Earlier this week, I got to re-connect with two pretty amazing gals — Ashland's Ginny Auer and her 8-year-old dynamo daughter, Tess Hemmerling.
The pair had just returned from a cross-country trek to visit family and friends. And exciting locales like New Orleans, Broadway and the Grand Canyon, to name just a few.
Their grand adventure was a deeply personal spiritual quest in honor of Ginny's husband and Tess' father, Troy Hemmerling, who, after a courageous 16-month struggle, lost his battle with a rare form of cancer on April 21, 2011.
Before Troy died, he wrote Ginny a letter and placed it inside a card. He signed it, "LIVE HUGE, Troy."
And so they did. All summer long.
But now they were back home. And while Tess was happy to return to her home, her pooch, her friends and her school, Ginny had a tougher re-entry. She was deeply missing her beloved partner — a man whose motto was "We must be brave, foolish, joyful and generous. Every day."
I worried Ginny might feel rudderless and adrift. That she'd have a big case of the "now whats?"
I should have remembered Troy was always teasing Ginny that she was the posterchild for perpetually stuffing 10 pounds of Live Huge into a 5-pound bag. She already was headed off on her next adventure.
"This would have been Troy's 50th year on the planet. To commemorate that, I am going to do a hike a day for 50 days," Ginny wrote on the Live Huge Facebook page.
She's going to reduce the junk in her trunk while raising money to help Kids Konnected — a national organization founded on the premise that when a parent gets cancer, the entire family is affected, especially the children.
"Because I love giving back and engaging others to join me, I am asking you to sponsor me. One dollar a hike, a quarter a hike ... whatever you can spare. That will keep me motivated and help out the children receiving counseling services through Kids Konnected. Wahoo!!!" she wrote.
When Troy was diagnosed on Nov. 9, 2009, life shifted dramatically for all of them. Tess was only 5 years old. And she didn't understand what was happening to her dad. To her life.
Months of treatments slid into years. As Ginny continued to support her husband's battle, she also continued to keep an open and age-appropriate dialog going with Tess. They read books that deal with the topic of a parent having cancer. They discussed what it means when daddy loses his hair. They even discussed the question, "Is daddy going to die?"
But even though Ginny's communication is good with her emotionally articulate daughter, she knew Tess might need someone else safe to talk to about her feelings — and to realize other kids are going through the same challenges. So she started looking in the community for therapeutic support. Enter Kids Konnected.
Ginny wants to continue helping Kids Konnected help kids such as Tess. And she's willing to put her soles where her soul is.
"I realized the best thing I can do is walk," Ginny wrote. "Troy and I always bemoaned the fact that we lived in this beautiful place and did not take advantage of the beauty by hiking more of the hikes."
Ginny's hikes will consist of anywhere from one to 14 miles on local trails. She's calling her fundraiser a Widow's Walk. Ginny wondered whether I wanted to come up with a 50-list of my own. I'm pondering the notion.
Meanwhile, if you want to join Ginny's Widow's Walk team, see her fundraising page at www.crowdrise.com/ww50in50/fundraiser/ginnyauer1. Or you can mail or drop off a check for Kids Konnected to United Way of Jackson County, 769 Spring St., Medford, OR 97504.
Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.