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Francie's Story

Chapter 9: A Lesson from Fourth Grade

We toured a preschool for Wilder today. My heart jumped to the top of my chest as I watched him run around the classroom.

“This is incredible!” he cried out, touching every book and peering in every bin.

As back-to-school photos flooded social media, I was transported back to fourth grade.

My fourth-grade classroom was nestled right next to the lunchroom. My attention often wandered out the door to follow a lone student scurrying by. Were they late? In trouble? Heading to the nurse’s office?

In November, just a few days before my birthday, as we learned about kettles and moraines, our class was abruptly called away to the lunchroom. We shifted in our chairs as we watched lines of other fourth graders file in. We all sat quietly, waiting.

The announcement was short and grim: one of the girls in our class was being sent home. Her father never woke up; he had died of a heart attack. He was well-known in town, a local news anchor.

I sat with her in the same pod of four desks. I hadn’t even noticed her leave the classroom. I remember feeling terrible, desperately wanting to say or do something to help.

When she returned, I watched my classmates give her a hug, tell her they were sorry, say whatever it is a fourth grader says when someone dies.

I, however, said nothing. Not once. I had this idea that there was something of consequence I could say or do that would be better than “I’m sorry your dad died.” So, I waited. I waited for the right time. I waited for the right words. But the right words never came. And then, it was too late.

I’m always a bit jealous of people that speak with conviction about living life without regrets. That’s just not me. The memory of an awkward dance move in high school or a misinterpreted hand wave from a stranger crossing the street will find me in traffic and flip a switch in my brain. I’ll visibly wince. I guess I’m a regret guy.

Staying silent back in fourth grade has lingered as a regret. And it came back to me in those few months, more and more. It made me appreciate the many people that reached out to our family, without hesitation, as we started climbing our mountain with Francie.

From a house full of flowers after Francie’s diagnosis, to weeks of home-cooked meals delivered by friends and family, we survived on the generosity of your support.

Back in fourth grade, I remember feeling that saying something, anything, might make things worse. Today, I see how the support of those around us means so much. So, this chapter is an acknowledgement of you! It’s a thank you!

It has been a pleasure to reconnect with old friends, bond with strangers, lean into friendships that support us daily, and have our out-of-state family constantly in-town.

The messages, the meals, the shipments of diapers and the onesies, the phone calls, the letters, the conversations at work, and the prayers, the many, many prayers. They have all held us together and kept our spirits high.

But we see the silent supporters too! We appreciate the water cooler conversations about anything but heart disease - they can make a day feel normal. We see the daily grace of our team at Wonderist that worked their butts off to give us space. We are grateful for the many quiet acts of service of our family, traveling across the country to wash endless dishes and fold towering piles of laundry, all so we can wake up to one part of our life that isn’t cluttered. And we appreciate all of you that have quietly followed Francie’s story from afar.

As of August 22, 2023, Francie has been home from the CTICU for 24 days. She’s hitting her weight goals, and we’re settling back into a family routine. It’s great to have her home!

Today, when I close my eyes, I can see Francie as a fourth grader, tipping back in her chair to look out into the hallway at classmates shuffling by. I hope she is fearless with her friendship. I hope she is comfortable getting uncomfortable. I hope she speaks when it is easier to stay silent.

The teacher called her attention back to the board, and her chair thudded back down on the mismatched tiles of the classroom floor.

Lesson for Francie #1: In life, don’t just hit the Like button. Take the time to write a comment. You won’t regret it.

Written by
Michael Anderson
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