“Ms. Toots” would have smiled and blown kisses to everybody who came to honor her on her second birthday Wednesday.
Arie Baugh lost her fight with kidney cancer in July, two months shy of turning 2 years old.
Arie’s mom and dad decided to mark her birthday by inviting family and friends to release helium-filled balloons from the Butterfly Garden of Hope outside of Syracuse, N.Y.
In just 22 months, much of it spent undergoing chemotherapy and other treatments, Arie melted a lot of hearts. She also picked up the nickname of Ms. Toots.
Ms. Toots knew how to say good-bye by curling up her tiny fist and blowing kisses.
She loved it when anyone blew bubbles, so yes, there were bubbles as well as balloons at the gathering on a beautiful evening along the east shore of Onondaga Lake.
A friend said a short prayer and on the count of 1-2-3, everyone said Arie’s name and let go of their green and white balloons. There were some pink ones as well — Arie’s favorite color.
Smiles and laughter outnumbered tears as the balloons rose and drifted with the wind heading east. All eyes were skyward for quite some time.
On what I can only imagine was a very tough day for Arie’s mom and dad, they held up well. William said he’s doing better. Kim said the morning was tough, and I suspect the night wasn’t much easier. But it was clear they both took comfort in the company of loved ones who share their loss.
I wish I had spent more time with Arie during her stays at Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital. Other than her blowing kisses good-bye each visit, what I remember most is one particular day last winter in the playroom.
It was in the weeks leading up to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation fundraiser for pediatric cancer research (Arie was my honoree this year). Kim and I were talking while Arie played with a toy nearby.
I said something to Kim about shaving my head, and Arie began to rub her own head, which was bald from chemotherapy. I was stunned by how smart this little girl was.
Arie was feeling well enough to attend the Syracuse St. Baldrick’s event in March. Photojournalist Michelle Gabel took a beautiful photo of Arie watching me get my head shaved. The image captures Arie’s reaction, and it is priceless.
Arie held up very well in a crowded, noisy Irish pub for a good couple of hours. Much of it she spent on her dad’s broad shoulders, so she had the best seat in the house.
I can find some solace that Arie’s presence at the event served some greater purpose — that those in attendance may have been moved by her strength, or by the obvious love of her family and friends, who came out in force that day.
They did so again Wednesday for Arie’s second birthday. In a Facebook post to start the day, Kim used that otherwise pleasant word that no parent of a child with cancer ever wants to use — angel.
“On 9/3/12 @9:01pm I gave birth to a 2 lb 14 oz miracle baby. In 22 months of life she beat up prematurity, surgeries, radiation, chemotherapy & clear cell carcinoma of the kidney (cancer). Arie had the biggest brightest smile since birth. … Our family & faith became stronger. She beat many odds but on July 8 she became our angel. I love u baby, thanks for protecting us.”