Greetings to all! As yesterday had gotten closer and closer my feelings have been a mixed bag of tricks. It is extremely hard to believe that it has been a full year since our precious Cate left this earthly life and began her eternal one. Our little family has been on the ride of its life over the past 365 days. There were truly days where I did not know if we would make it through as a family and then there have been days that I cannot imagine how much more I can love my wife and children and I know that they are an essential part of my healing.
As I drove to Thibodaux, Louisiana the other morning for work there was a true feeling of freedom and even a true sense of happiness. These two feelings are not ones that I have had in quite a while so I began to explore them by simply asking God why I was feeling like this. It just had come out of no where so I was not really sure what was initiating the sudden onset of a joyful experience. The words, “You’ve made it” came to my heart, oh, yes, the sweet words that I have wanted and needed to hear. Is all well? No, not completely. Do I not miss Cate dearly? All the time! But I truly feel like with yesterday brought a true sense of freedom from that “first year.” I feel like as I look at my family I realize that we are not the same Cantrell’s we were a year ago, but I like some of the new aspects that I see in who we are as a family unit. I enjoy that I truly try to say yes to my kids more than no, not in the spoiling sense of “things” they may want but when they ask to do puzzles, swing, or play chase in the backyard. I enjoy that after struggling, clawing, fighting, crying and yelling, that Ali and I are beginning to come to a new place in our marriage that we have never been before, a place of deep honest mutual love and understanding.
One of the greatest joys that Ali and I have experienced over the past year is the love and resiliency of Ella and Dude. They have had their little worlds turn upside down and yet they continue to amaze me at the joy they possess and how loving they are! Ali and I were sitting outside the other day watching the two of them play on the slip-n-slide in our backyard when we realized that it was a year ago that we were playing in the backyard with Cate and we took the pictures of her in the pool with the kids and the ones of her sitting in the bumbo seat with food all over precious little face. I told Ali that the thing that I feel like is the largest testimony for me of who our family is, is who our children are today even with all they have been through over the past year. During the summer I speak at a series of Catholic youth conferences that are held around the country. I spoke at the first one two weeks ago and my family got to come with me, WHAT A BLESSING!!! After the weekend the coordinator of the conference called me on the Monday morning just to tell me how special our children are and the way that they love is so special. That phone call was such a confirmation for Ali and I from God that we are “ok” that our kids are “ok” and that with all the heartache over the loss of Cate that Ella and Dude have experienced that God has filled their little hearts with love.
Yesterday on the anniversary of Cate’s passing we did the same thing we did on the day Cate died, we celebrated our family. We all loaded up in the truck and went to our favorite local flower shop where the kids picked out the balloons and flowers that they wanted to give to Cate. After leaving the flowers shop we went to the cemetery to “Cate’s sign” where we released the balloons and gave her the flowers that the kids had picked out for her. The sweetest thing happened while we were there, Ella had gotten back in the truck because she was hot and Dude was wondering around looking at other people’s signs and Ali and I stood there having a quiet cry. I hollered at Dude that it was time to go he ran over to us, stopped in front of Cate’s sign, blew her a kiss and continued on the way to the truck. Wow, the tears just streamed down my face and my heart hurt for that little boy, but I was so proud of him for still loving on his sister!
We have made it through this year as a family and we will remain a family. As we prepare for our new arrival in November we know that Cate is still and always will be an active member of our family, in fact, Ella is so excited because now there will be three girls, Mommy, Ella, and Cate and three boys, Daddy, Dude, and Baby Boy Cantrell #2! We want to thank all of you who have and continue to lift our little family up in prayer, we would not be where we are today if it were not for those prayers and still need them alot. All of your cards, letters, gifts, and emails that you all have sent over the past year have reminded us of how loved and supported we were and are and you will never know how much that has meant to us.
On June 24, 2008 a Cate sized hole was left in the heart of our family and though she will never be replaced, God has poured a whole lot of love and grace into such a broken place. We have not done it perfectly by any means, but there is such a joy in my heart to know that we have done it together. Our family is stronger, our family is more loving, our family understands that God never abandoned us through this process and we remain a family journeying in hope. Thank you God for Cate’s life, for her love, and thank you Cate for all the prayers that your innocent little mouth has whispered into the ear of the Father for your family here on earth. We love you and miss you kid and we can’t wait to see you soon!