A decade today since I first held my baby girl in my arms and named her; Zoe Michelle.
The last birthday Zoe celebrated was her sixth, but I’ve continued to celebrate them for her and to mark the anniversary of the day she passed. I began The Angel Zoe Kindness Project for her 7th birthday, the first after her passing. I’ve always included others who knew her, but have wondered if they feel it’s getting inappropriate, just a social duty now, especially for the children who were young when she died.
A few days ago, we held an early celebration since Zoe’s Dad was in town. One of the children who usually comes couldn’t make it, but she sent the beautiful card at the top of this post. She was five when Zoe died. It made me realise that Zoe does still mean something to a lot of people, so I asked friends their thoughts about her on her 10th birthday. It turned out some were about Zoe, some were about me.
I wasn’t going to post the ones about me, but they are so intertwined, and I realised it’s because Zoe’s soul has blazed through the centre of me, has changed me so profoundly, that we are deeply intertwined, in other people’s hearts as well.
I’m so honoured they allowed me to share their thoughts here.
J, Zoe’s friend since she started daycare at 10 months old:
Last night after our party the picture of J, Zoe & M (her other friend from daycare) that hangs above J’s bed fell on her head. I said are you ok bub and she was like yep Zoe was just sending me a message to let me me know she is watching over me…she does that sometimes. M’s mum tells me that she is the same, that she often talks to Zoe and feels her around.
IB, Zoe’s friend since babyhood, her mum and I knew each other before we were pregnant at the same time and are part of the group from my post 10 and counting:
IB said Zoe’s life meant shared life experiences of playing together and having fun. She wants to say that it is very important to her to keep the memory of Zoe’s life alive through the celebrations we have of Zoe at her birthday and remember her at the anniversary of her death.
It helps her to talk to Zoe in her mind when she has problems, so she can share her life with Zoe even though she is not here.
Tonight for the first time Isobel cried while talking about Zoe. For many years there was no emotion involved in her discussions of Zoe, cancer and death. Isobel has had a matter of fact acceptance of ‘my friend Zoe who died’. Last year she was extremely concerned about Kiri and that she did not have Zoe with her now. Isobel wanted to visit Kiri to talk to her about Zoe but couldn’t. Over the last year Isobel used her Angel stories book to work through her anxieties about loss and grief at bedtime.
Zoe is a friend who she draws in a bed on the second level of our single story house, an angel who comes down from heaven to play with Isobel.
H, IB’s younger sister:
H was looking at the photo of Zoe cuddling her and asked “who is the girl cuddling me?”, That’s Zoe I said, “Yes she is my sister’s friend. Why is she cuddling me?” because she loved babies and wanted to visit and cuddle you. Zoe was a sweet girl Mummy. So despite H being a baby and too young to realise what Zoe’s passing meant she has grown up with the knowledge of Zoe and cancer. Zoe is very much a part of our lives and she is kept close to IB and H’s hearts. All I can say is I am so glad I take hundreds of photos it makes it easy to keep Zoe close to the girls
S, my cousin’s daughter:
I have had two different points of view of you and Zoe. Before becoming a mother myself and after.
Because we lived in Australia I only knew of you as my Mum’s cousin and her little girl that wasn’t well. Mum kept me up to date and we were all heartbroken that you and Zoe had to go through something as hideous as childhood cancer – so unfair.
When I got to meet your amazing little lady, I was drawn in by her warmth and humour – so fun! You were in Sydney for her to meet Dr Harry.
She showed me her necklace with the beads and when you explained that each bead was for a procedure she had – I think I lost my breath when I realised what that meant.
You also told me that the reason why her voice was a bit raspy (the site of the cancer and radiation).
I felt sad for you and so sorry that Zoe had to go through all the pain and sickness.
I also knew she was lucky to have you as her mum – I could see how you encouraged her to be herself and let her shine.
I got a totally different point of view when I became a mother myself.
I now just want to scream at someone to bloody well give her back!!! How dare you take her away. It’s not fair!!! I look into the eyes of my own little girl and pray to the universe that we never have to deal with what you two did.
Whenever I read your posts my R gets extra cuddles and I think of Zoe.
A, a companion at Camp Quality that Zoe attended when she was five:
When I met Zoe at camp quality, I’m pretty sure she was in remission. She had on her pink gumboots (always) and cheeky gorgeous smile.
It was my first or second camp as a companion and I didn’t know all too many of the kids or companions, Zoe and A (Zoe’s companion) being two of them.
So for the majority of that camp, Zoe remained just a gorgeous little kid I’d see running around camp, until I slowly began to get to know A and then subsequently, Zoe. Her little quirks. How she loved A tying up her hair in the mornings. How A had to always accompany her everywhere. How she liked to pick out her own outfits (always with the gumboots) amongst others.
After camp, when i learned that Zoe had relapsed, it was a huge shock. And rattled me up a lot because she was just so little and fragile and beautiful and cute and goofy and funny – so how could something so unjust and unfair happen to her little self? I just couldn’t get my head around it. I think i tried to just pretend i hadn’t been told the news just because i couldn’t really fathom it if I’m honest.
