The Greatest Pumpkin: Honor Donna and Have Fun at the Highwood Pumpkin Festival

Four years ago we were losing our oldest child, our beautiful Donna.  She was in the last weeks of her life which would end on October 19, 2009, after a nine day vigil.  The number four keeps smashing at me.  Donna was four years and three months when she died, which means soon, very soon, she will be gone longer than she was with us.

Damn, that hurts.

Because Donna’s life ended in October, pumpkins abounded.  They were everywhere and still call her to mind.  Mid-way through the vigil, some dear, dear people took it upon themselves to create their own vigil right outside our front door.  A symphony of jack-o-lanterns that were magically lit each night by a rotating crew of well wishers.  Pumpkins.  They were beautiful and gave us tremendous comfort — such a beautiful, beautiful tribute to our Donna and her wonder, her joy, her spirit.


Donna never saw those pumpkins, but we did.  Four years later, those pumpkins, and all pumpkins, are entwined with those last weeks of our girl’s life.  That great orange globe, so present this time of year, is another symbol of our girl, and most especially, the time of year that we said our last goodbyes to her, assuring her that we would meet her there, wherever “there” might be.

Last year, right around this time, I got an interesting email from an organizer of the Great Highwood Pumpkin Festival.  She had come to know Donna through my writing and storytelling and wanted to somehow integrate Donna into next year’s festivities — now this year’s festivities — as some sort of charitable tie in.  Was I interested?  Could I help?

Hell yes.

And after a couple of introductions, Donna became the bridge between the The Great Highwood Pumpkin Festival and one of our favorite charities, St. Baldrick’s, the number one private funder of research for pediatric cancer.  I think this is pretty damn cool and I hope you do, too.

So this year we will be honoring our girl at a couple of events at The Great Highwood Pumpkin Festival and would L.O.V.E. for you to join us.  Here is the 411 on this super fun, family friendly, best pumpkin festival ever.

  • St. Baldrick’s Pumpkin Shave, Saturday, October 19, 3 p.m. – 6 p.m. One of my favorite questions since starting fundraising with St. Baldrick’s is, “Do you have a head?”  We all do, right?  Why not shave yours with all the proceeds going to much needed research for pediatric cancer?  Or, you know, volunteer your husband’s head like I do.  Or simply volunteer at the event itself.  The link will get you to where you need to go to do any or all of the above.  My family will be there and I will say a few words of gratitude to all those gathered.  This is a special day for us, as it is the fourth anniversary of Donna’s death.  Helping to raise dollars for other children with cancer seems like the most fitting thing we could do to honor our girl.
  • Great Highwood Pumpkin Fest’s 5K Run, Walk and Kids’ Dash , Sunday, October 20, 8:30 a.m. – 10 a.m.  Each year at the Pumpkin Fest a different charity is selected to donate proceeds from this much anticipated 5K. With Donna as inspiration, this year’s selected charity is St. Baldrick’s.  I love this for many reasons.  Donna, in the annual Run for Gus we participate in each summer, loved the idea of “running.”  While Donna’s cancer prevented her from being able to run fast, she loved the idea of running and racing in general.  With this very family friendly event, you can start your day with a group warm-up, the kid’s dash, and then slide into that 5K through this scenic North Shore location.  Click on the link above for all the details, or register directly here, but you have to do so by October 17 if you want to do it online.  Oh, yeah, and no race for me this year.  A newborn is a great excuse, right?


So there it is.  If someone had told me four years ago, just at the onset of sitting Donna’s vigil, that I would be spending her death anniversary four years later making a public appearance at a pumpkin festival, well hell, I don’t think I could have seen or imagined it.  But, as I am fond of saying, this is how I parent Donna now, by spreading the lessons her life taught me and raising much needed research dollars for pediatric cancer.  I chose hope in 2009 and I choose hope in 2013.  Donna taught me that.  And all monies raised for St. Baldrick’s during the event will be credited to the Donna’s Good Things campaign, which has raised over $180K to conquer kids cancer since March 2012. Now that is cool.

Mama and Donna and pumpkins

Think about joining in the fun at the Highwood Pumpkin Festival, October 17th – 20th.  The Great Pumpkin that Linus sought for years can be found there — it is the heart and spark of an entire community coming together, surrounded by pumpkins, raising money for children fighting cancer.

Thank you, Donna.

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