Tuesday, April 28, 2009


April 28, 2009

I have turned over in my mind what to do with Erin's Home (this blog) since she died. One option would, of course, be to end it with the last post and let it stand as a memorial to her and as a source of information for how one family lived with cancer for almost seven years.

Somehow that doesn't seem right (at least to me and at least right now).

Erin's physical life ended, but in so many ways, Ted's message to us during the memorial service got it exactly right. Erin's life, in all of us, is now about Going Forward.

I will keep posting with that in mind.

You may notice that I changed the header just a little. This is still Erin's Home, but now I call the page "Let's Do It."

"Let's Do It" honors Erin by repeating the phrase I heard her say so often. She didn't want to put things off until she felt better. She didn't want to wait until the weather improved or for the path to clear. I never felt her hesitate once she made up her mind. She always wanted to grab life by the throat and GO MORE PLACES AND DO MORE THINGS.

The phrase also challenges all of us (family, friends, distant and unmet friends) to continue down that path, to live with gusto, to live with grace, to live like an arrow flying towards its target, AND to do it together. Erin, as inclusive as anyone I ever met, would emphasize the all of us in Let's Do It.

I have also added a question to the header: what verb do you choose? My favorite metaphor for Erin is that she lived like a verb. . .an action verb. I don't know what you like to do, but if I can make a suggestion: choose a verb and go do it. Cook, drive, serve, run, laugh, hug. Work hard, play hard, inspire others.

I have heard from many of you (believe me, I'm going to write you all back eventually) and so many of you are telling me about the things you are doing (at least partially because Erin inspired you). We have friends continuing to make and buy lanyards on Erin's behalf, and friends who are redoubling their efforts to raise money for Relay for Life. But it's not just about cancer. Clayton Sue took on a triathalon last weekend. We have friends playing baseball, practicing the piano, skating, dancing, singing, riding trains, and more.

Me? I think I'll keep writing for a while (as long as I have verbs to report).

Friday, April 24, 2009

Obituary and Video

April 24, 2009

When Walter and I went to the funeral home two weeks ago, the woman there pulled out a form and told us she would help us write the obituary. I couldn't imagine fitting Erin's life into a standardized form, so I just smiled at her and said something like "Walter and I write for a living. I think we'll do it ourselves." I think she thought we were a little foolish. This is what we came up with. If you read all the way to the bottom, I have embedded another YouTube video that someone made for Erin (I say someone, because I can't figure out who did it). I can't think of a more beautiful gift that this person could give than to put together this loving video for us. The note on YouTube says to listen all the way to the end so you can hear Erin singing and laughing.

Erin Channing Buenger

June 20, 1997 – April 9, 2009

Erin Channing Buenger, 11, of Bryan died peacefully at her home on the morning of Thursday, April 9, 2009. A visitation and celebration of her life will be from 6 to 8 p.m. Sunday, April 12, in the Fellowship Hall of First Presbyterian Church, located ay 1100 Carter Creek Pkwy. in Bryan. A memorial service will be at 2 p.m. Monday, April 13, at the church.

Erin entered the world full of joy and energy in Bryan on June 20, 1997. Her bright red hair, beautiful smile and zest for living life to its fullest marked her as special from the beginning. She attended Covenant Presbyterian Day School, Mary Branch Elementary and Jane Long Middle School where she was part of the Inquire Academy. Erin earned nothing but A's throughout her years in the Bryan schools and even during her difficult last few months continued to work hard at every subject. Indeed every subject fascinated her from art to mathematics.

At age five Erin was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a difficult to cure form of childhood cancer. She lived 82 months with the disease, but she never let it slow her down. She lived to the end without fear. Erin worked diligently to increase federal funding of children's cancer research and became a zealous and successful Congressional lobbyist.

Cancer, however, never defined her life, and she passionately pursued her interests in softball, horseback riding, creative arts, cooking, and many other things. She played soccer with intensity and verve and was a member of the Mystic '97 competitive team. Unable to play the past few months, she turned to new things. Her last week of life she designed and created fused glass art pieces and directed the making of lanyards to raise money for the Children's Neuroblastoma Cancer Foundation.

What defined Erin most was her relationship to other people of all ages. She formed close ties to many that she met at school, church, through her trips to Washington, and during her lengthy treatments in Houston at Texas Children's Hospital or at local medical facilities. Her smile and warmth made each of her many friends feel special, and her empathetic spirit, understanding, and insights were a balm to them in troubled times. Certainly Erin displayed typical human failings and foibles, and she especially did not suffer fools and foolishness gladly. Still she left behind an example of how to cope with adversity and a model of how to live each day to the fullest.

Her parents, Vickie and Walter Buenger, brother, Davis Buenger, and grandmother, Madge Luquette, all of Bryan, survive Erin, as do many aunts, uncles, cousins and friends.

Her parents, brother and grandmother wish to thank the relatives, friends, coaches, trainers and teachers who contributed so much to Erin's joyful life. Special thanks go to the numerous health care providers who over the years did their best to keep Erin well, including Jesse Parr, Beverly Nutall and the rest of the staff of University Pediatrics in Bryan-College Station, and Heidi Russell at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston.

