On December 31, 2010, Kerry and Michele Benninghoff, who are friends of my husband and I, lost their daughter, Ryeigh.

My husband and I met Kerry and Michele after our son, Joseph, was diagnosed with a brain tumor on 3/3/09. Kerry, a colleague of my husband's at that time, sought him out to lend a ear while his wife, Michele, began emailing me.  They were both a source of comfort to us in this new world of pediatric cancer.  Ryleigh's bravery and endurance provided us with much needed hope during Joseph's diagnosis and treatment and, after Joseph's death in July 2009, Kerry and Michele offered us support. There is a unique and undeniable bond among parents of children with brain tumors and we have always been grateful for their friendship during our struggles.
Ryleigh, who turned 7 years old on November 24, 2010, was diagnosed with a brain tumor in the Spring of 2008.  My husband and I never had the opportunity to meet Ryleigh but did learn about her strength, determination and silliness through her parents.  Ryleigh was a tough match for cancer and smiled through her arduous treatments.  Even from her home which is 3 1/2 hours away from from where we live, Ryleigh's life impacted ours and will continue to do so even after her death.

Ryleigh's death is not only an enormous loss for her parents, siblings and family but one for the world.  The injustice and unfairness of her short life is glaring.  To focus on her illness would be to miss the true sense of who Ryleigh was and her level of grace; however, to avoid the reality of her illness would misdefine the strength of character she exhibited in the face of her life challenges, her contribution to this world and her ability to accomplish in seven years what most of us fail to accomplish in a lifetime. 
 I think Ryleigh's father, Kerry, said it best when he stated, “Everyone has good things to say about their children,” Benninghoff said. “But she accomplished what most of us adults spend their lives trying to do; that is, she never hated anybody, directly tried to hurt anybody, was never purposely mean to anybody, and she loved everyone unconditionally, and loved life. Many adults regret doing mean things, and spend the rest of their lives trying to do better. I can say she accomplished what the rest of us may spend a lifetime trying to accomplish.”  
If only the rest of us were half as wise, vibrant and fearless as little Ryleigh.  

We wish Michele, Kerry and their entire family moments of peace in their long and difficult days ahead.  It is the hope of my husband and I that we are able to return the kindness that they have shown us by cushioning their fall even if ever so slightly.

Most importantly, we wish Ryleigh everything and more.  We hope that she and our son, Joseph, spend their days laughing and dancing with happiness while they wait for us to join them.  Lastly, we hope for castles in the sky, animals big and small, shooting stars and silly bands to surround Ryleigh wherever she may be because this little princess most definitely deserves that.

May you rest in peace, little Ryleigh. You will be forever missed.

To read more about Ryleigh: