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Six-year-old Matthew Carlinsky may have just started first grade, but he already knows that he'd like to be a pilot or an astronaut so he can see Mars. "Or the President of the United States," he quickly adds.
"Matthew was just four when his mother Lisa died from non-smoker's lung cancer," says his dad, Mark. The social worker at Matthew's preschool introduced us to Mommy's Light. Although it was a tough conversation to have, Lisa and I were grateful that she could participate in the planning of Matthew's tradition. We felt the concept was a fantastic idea and would benefit him later in life when he could look back on the experience and understand why his mom fought as hard as she did. She wanted him to have a foundation of his own memories of her, and Mommy's Light is part of that."
On March 12, 2009, Lisa, Mark and Matthew participated in the phone call with Mommy's Light volunteers and planned Matthew's tradition; 13 days later Lisa died.
"Matthew wanted to continue the tradition of baking cupcakes, and chose to bake them every year on Lisa's birthday," says Mark. "Birthdays and Christmas were always very special for her. She liked the celebratory aspect of both and enjoyed baking on our birthdays to make them that much more special. We were introduced to Mommy's Light at just the right time so Matthew and I could jump in and start the tradition of baking cupcakes for Lisa on what would have been her birthday in June."
"I remember decorating the Christmas tree, hunting for Easter eggs and making cupcakes with my mom," Matthew points out. "I helped her bake."
"Mommy's Light volunteers asked great questions during the interview and tended to the details to recreate this tradition. The first year was a very happy occasion when Matthew received a package in the mail with cool toys and books and cupcake-making materials. Lisa had a green apron, so Mommy's Light provided a child-sized green apron. This year, when they discovered he loved Spiderman, they added a hand-painted Spiderman design to his apron. That was the kicker! He received Spiderman PEZ, candy, sprinkles, decorations, even plates!
"After Lisa passed away, I felt 10,000 pounds on my shoulders every day while I tried to work and be strong for Matthew. When it comes to fulfilling a tradition, I couldn't even imagine how to do it with the level and detail that Mommy's Light does. I never even thought of the idea until I heard of it. It's brilliant. The concept is simple and meaningful, but carrying it out to the extent that Mommy's Light does is not so easy.
"When the tradition package arrives, we put everything else on the back burner and focus on it. The tradition underscores the importance of family. It helps Matt openly acknowledge how near and dear Lisa is to him. This year we were in the midst of a crazy summer. On Lisa's birthday, Matt put on his new apron and we decorated the cupcakes together. It stopped time for us. We didn't rush, we totally immersed ourselves in the tradition. We both look forward to continuing it, and I can't wait to see how he wants to expand upon it as time goes by.
"This very special tradition is going to help Matt continue to honor his mom because he knows why we are doing it. We've connected it to how much Lisa loved him and how much people will always remember and love Lisa. The impact of fulfilling the tradition on her birthday is very positive because that's something he shared with her from the beginning."
"It makes me happy, and I hope she is having a good time in heaven," agrees Matthew.
"We won't want to ever stop this because it's sacred," says Mark. "There's no other way to describe it."
About Mommy's Light Lives On FundŽHeadquartered in Exton, Pennsylvania, Mommy's Light provides free bereavement education resources nationally and directly serves children between the ages of 3 and 18 throughout the greater Philadelphia area, as well as in pilot programs throughout the country. There are more than 626,000 maternally bereaved children in the United States, including 20,000 eligible children in the Delaware Valley. To learn more, volunteer or donate, please visit www.mommyslight.org.
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