I quietly watched everything unfold on Facebook and through whispers between companions and shockingly learned that Zoe wasn’t getting any better. And not long after this news, I learned that she had passed away. I think i was unable to be myself for a number of days.
This news really tripped me up.
To this day I don’t understand it. I don’t know why this life and existence dishes out what it does. It’s horrible. It’s fucked up. It makes me livid. And it makes me cry and it makes me sad and confused and lost all at once.
Zoe’s funeral left me a blubbering mess from start to finish. And ever since then I’ve essentially stalked you online just to keep in touch (even if you don’t hear from me).
I have found your honesty and openness eternally inspiring. Your strength and understanding and healing has been amazing to watch from afar.
You see when I think of a loved one passing away, i always compare the sorrow to what I imagine I would suffer if i were to lose my mum. She is my lifeline. She is my love and my everything and as I type this, im crying because simply the THOUGHT of losing someone I love THAT much, breaks me.
But here you are. Kicking and screaming. Not giving up. Not losing yourself. Not drowning (even though at time I’m sure you did all of the above), and it makes me beam up inside. Just watching your journey.
I guess after this long spiel I just want you to know how much I admire you for everything that I can see from my perspective.
I cannot understand how your heart hurts and honestly, I don’t think i would be able to handle feeling those feelings, but let me tell you that you are truly something else. And I would only hope that if I were to pass away, that my mum would have the strength that you have to remember me. And to uphold my memory. And to keep my spirit alive, with her, every moment of the day and night.
And I just want you to know that I’m always here. For anything.
And that I miss Zoe’s beautiful smile and stinky gumboots.
K, the daughter of some long time family friends
For two months of the year, K was the same age as Zoe. She lived in the US and they had only met once in real life but immediately hit it off. Her family was making plans to move to New Zealand when Zoe died. K had been looking forward to being able to spend time with Zoe and mourns the loss of her playmate to grow up with.
J, the manager at Zoe’s daycare:
I actually have Zoe’s service program on my wall in my office. Each time I look at the photo of her and when I think of you all I feel is what it is to have strength, mana, resilience and spirit. Quite often when I feel life is unfair or tough I think of Zoe and what she had to endure when life was tough for her, I think of you and what you have to feel and endure without having your baby physically in your arms, and all of a sudden I find myself thinking of the both of you a lot. My sister lost her child a year ago from a drowning and I quite often share with her my amazement of your strength and courage. You both have given me such a better outlook on life and you both inspire me to be a woman of strength, mana, courage and spirit.
Take care Kiri and keep doing what you’re doing, it’s beautiful.
M, one of my colleagues:
I saw you nearly every day as you faced your new life, one of uncertainty and worry. I saw you battle on each and every day, not for your sake, but for Zoe’s. I marvelled at your knowledge of the medical side of things, your intricate understanding of her treatments and care.
You taught me so much about motherhood. You showed me that love means having courage, fighting for your kids when they can’t, even when we are ourselves crumbling. It’s shaped how I parent, how I prioritise my life, and how I deal with the challenges of motherhood.
But unexpectedly, you also taught me how to speak with someone who has faced a significant loss. I learnt things I didn’t know, like the importance of sharing memories of their loved ones.
Zoe was like her mum, one of a kind. Thank you for sharing your journey with us all.
S, a younger child from Zoe’s school and companion on the walking school bus:
I remember the butterflies and I know she LOVED butterflies. I really liked holding the real butterfly and letting it go. I really liked the phrase from Winnie the Pooh on the friendship seats in the Junior playground and I used to read it all the time. Now I don’t so much because I’m not allowed into the junior area. I remember seeing the photo of her smiling with her friend. We still have the nice little heart with seeds in it from the funeral and we’re going to grow them when we have a nice garden.
J, S’s mum:
My memories of Zoe began way before I even knew she had had cancer. She arrived on our walking school bus and, like most children her age, was reluctant to say goodbye to her mum. She was such a little wee thing and I thought she was really quite brave having a go at walking to school ‘by herself’ on the walking bus. I remember holding her hand as we wandered through the streets of Pt Chev – mainly trying to keep a handle on all the other kids on the bus with scooters flying this way and that. But Zoe just kept on going, holding my hand as she walked. I remember her back-pack being almost as big as her little body but it never seemed to worry her.
Of course, I also remember her beautiful hair! She had the most gorgeous hair one could imagine with big curls and so long. I still didn’t know that she’d ever had cancer. Then, one afternoon after school, we were in the school hall for a gym-class. I sat down on the bleachers next to Zoe’s nanny and we started chatting. Zoe was sitting quietly next to her with her knees pulled up and her head down. I remember her turning to Zoe and offering her a cracker to try and cheer her up. As she turned her face towards us, I could see immediately that Zoe was not well at all. I think that turned out to be her last day at school ever. Of course, it was only a few weeks later that we were all told what was going on and it was a huge shock.
