I was on my way to New Hampshire last Tuesday with my wife and 3 year-old grandson when we received word 5 year-old passed away after a relatively short battle with cancer. Suddenly our few days of vacation at StoryLand with our beautiful grandson became all the more precious.
I never had the pleasure of meeting sweet little Leah, but have known many of her family members for a long time. While the death of any child at such a young age is heartbreaking, Leah's story of battling her aggressive form of cancer and her family's tireless efforts to support her are particularly wrenching and touching.
It was incredibly sad and yet inspiring to watch Leah and her family cope with the awful situation that enveloped them. And it somehow brought me back five years, when another little girl from Norton I had never met died in a completely different manner leaving a loving family similarly devastated and struggling to deal with the awful aftermath.
Sarah Caffelle was a 6 year-old student at the when she unexpectedly died in April of 2006. There was no cancer, no doctors, no hospital, no ongoing saga with the rising and dashing of fear and hope. One day there was a little girl full of life and laughter, and the next day she was gone.
I met her father and sister when they graciously appeared on my cable television show to share their story and the loss of Sarah with the entire town. Her teacher wrote a book for children based upon Sarah, teaching them how to try and deal with such an unexplainable tragedy. She gave me a copy and I found it to be a fitting and proper legacy for a girl who will never be forgotten.
As we sat with our grandson, I thought of these two youngsters and their families. How they share a horrible bond between them, even if they don't know each other. I marveled at how I never saw either little girl in person, yet each is now indelibly imprinted into my mind and soul. And I realized I had learned something important from each of them and their unbelievably strong and loving relatives.
Life is delicate and fragile, yet only matters if you seize it and live it. Leah Fernandes and her family learned that, as did Sarah Caffelle and hers. So we hugged and kissed our grandson an awful lot last week. We played with him, took him on rides, went swimming with him. I watched him play with his grandmother, talk to his mother and father on the phone, and marveled at how I have been given the privilege of knowing and loving this special person.
The Fernandes and Caffelle families can't hug their special little children today, but have been gifted with them nonetheless. That realization must seem so insufficient some days, but will no doubt get them through many others. It is probably little consolation that their situations have inspired myself and others to appreciate what we so often take for granted.
Hug your children, your grandchildren, your parents and your friends a little bit tighter when you go home tonight. And when you do, remember Leah and Sarah.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist who appreciates everything just a little more today. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.