The past eight months have been somewhat of a blur for Kajsa James, mother of Maddie, who was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor in January and passed away eight weeks later in March of this year. Between processing her daughter’s sudden and fatal diagnosis, and co-founding the Maddie James Foundation, which raised $1 million dollars in less than three months to secure the naming rights to the soon-to-be built Maddie James Seaside Learning Center at the Ocean Institute in Dana Point, CA, certain things have gotten lost in the chaos. Other memories are crystal clear.
Maddie’s memorial was held on the afternoon of March 20, 2011. The storm of the season was moving in, but it was important to the James Family to have her service held at Heritage Park in Dana Point, overlooking the harbor where the Ocean Institute stands, and where Maddie’s ashes had been spread in the sea she so loved earlier that morning.
“Looking back, most of that day is a complete haze to me. I barely remember the hard rain falling on me, or the cold wind whipping across my face. I don’t remember seeing many of the people who came to pay their respects, or properly thanking them for doing so”, says Kajsa.
One memory that is etched in stone for Kajsa is that of Josh Belden packing up the 25 pop up tents he and his wife, Lene’, had put up in the park earlier that day to protect mourners from the harsh elements. The night before Maddie’s service, Josh and Lene’ spent part of their date night scoping out Heritage Park and planning how to best set things up. By Sunday morning, the storm was quickly moving in and they knew the tents would be a necessity. They not only led a team of volunteers that set everything up, but broke everything down and relocated all the tents to a more wind-protected area right before the service was scheduled to start.
“After getting through the service, I felt on the verge of collapsing. My brother grabbed my hand and took me to his car. As we drove away, I vividly remember seeing Josh, in the pouring rain, packing up the tents. We got eye contact, I blew him a kiss of thanks and he smiled back at me. It’s one of the clearest memories I have of that heart-wrenching day”, remembers Kajsa.
Josh also recalls the moment and says, “I remember that I was cold, wet, and tired, but mostly relieved that the weather did not get the best of the day. Kajsa’s acknowledgement in that brief moment on the darkest of hours was so heartwarming. I’m still not sure how she had room for it on such a day.”
The tents that were being packed up were the tents that are used at the annual Trace3 Hope 4 Hanna 10k / 5k / ½k race that will be held for its third year on Sunday, October 9, 2011 in San Clemente, CA. Hope 4 Hanna was co-founded by Lene` Belden, mother of Hanna, who was diagnosed in October 2006 with Autistic Disorder shortly after her second birthday. Kajsa and Lene’ grew up on the same street together in Irvine, CA. They were a year apart in school, but went to the same grade school, junior high and high school.
“We simply refer the each other by two numbers; 10 and 17. The house numbers we grew up at on our street”, says Lene’.
Since the inaugural race in October 2009, Hope 4 Hanna has raised and donated over $150,000 to larger organizations such as Autism Speaks and Talk About Curing Autism (TACA). In addition to monies being used for research of cures and prevention, Hope 4 Hanna has funded biomedical scholarships, socialization groups, and marriage counseling for families in financial need. The annual resource fair held in conjunction with the race, is a wealth of information for families seeking answers about anything from diagnosis, to legal issues, to a variety of therapies.
“When I first heard about it two years ago, I was so impressed with Lene’ for starting Hope 4 Hanna. I remember thinking how amazing it was for her to take on organizing this event, all while tending to the special needs of Hanna as well as two other small children”, says Kajsa.
Lene’ adds, “Kajsa was one of the few people from high school who took a chance on our small, experimental race. Not only did she register Maddie for the Kid’s Run, but she created a team that raised over $300 for Hope 4 Hanna. Since childhood, Kajsa has been a leader – she gets things done. I was honored and flattered that she chose to spend her efforts on us.”
Little did Kajsa know at that time what the future held for her only child, and how Lene’s strength to turn her own daughter’s diagnosis into something positive and to benefit others would one day inspire her to do the same in Maddie’s name.
This year, Maddie won’t be running the ½ K, but many will be running in her memory. The Maddie James Foundation has created a team called “Maddie James 4 Hanna” and will also have a booth at the event’s resource fair.
“As mothers, whenever a friend’s child suffers from an illness, or the unthinkable, we come together as one. We all share in that pain, and in that love – the love of a mother to a child”, says Lene’.
If you would like to join Team Maddie James 4 Hanna, or make a donation to benefit both Hope 4 Hanna and the Maddie James Foundation, please visit www.hope4hanna.com.