In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to Erin's Let's Do It Fund at the First Presbyterian Church of Bryan or to the Children's Neuroblastoma Cancer Foundation/Lunch for Life.

To express sympathy and learn more about Erin, go to If you have a special memory of Erin, please consider joining The Erin Project.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Service Recap--Part III

April 23, 2009

Davis headed back to Houston yesterday to take his finals. Spanish today and everything else is on a customized timetable (not just for Davis, but for everyone). That's the way a lot of the classes go. Each final can last up to five hours and class sizes are prettysmall, so students make arrangements individually. Some professors can't write a final that students can finish in five hours. For those situations, I think they fall back on projects and papers.

I can't really tell you how our days go. We seem to fill them with tasks, some meaningful and many meaningless, but on the whole I think that's better than falling into an abyss. I have taken Janice Pinney's advice to try and accomplish at least one thing each day. Yesterday, I remembered to renew my automobile insurance (which was set to expire by the end of the day). Talk about a meaningful task and just-in-time! Since I sent Davis back to Houston in my van, I think this was a pretty good save. We manage to watch The Rachel Maddow Show most weeknights, though if I miss the 8:00 broadcast, I don't always stay awake all the way through the 10:00 showing. I know I live in modern times and could watch it right on my computer anytime, but I find relief in actually making myself follow the evening programming schedule. We have also kept up with eating (though we don't do as well with keeping the dishes cycling through the dishwasher and back on to the shelves).

I have certainly enjoyed hearing the little vignettes of what people have accomplished (only partly) because they kept the concepts of "Going Forward" or "Let's Do It" or some other Erin inspiration in their heart. Congrats to Brooke for passing her comps wearing her Erin lanyard and to any of the rest of you who worked or played a little harder today with Erin in your heart.

Amazingly enough, this has been a remarkable spring for birds (I think the drought has kept some of them around here longer than they normally would stay, just so they can have a ready source of libation from the lake). We have a pair of Canadian geese cavorting around, a whistling duck couple that never leave each other's orbit, and possibly some very shy wood ducks. I got to add a new bird to my life list (okay, my life list of bird spottings is incredibly short, because I am just not very good at looking in the right place at the right time): a painted bunting. You can see why this is special:

I think this is the last entry about Erin's memorial service. I have managed to get the service bulletin into a form that I can upload, and I wanted to end on the music, which did so much to capture the true light touch that Erin passed through life with.

This is the bulletin cover:

Jane Van Valkenberg played a Robert Hobby arrangement of Beethoven's Hymn to Joy as the prelude. Erin could play a much simpler version on her piano, but it was a piece that we both enjoyed--simple or enhanced. I don't have an audio file of the particular arrangement Jane played, but you can click here: Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee and scroll down to play a midi file of the tune (I have included links to midi files for all the music in this entry. . .unfortunately none of the audio is actually from Erin's service. I think a recording of the service may exist but I haven't taken the time to track it down yet).

The entire church filled with voices during the first hymn, I Danced in the Morning. Even though it was hard to face the Chancel full of brightly dressed Erin lovers and sing this song without completely falling apart, I did. Erin and Davis both loved this hymn and would belt it out, any time, just so they could sing the chorus. It's one of the few hymns I know just by its number in the hymnal (#302).

Walter and I had hoped the Youth Choir could sing in the service, but knew that they probably had nothing "funereal" prepared. Erin died right before Easter weekend (a busy time for our youth because they do the entire sunrise service, plus a fundraiser pancake breakfast for the church). How delighted we were when we found that Esther Carrigan, their director, had a tune already worked up that we could have: We Walk by Faith and Not by Sight. Our next worry was that our youth choir is actually a quartet, a very talented quartet, but how could we ask four young people to stand alone in the chancel and sing out? Somehow, the quartet morphed into something much larger, and we got to see the largest assembled youth choir I have ever heard in our church. They truly sounded like a choir of angels. The Chancel Choir and the Witness to the Resurrection Choir (I like to think of this as Choir Plus!) joined the youth up front, not to sing the anthem, but to have their backs in what must have been a difficult task of sitting face out to the brimming full sanctuary of Erin fans.

The second anthem featured the organ and violin and the hymn tune, Nettleton. Walter and I requested this piece, which in the hymnal is called "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing."
This recording doesn't really do justice to the beauty and life that Carl and Jane infused this anthem with, but all the other recordings were just toooo slow. I think Jane actually composed the violin accompaniment that Carl played, so if you weren't there, just imagine a foot-stomping fiddle setting the tempo to this absolutely enchanting song.

We chose "For All the Saints" as the last hymn, because I always felt so uplifted when my brass group played it on All Saints Day. We didn't have an entire brass ensemble at Erin's service, but something even better: John McSpadden, trumpeter extraordinaire, played. And man, did he play.

We ended the service by walking out to Handel's "Hornpipe" from Water Music. Walter and I got shepherded down to the Carter Creek Foyer to hug the line of Erin lovers. In the meantime, Jimmie Homburg took Erin's Sunday School class out the front of the church to do a butterfly release (look for a later entry about why I can't stop laughing every time I think of this event). The afternoon was a little chilly for the butterfly tastes. They didn't charge out of the box, but lingered, seemingly wanting to be part of the experience.

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.