I also remember your facebook posts, keeping us all updated. They were so beautifully written and insightful. I felt so privileged that you felt you could let us all in on such a personal journey that you (and Zoe’s dad) were going through.
The funeral was so difficult. It seemed the whole of Point Chev stopped for the day. Everyone now seemed to know about Zoe and her courageous battle and I think everyone wanted to come to the funeral whether they knew you or not. Everyone of us parents was thinking – imagine if that was my child, imagine if I was Kiri? And how on earth is she going to manage without her? How? It seemed to connect us all together for that brief moment.
The grief in you seemed so complete I wondered how it was at all possible for you to get through from one day to the next. I remember you collapsing into tears when the hearse carrying Zoe drove slowly away up that driveway. I actually don’t know how you held it all together.
Since then, it’s been really lovely getting together with you and Zoe’s friends on her birthday. I love the way that you still include us all in these celebrations and it’s a great way for the kids to talk about her and remember. S was very shocked when I told her we were going to meet on the beach this year and that it had been almost four years since Zoe died. She seemed very relieved when I told her that it was ok and that Zoe was in heaven with her Grand-dad. She promptly ran off to go and make a birthday card for her and spent the next half an hour squirreled away in her room with her pencil crayons.
J, the mother of K, a girl in Zoe’s class at school
I said to K tonight that it’s Zoe’s birthday tomorrow and she said ‘is there a party?’ I said there was but we couldn’t fit it in with your dancing etc. I told her Kiri wants everyone to wear something sparkly tomorrow and perform an act of kindness. She wanted to know how Kiri had told everyone and I told her she posted it on her face book page. We then discussed what kiri has done with the Angel Zoe kindness project. This started a discussion on how good things can come from sad or bad things.
I remember Zoe in K’s class and the letter from school saying she was not well and her prognosis was poor. I discussed this openly with K (aged 8 )
We were at Mt Ruapehu for the first time at the snow for the girls when we received the email from school that Zoe had passed away. I told the girls and they made snow angels for Zoe. I felt K found Zoe’s funeral a celebration. There was lots of curiosity as well – “is Zoe in that basket, where will she go now?” Being a mum, a nurse and Zoe and K’s class rep I felt I needed to step up and honour Zoe’s presence in our class/school/community and organized a collection and bought and delivered a rose bush to kiri. I felt so sad and guilty having 2 healthy daughters. I wanted to teach my girls that sometimes you need to step outside your comfort zone to support others. Then through social media I’ve got to follow Kiri’s grief and. I love the choices Kiri has made with giving to others in honour of Zoe. Also that kiri has included us in her life. We even have the same cool vintage bike!. Kia kaha kiri. Arohanui Zoe
K, a friend and mother of Z, who passed away as a toddler many years ago:
Unfortunately I didn’t know Zoe or know you before her death. I wish I had. Having lost my boy I know how being on the other side of that devastating loss feels. I know the comfort that comes from the signs that their Angel feet have just crossed our paths brings, and I get how their visitations through our dreams both uplift and devastate us all at the same time. I never knew Zoe, but I know wherever she is now, she is connected to my Z, and they hold hands and skip and laugh together, and sometimes, inexplicably, I feel that togetherness and feel their joy xx
R, a friend I connected with only recently who I shared Zoe’s story with:
Zoe’s life for me reminds me to celebrate now. To listen to the voices that tell me the person In front of me has a gift… If I would just listen. Her life and death offers me connection.
T, an online friend I met through Charlie Cat’s adventures:
We have never met, and may never, but all because of a certain little Charlie Cat, and a surprise handmade Angel, for over a year now, from afar, I have smiled and cried with a beautiful soul who is inspired daily to live life and heal by a precious Angel the same age as my son, that blessed this Earth. Love is, a parent and child. Happy 10th Birthday Zoe. xox
B, a friend I met when I first started swing dancing when Zoe was in remission:
Zoe just seemed like she was wise beyond her years , 4 going on forty. I came to the realisation when I asked her permission to dance with you in Ponsonby that time. She took a fair old while sizing me up before agreeing . I’m not sure who was looking after whom. That’s my memory of Zoe I’m glad to have it.
P, a friend I met online through childhood cancer support group. Her grandson J has been fighting a brain tumour since he was 2:
The one and only time I met Zoe at the CCF Christmas Party she struck me by her style. The beautiful little girl in the red dress with the black fascinator who looked like a little doll…. her photos are so beautiful and your writings have made me feel like I know her in a strange kind of way…. children’s perception of death from what I have learnt from J are a mystery. But a good mystery… there is no way a child can perceive heaven and dying without an extra sparkle of knowing that can’t be explained… only that it is not something learnt… it is known. I am blown away by the fact that there is comfort in the simplicity of it all through a child’s eyes…. you are inspirational my friend.
Thank you for reading about how Zoe is remembered.
If you would like to join us in celebrating her birthday, click here for Sparkly shoes & Kindness day.