OVER the last few months, netizens were abuzz over Caitlin Lucas. She became known as “Courageous Caitie,” due to her strong and positive attitude even as she battled a mysterious ailment eventually diagnosed as a “one in a million” case of juvenile myelomonocytic leukemia (JMML).
Within a few days, the online buzz translated into fundraisers, prayer sessions, and a reason for people to unite and be inspired.
Exactly one week ago, after three months of bravely facing her doctors and treatments, Caitlin breathed her last and her parents, Jay Jay and Feliz Lucas, said their final goodbye to their beloved daughter.
Over the weekend, the couple’s friends, family and netizens who found inspiration in Caitlin’s story, gathered to celebrate her short but meaningful life in a final send-off.
I went and paid my respects to the girl I never met, but whose death touched me more than I thought it would. Just as important, I wanted to see her parents, especially her father, Jay Jay, whom I knew very well in college.
I have been to countless wakes but I dreaded going to this one, as I do with any wake for a child. Going to a child’s wake is always painful, regardless of whether you knew her or not. It goes against the laws of nature, and one can’t help but feel the intense sense of loss over a life taken too soon.
Even at close to midnight, there was a viewing line that extended to the parking lot. Earlier in the evening, the line stretched all the way out of the Arlington compound, on to the main road.
Everyone was in pink, and there was a cheerful yet respectful mood. There were balloons all around, a lady making bubbles for children and a band quietly singing religious songs.
Standing by their daughter’s casket, welcoming and thanking people who had come, were Jay Jay and Feliz. As requested, we refrained from saying “Condolences” and instead, focused on positive messages.
There were tight hugs and genuine smiles, but there was also the grief that only the parents knew and that we could not begin to understand, despite our best efforts and sincere sorrow.
Standing in the back, we overheard a lot of talk about “mission accomplished” by Caitlin. In a little over three-and-a-half years, she was able to teach us some amazing life lessons.
If we could carry some of these with us, she would have done her job, indeed.
1) Jesus loves you most.
This was a consistent theme in the conversations that Feliz wrote in her blog. What a beautiful thought to remember and consistently verbalize to our children.
There may come a day when our love for them will not be enough, and they will need to know that someone out there loves them beyond anything they can hope to understand.
On more than one occasion, my daughter has asked me who I love more, God or her. There is nothing wrong with telling our children we love God more, because they should know that our family is dependent on God’s love and therefore, we must put Him first.
Knowing and having complete faith in this love gave Caitlin the strength to be “Courageous Caitie.”
2) Give credit to parents.
Nobody is born courageous. Caitlin may have had the potential to be courageous, but she needed the right parents to recognize and encourage this virtue. I believe that much of how Caitlin behaved was a reflection of what she was taught.
I don’t know much about Feliz, but let me tell you what I do know about Jay Jay. I met him in freshman year in college, when we joined the same organization; every week, we would volunteer. For four years, Jay Jay was happy to share generously his time with children and his orgmates.
From the stories, it appears that Caitlin had the same disposition we saw in her father, and the strong faith we witnessed in her parents.
3) It takes a village…
And how! Never was this more evident than in the last few months and at the wake, organized perfectly by those who love the Lucas family. From the gigantic task of fundraising to the daily care of Ethan, the younger son of the couple who stayed behind in Manila with his grandparents, we saw how it’s always better when we help one another.
4) Take lots of photos.
Not for Facebook, but for yourself. Sure, we will never forget particular moments, but why leave anything to chance? Even if our children will be around long after us, the days go by so quickly, and who doesn’t enjoy reminiscing? As Feliz says in one of her posts, “It’s just so wonderful to look back on (the photos and videos). You get encouraged and reminded of how beautiful yesterday was so that you can hope again for tomorrow.”
5) Make the most of every moment.
The present is all we really have, and as difficult as it may be to think of our mortality, it helps us prioritize what we should spend our time on.
6) Pay attention to even the smallest symptoms and your gut feel.
Caitlin’s symptoms began with insect-like bites that turned into rashes. It was initially misdiagnosed as tuberculosis, but her parents felt something was wrong. Unfortunately, early detection did not prevent Caitling’s illness from spreading, but many other illnesses could be cured if treated early on.
7) Sometimes we need to take a risk.
At one point, between treatments, Caitlin wanted to get out of the hospital and go to the zoo. Technically, she was allowed to leave, but her parents knew that there were risks. I suppose her parents decided that at that point, it was worth the risk to give her some joy after so much suffering.
The risk must have been worth it, as they were able to grant her one of her last wishes.
8) Band-Aid syndrome
During Caitlin’s hospital stay, she apparently liked putting on Band-Aids, as it lessened her anxiety. Her mother wrote in one post, “I realized, we all have Caitie’s Band-Aid anxiety. We cover pain with some plaster. The skin moistens, and you can’t keep that plaster on forever. It becomes inconvenient. You need to let your skin heal, exposed, so the wound will heal faster. We all have our battles that we sometimes cover up. But when we choose to grow and put our love in the Lord, we can choose to remove the plaster and be completely healed.”
Though everyone involved, especially the patient, did everything he/she could, there comes a point when you must return the best of this world to where it rightfully belongs.
I can imagine that heaven, upon seeing Caitlin, saw such perfect faith and obedience that they knew she no longer belonged to the world.
Everyone was praying for a miracle, and it seemed it really happened—though not exactly the one we were hoping for. Though Caitlin could not be healed, she brought faith and healing into the lives of many—a miracle for those who may have given up hope.