It has struck me often in the past decade or so as I watched classmates of the late Anna Reno, and others of all ages, walk around uptown Hillsboro. It has struck me as I watched balloons ascend into the sky. It struck me again the other day as I talked with Andi Reno, Anna’s mother, about the 10th and final Anna’s Army Day that unfolded Friday.
What struck me is the realization of just how fortunate I am, never having had to experience the loss of a child, like Justin and Andi Reno and so many others have.
It has also not been lost on me that I am relatively certain I could not handle that kind of situation as courageously and graciously as the Renos and their families have.
After Anna was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, the Renos established Team Anna’s Army and put together a cystic fibrosis walk in Hillsboro starting in 2007. After Anna passed away in 2008 at the tender age of 8, they started hosting an annual Anna’s Army Day in uptown Hillsboro. They have held it ever since.
As I watched the event unfold over the years, I saw the tears, the smiles, the hugs, and all the other emotions it evoked. Just about every time Justin or Andi spoke, I could feel a lump in my throat and a mist in my eyes, even though I was no more than a bystander. Maybe I felt compassion. Maybe I realized just how lucky I have been, and how thankful I am that I have never had to stand in their shoes. Probably, it was some of all of that and more. Whatever it was, the strength in their words never ceased to astound me.
I have no idea how anyone could take in an Anna’s Army Day and not be moved. I mean, just listen to some of the things they have said over the years:
“Andi told Anna before she passed away that every year – Anna loved this event because it really made her feel special with everything that everyone did in her name – that we would never stop doing what we do as a way to carry on her name and the names off all the others with cystic fibrosis that are still with us,” Justin said in 2014.
In 2015, just after Justin and Andi spoke into balloons and launched them skyward, Andi said this: “This used to be my favorite way to cope after Anna passed. I’d say words into the balloon and knew when I let it go where it was going – up to Anna.”
That same evening Justin said: “I’m just extremely grateful that everyone continues to help us help others. If you are at all able to help someone, I feel almost required to do it. That’s what life is all about. That’s why we’re here.”
In 2016, the Renos decided not to launch any balloons. But Andi told the crowd gathered for Anna’s Army Day this: “I would really appreciate it if you would send up your own prayers to all your loved ones. I know time goes on and we all get extra busy, but we thank you very much for continuing to help us keep our community aware of the fight it takes to beat a devastating disease.”
A year ago on Anna’s Army Day, Andi offered these words: “Anna left us here to go to her forever home eight years ago. I applaud all of you. It isn’t us that makes this possible, it is you. It isn’t because of us that this happens, it’s because you give us a reason to keep going. Thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
Then, as emotion started to tug at her a bit more, she added, “Sometimes it’s really, really hard to go out, and you have bad days, but because of you those bad days are bearable and I thank you very, very much for that.”
Wow, how humble and kind and perfect, I thought, as I felt the tug of my emotions again.
Friday was far from the end of the Renos’ fight against CF. They’re just starting a new chapter. They will continue to raise funds to fight the awful disease that stole their daughter’s life. They have raised around $200,000 already. They will raise more. They just will not have an event in their hometown anymore.
“She was a senior this year and I just felt it in my heart. I’m just ready to not be sad,” Andi said the other day. “As a family it’s time to move forward. It’s not like it’s not something we won’t think of on a daily basis, but to have a day dedicated to it, it brings up so many emotions, and we don’t want to keep dwelling on the sadness.”
I believe Anna would understand. I believe she would be happy that her family has celebrated her life all these years, and knows that they think of her many times each day. I believe she agrees that it’s time for her loved ones to move on from a day that makes them sad. I believe that she wants them to remember her, but that most of all she wants them to be happy.
May God bless you all as you move forward.
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or firstname.lastname@example.org.