Vickie "You rock!"; and I'm sending you so much "Love" on this 1 year anniversay of Erin. You have made us all vividly aware of whom she was and how she lived her short but, fully vibrant,inspiritional shining life, and what a megawatt smile she had!
    Much Love, Sara Maley,(Margot's Mom)&"Samsgram"

  5. Oh I love this post, Vickie. I have never read Harry Potter and now whenever I hear of it, I will think of Erin. She is always on my mind-- when I verb something I was putting off or afraid of, when I see a beautiful sky, when I remember to live beyond myself. Erin is everywhere. I know it may not help, but in that sense she won. Her spirit is in everything that lives and in everyone that loves. Erin is everywhere.

    I love you,

  6. Parents of kids who have died must hate to hear the "everything happens for a reason" rationalization from other people. You are right, life isn't fair sometimes and pretending otherwise doesn't make it less so or less painful. I have been remembering Erin and your family this week. She was a special and unique little girl. I think I remember that her brother had a birthday shortly after her passing so I hope he is able to have a good one as Erin would have wanted.

  7. That was a really good post, Vickie. I had been afraid to ask you guys, because well, how do you answer something like that. The comparison to Harry Potter or any other epic novel makes so much sense, and yes we want good to prevail.

    I never read Harry Potter, but now I feel I should have shared it with our kids when they were reading it, just never had the "time". Something to think about, right. I am glad that you guys were able to spend that much meaningful time together, and what is better than sharing a book?

    Love, Anja