Straight from my heart – A glimpse into what makes my fellow Panelists so very precious to me.
Last year I introduced my dear friend Dannée to you. In that post I shared some of my favorite memories of our special times at Walt Disney World together. What I didn’t share was that 5 days prior to writing that original article, Dannée was diagnosed with breast cancer.
I remember the moment like it was yesterday. I was in New York City with several other Disney Moms and Dads for the Disney Cruise Line event at The Lighthouse at Chelsea Piers. I had turned my cellphone to “silent” and tucked it away in my purse. When it was over, I was walking to the parking garage with Chris and I noticed that I had 3 missed calls from Dannée. She had left a message to call her right away. Immediately alarmed, I excused myself to call her back. I will never forget that conversation, it was as if my world stopped turning. She asked me to “rally the troops” to cover her in prayers and positive thoughts. For the next year, Dannée was often at the forefront of my mind. She faced this battle with courage, grace and strength. Ever the optimist, she was confident that she was going to beat this. Dannée was always positive and uplifting. Even in her darkest moments, she would look to the light proclaiming, “God is good”.
The Moms Panel family suffered an indescribable, heartbreaking loss this past week. Our beloved sister Dannée lost her courageous battle. Upon hearing the devastating news, I immediately felt lost in a sea of pain and I found myself literally struggling to breathe. I have spent much of the weekend feeling an overwhelming sense of numbing sadness. I woke up early in the morning on Saturday thinking it was a nightmare and that Dannée was in fact still with us. Then reality hit…again. Grief is like that, it comes in waves and it can rock you to your very core. I broke down Saturday night and sobbed in my husbands arms…body-wracking, soul bearing, cleansing tears. It was therapeutic. This morning I awoke to visions of a field of sunflowers and I felt a sense of peace. I am comforted by the knowledge that Dannée is no longer in pain and she is among the angels now.
I felt compelled to write this tribute, in an attempt to give a tiny glimpse into what an incredible blessing Dannée was to all who knew her and what a tremendous sense of loss we are all experiencing.
From the moment I met her, I loved her. Dannée sparkled and shined with a unique charisma that was magnetic. Her smile lit up the room and she was as beautiful inside as she was out.
Here is Dannée on Toy Story Mania that evening…just look at her beautiful smile!
She quickly became a beacon of light in all of our lives, radiating positive energy and love to everyone she came in contact with.
In early 2010, I received the first of what would be many pixie dust filled cards from Dannée…
It was filled with over 50 hand cut pink Mickey’s. She sent many of these simple notes through the years. Dannée never missed the opportunity to let me know how much I meant to her and I’m forever grateful for the gift of her friendship. Even as recently as a month ago, she sent me a Mother’s Day e-card. More often than not, there was a sunflower on the front of the card. You see, Dannée absolutely loved sunflowers. Her Twitter handle was @DisneySunflower which joined together two of her favorite things. It seems appropriate that she loved sunflowers, as they naturally turn towards the light and follow the sun. Dannée always chose to turn towards the light too – focusing on the positive.
The last time I saw Dannée was in October for the 2011 Moms Panel Reunion and I have many amazing memories of that weekend with her. Knowing what she had endured all summer, I was aching to see her. A big group of us dined together at Les Chefs de France one evening. Allison and I sat with Dannée, Jonas and their families. I recall fighting back the tears when we first met up at the restaurant. She scolded me saying, “No tears, girl, or you’ll get me started…only smiles.”
She was vibrant and full of laughter and life. We giggled until our sides ached and I remember feeling utterly blessed to be in her presence.
If I close my eyes, I can still hear her laughter. After dinner, I told Dannée that if I had flown to Florida and only had that one meal with her…with all the memories that it held…I would have left feeling completely fulfilled. Fortunately, there were several other special events that hold memories which I will cherish forever. After dinner, we enjoyed a special IllumiNations Dessert reception which was hosted by Laura. Dannée and I arrived before Laura and I recall her anxiously watching the entrance, waiting to hug the person again who had brought us all onto the Panel together. It was a beautiful moment when they saw each other…
The next morning, a group of us enjoyed the Sunday Gospel Brunch at the House of Blues at Downtown Disney. It was an incredibly powerful experience as our spirits were raised and we celebrated how, despite our diversity, our common love for Disney had brought us all together. It was our mutual respect, love for one another and appreciation for our unique personalities that had formed unbreakable bonds.
I distinctly recall glancing over at Dannée during the service and watching her bask in the moment, surrounded by her loved ones, full of hope.
The next evening, a small group of us dined together at Sanaa at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. Dannée had a special place in her heart for that resort, and she often talked about how much she enjoyed it. We all had a wonderful time that night, relishing the small intimate group and the priceless conversation. After dinner, I walked with Dannée and her amazing family back to the lobby. We paused outside the gift shop and I had a few moments alone with her. I hugged her once more and told her again how very much she meant to me.
For a period of time last year, I featured a column on my blog which took Disney movie quotes and applied them as everyday life lessons. Dannée wrote several articles for that series and I intend on sharing them again in the near future. Dannée shared with me that her favorite quote was from Walt Disney himself: “Keep Moving Forward.”
Here, in Dannée’s words, is the article that she wrote:
“Have you ever had your heart broken? Have you ever been disappointed? Have you ever given something 100% and failed? You probably did not want to hear these words at the time, but Keep Moving Forward is what you needed to do and what you had to do. This is a line from the Disney movie Meet the Robinsons, and it is a motto that I have come to live by.
When my 13-year-old had her first heartbreak at the beginning of this school year, these were the words I whispered in her ear as she cried in my lap. She wanted to know why this had happened to her, and I assured her that it was to prepare her for what was ahead (whatever that would be). I told her that while it hurt so much now, it would be better tomorrow and that she would love again. Although that new love was all too soon for my hubby and me, she is–well–back in love. Oh, to be young again!
When my 9-year-old daughter had a horrible fall while learning to ride her bike and refused to ever ride again, I said these words to her as I cleaned her scrapes and iced her bruises. And though I confess to also bribing her with a brand new bike, the point is that she did learn how to ride. These days she is often the one that leads us on our family rides through the neighborhood. She is a leader, and I did not want her to let one bad fall spoil a lifetime of great rides.
When my Hubby was failing French 1 last year (after having already audited the year before to avoid a failing mark), I spoke these words to him as encouragement that he could not give up. He passed the class and many more before he graduated with his Bachelor of Science degree in December of last year. I am very proud of him, and he now has a whole new career and new chapter in his life to look forward to.
To Keep Moving Forward, you have to be willing to love again, to try again, and to never give up. I challenge you to Keep Moving Forward because the Best is Yet to Come!
“We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths. – Walt Disney”
It is the knowledge that Dannée loved and lived by that quote, that is helping me through the pain of losing her. She would want us all to “Keep Moving Forward”, spreading pixie dust, love, light and laughter in her memory.
One of the last communications that I received from her was simple:
“Kaylene, I love you to pieces.
Miss you much, Dannée”
Right back at ya, girl!! I miss you dearly and my heart is simply shattered. You touched countless lives and your legacy will live forever. You’ll always be our angel.
♥ Rest in peace, Dannée, knowing that you were cherished by so many. ♥
I believe Laura said it best upon hearing the news, “We were all so blessed to know a woman who was a truly beautiful soul. Although we are devastated, I am so happy that we got to stand next to her glow if only for a moment.”
Photo By: Disney Moms Panelist Amy