Since learning of the passing of Garrett Weatherbee, I have been struggling to write this. How can I possibly capture the essence of this amazing young man that I was so blessed to know, even if just for a brief time? How can I honor him?
I thought about the first time I met Garrett. He was NOT the typical kid that I visit as a Princess, being that he was an older teenager and he had quite a presence, even in his hospital bed (in other words, he was tall and handsome). He had this smile that was so gentle and easy-going and yet confident all at once. He was writing in a notebook and when I asked him about it, he said he was making a list of the colleges to which he was applying and told me all about his plans to become an engineer to design hospitals. WHOA. And yet, he was so humble about it all. His family was there, and together we laughed and talked and I was privileged to experience first-hand what unconditional love within a family looks like. There was no mention of cancer, only talk of hopes and dreams. I walked out of there feeling something beyond inspirational… something that I can only describe as pure JOY.
And that’s how it always was with Garrett. As soon as he was able, I enlisted him to volunteer with Joy to the Kids, and an opportunity arose to have him volunteer at the very same oncology clinic that he had spent many hours in as a patient. Garrett didn’t hesitate to say yes – he could not wait to visit the children. But as the day of the event approached, his custom-ordered Captain America costume still had not arrived from overseas and I was a nervous wreck. But not Garrett. He took a cheap back-up costume and found a solution to make it fit his tall frame – and he did it all with his easy-going, joyful spirit. He was always smiling.
The day of the event, he was the best Captain America I have ever seen, and I had the gift of watching all the children simply glow in his presence. One might think they were excited to meet a Superhero… but I know better. They were touched by Garrett’s Light.
A few months ago, I stopped by his room at the hospital just as he was about to be discharged. He was so excited to tell me all about his new puppy, and showed me pictures of his pride and joy. His cheerful mood was infectious, and as I had come to expect with Garrett, I left him with a gleeful skip in my step and a feeling that 'all is right in the world.' How could I have ever known it would be the last time I see him?
On Monday, I attended his memorial service and was not surprised to see the people spilling out of the church, where there was standing room only. I witnessed speaker after speaker who have been touched by this extraordinary young man. There was laughter and tears and through it all, I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude. I cannot believe how blessed I am to have known Garrett! He brought so much joy to so many people - too many to begin to count - and I got to be one of them!
When I created Joy to the Kids, Inc., I thought my mission was to bring joy to children in hospitals. Little did I realize how much joy they would bring me… especially Garrett Weatherbee. Thank you, Garrett, for teaching me what Joy really is. I will honor you in the best way I know how… to never give up, and to give back to every child that I meet the gift you gave to me: pure JOY.