Memories that will stay in our hearts forever

djWhen I think back to the last year of DJ’s life, it’s not only the illness or the struggles of his parents, my cousin Don and his wife Rose, or DJ that I think about. But rather, it’s the times we were all able to be together, sharing normal family moments, living life and creating warm memories among the sadness.

When DJ was 6 years old, he was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor (brain stem glioblastoma), bringing him and his parents to Western New York for treatment. Although my wife Sudha and I were local, my cousins lived in rural East Otto, 1 ½ hours away. Our home was open to them, but they chose to stay at the Buffalo Ronald McDonald House.

As I spent time with my cousins during their stays at the House, I clearly saw that the House is designed for families to gather together, filled with the laughter and sounds of kids being kids.

Sudha can’t stop talking about DJ’s piano recital played to a standing ovation crowd, and how much fun they had. It may have just been a little boy hitting the keys, but to everyone there, it was a performance from a Virtuoso!

fb_img_1450301388175As with most 6-year old boys, he was an explorer at heart and the beautiful mansion that is the Ronald McDonald House gave him plenty of nooks and crannies to explore. It was very clear to me that DJ loved the Ronald McDonald House.

Every time I visited, I saw families including my cousins, given the chance to be normal and enjoy each other outside of the tubes, monitors and treatments. I saw families building each other up. Hearing ‘you will get through it’ from someone who knows just what they’re going through; it was a sharing of strength that helped all of us to keep going.

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Gary Griffin and DJ’s dad setting DJ’s memorial brick in the Ronald McDonald House Walkway of Love.

The Buffalo Ronald McDonald House was there with love and support for all of us. Throughout the year, I watched as my cousins were welcomed back to the house each month for DJ’s week of treatments.

DJ will always be the biggest blessing of our lives and we know in our hearts that although he passed on April 17th, his stays at the Ronald McDonald House during his last year of his life gave him the opportunity to be a kid and all of us the chance to be together as a family and create memories that will stay in our hearts forever.

We are so grateful; but “thank you” will never be enough.

-Gary Griffin