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How Kristin and Cindy’s Grief Journeys led them to be Co-Chairs of Gala

Cindy Schoell and Kristin Olson
The 2019 Spirit of Kate’s Club Gala Co-Chairs

Kristin Olson

Kristin with her father

My dad died at the age of 42 after a very short battle with an extremely aggressive cancer.  He was diagnosed with terminal adeno carcinoma in May 1994, given six months to live, and died less than two and a half months later on August 4th, eight days shy of my mom’s 37th birthday.  He also left behind three children, ages 12 (me), 11 (my brother, Steve), and 5 (my sister, Brandi).  It has been 25 years this summer since he died, and I have spent more than two-thirds of my life without him.  I wish I could know him now that I am an adult.  I hate that I cannot conjure up his voice in my head.  I would give anything to see him as a grandfather to my three daughters and my two nephews (and the children yet to be born to our family).  It isn’t as often, but I still cry (like now, while writing this).  But, I am okay.  Despite that incredible loss and trauma, I have had a really good life.

Like our Kate’s Club kids, I have experienced a myriad of emotions during my grief journey from denial to anger to sadness to anxiety to loneliness to regret.  But, my siblings and I did not have a Kate’s Club to help us navigate this grief, and it was several years before I met a peer who had lost a parent (or had any close loss for that matter).  I definitely carry some baggage, but it’s small enough to check in an overhead bin.  However, I can’t help but wonder how my siblings and I might be different if we had Kate’s Club in our lives.

Kristin with her sister, brother, and parents

Although we all experience our own unique grief journeys, there are so many things that tie us together.  One of my favorite Kate’s Club quotes (on the wall in the teen lounge) is, “We all come from different places, but we’re all coming from the same place.”  I have known about Kate’s Club since I joined the Junior League in 2007.  I ended up doing my placement with Hospice’s Camp STARS but long admired Kate’s Club.  In 2015, a sweet friend and neighbor, Stefanie Ballard, died unexpectedly, leaving behind two little girls and an adoring husband.  Pete signed the girls up for Kate’s Club, and it was the kick I needed to figure out how to get involved.  I joined the Board in January 2017, and the work Kate’s Club does continues to blow me away.  I am honored to be part of this organization and am fully committed to our mission of empowering children facing life after the death of a parent or sibling. 

On the 25th anniversary of his death and in honor of my beloved father, James (Jim) Laneri, I am especially excited to be a Co-Chair of this year’s Spirit of Kate’s Club Gala: Mourning Glory.  There may be pain in the night, but joy comes in the morning.  Now, let’s raise some big dollars to support this important work and reach more grieving kids in Atlanta!

Cindy Schoell

Cindy with her parents

I have been involved with Kate’s Club since 2011 and as a result, a part of my heart has been filled that I didn’t even realize was empty.  My grief journey started 11 days after my 4th birthday when my mom passed away from breast cancer.  She was diagnosed with cancer when she was pregnant with me so many of my memories of my mom are centered around doctors and hospitals. My parents were amazing people and way ahead of their time when it came to how to help kids deal with illness and death.  My mom’s illness was not hidden from my sister and I; it was incorporated into our lives as normal so that we could be with her.  I celebrated my 4th birthday in my mom’s hospital room and remember being excited to be able to “ride” the hospital bed and drink the pineapple juice from the nurse’s station.

I remember clearly the day my dad came into the bedroom I shared with my sister to tell us that my mom had died.  We all hugged and cried together.  We attended all aspects of her funeral because my dad knew it was important for us to be a part of it despite our young ages of 4 and 6.  My dad, grandparents and extended family openly kept our mom a part of our lives with stories, pictures and love.  I grew up in a family where it was “ok to grieve” and talking about death around kids wasn’t taboo.  My dad was the best, and he, my mom, and my family did everything right regarding helping me grieve.  Yet despite all of this, I often felt alone and different.  I felt the discomfort and sadness adults experienced when they asked where my mom was and I said, “she died.” I knew that outside of my bubble, there wasn’t an acceptance of grief or comfort with allowing a child to grieve.  Despite having amazing friends, I felt loneliness at times because it appeared that my sister and I were the only kids in our world who had lost a parent.  I felt my mom’s absence when I talked with friends, shopped for my prom dress, graduated, and got married.

At 27, my grief expanded when my father passed away after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  My heart broke.  It’s the only way to describe it.  I had been grieving since I was 4, but this was a new grief, a new sadness with anger.  I was described by someone at my dad’s funeral as an orphan.  My grief journey became more complicated.  The support I received from my husband, my friends and my family was amazing, yet there was a sense that again, my sister and I were alone in this.

Cindy with her mother and sister

I was introduced to Kate’s Club over 30 years after my grief journey started and its impact on me was powerful.  I wish there had been a Kate’s Club for me when I first lost my mom, but I’m glad there is one for me today.  I have had the honor of being a board member, chair of the board, a member of the advisory council, and now co-chair of the Spirit of Kate’s Club Gala.  As I reflect on the impact Kate’s Club has had on me, I realize that I am now part of a community that I’ve always unconsciously needed.  Kate’s Club provides a healing space and community for kids who have experienced the death of a parent or sibling, but it also attracts adults for service and volunteering who were once children who had lost a parent or a sibling. I am now surrounded by peers who understand my experience because of their own grief stories.

When I found Kate’s Club, I was too old to be a member; however, I have still experienced its healing powers through the work I have done to help Kate’s Club grow and strive to create a world where it is ok to grieve. 

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