When I think back to when I found out about Hannah’s diagnosis all I can remember is the feelings of doubt and confusion. There was no way a healthy, athletic, funny, sweet soul so young could have such a terrible disease. How was she handling it? She was going to beat cancer's ass- I felt it in my gut. My mom updated me often on how she was doing based on what was shared throughout our family. I remember hearing about her game winning goal in double over-time, just weeks after she had brain surgery. I laughed and joked with my mom that clearly that athleticism didn’t make it to our side of the family as I often would fake an asthma attack to get out of running the timed mile for my field hockey coach- Hannah would never!
As Hannah’s health took a turn, and things started to feel darker I remember feeling an overwhelming sense of guilt. I wanted to switch places so badly with her- it wasn’t fair that she was going to leave before any of us were ready for it. The day of her funeral I watched the beautiful tribute video her aunt had put together in honor of her and I remember barely being able to see the actual video through all of my tears, but I heard the song “See You Again” playing by Carrie Underwood. I cried even harder when the lyrics sang, “you are the light I follow” because I knew immediately that was going to be the case for me. Since Hannah’s passing, I don't think I’ve experienced a single day where I haven’t thought about her, been reminded of her, or talked about her. Everyone knew about her because she had that kind of impact on anyone she met, and if they didn’t, I made sure they did. The last time I saw her was at her homecoming party and she reminded me that winning the battle with cancer isn’t necessarily about being cancer free- but not allowing it to take away who you are as a person and Hannah most certainly did not.
About two months went by after Hannah passed and I was driving home from practice when the most beautiful sunset happened and “See You Again” played for the first time since her funeral, and it hit me. I wanted that reminder forever- that she would always be a part of the light that I followed. So, I did what any 17 year old would do- I went and got it tattooed on my foot! I have the lyrics “you are the light I follow” and added a butterfly (of course) and had it colored in purple. At the time it felt like the only way to keep my connection to Hannah alive and as a way to reassure her that she would never ever be forgotten. Hannah has shown up in my life in so many ways the last couple of years, it almost feels silly that 17-year old me thought a tattoo was the only way to stay connected (but I still love it!). Signs are everywhere I look, whether it's the number 3 popping up, a butterfly landing close by, or how recently I joined a 200-hour Yoga Training and her best friend Delaney is a part of it. Hannah taught me how to live my life with compassion, forgive easier and most importantly love harder. I will always be in awe at Hannah’s legacy that lives on forever. I want to wish her the happiest 22nd birthday ever, and remember- love always wins.
Hannah was always someone who had a vibrant spirit and was truly one of a kind. She didn’t care what anyone thought and was always the person who stood out in a crowd. She had the biggest heart and personality and if you were lucky enough, you were able to experience it.
The summer before Hannah got sick, I babysat her and her brother Robbie. Even though she was at camp for part of it, as soon as she got off the bus at the end of the day, she would immediately ask for Robbie. She would constantly want to play with him, dress him up in cool outfits, and even style his hair with hair gel and a mohawk. The love she had for him was extraordinary and I know she is looking over him.
I have many memories of Hannah from over that summer especially. When the “in thing” was to get feathers in your hair, she had me take her to the hair salon so she could get them. I remember after that adventure she insisted on getting ice cream on the way home, and how could I say no to ice cream!
Hannah and I shared a love for creating things, especially baked goods. We would always come up with elaborate ideas and I think the best one we had was to create a cake for Robbie (of course). The cake featured his favorite Lamby on the top as the cake topper. She came up with most of the design and I mainly supervised to make sure she didn’t make an absolute mess in the kitchen (which she probably did anyway).
Hannah’s life was cut too short, and for such a unique and vibrant young girl, it’s just not fair. All we have now are the memories we hold onto that we made with her during her short life. I don’t think anyone could forget her since she was such a one-of-a kind person. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about her or miss her!
While Hannah always celebrated her “birthday month”, John’s birthday is also in March, the day after Hannah’s, on the 19th, so I wanted to take a moment today to wish John a very happy birthday. He’s been my rock through this journey we’re on together, and he deserves to be celebrated today too. Our “first date with Hannah” story is one that we laugh hysterically about now, but in all seriousness, it reflects what a good man he is, and taught me that while love is easy in the good times, he was also willing to be there for the ‘not so good’ too.
John and I met when Hannah was six years old, in late summer of 2005. She was always a ball of energy, and she certainly gave him a run for his money from the very beginning of our relationship. After a few dates, we decided it would be nice to introduce Hannah by going to one of the local Monmouth County farms together to pick out a pumpkin. We had a great time together, picked out a couple of nice pumpkins, and I was thinking, wow, this is really great! That is, until we went to check out with our pumpkins. A little backstory about Hannah, she never met a gift shop that she didn’t love, the kid was obsessed with all the little crap in gift shops and could spend hours searching for the perfect item. So, I cringed when I saw that you had to go through the big gift shop to pay for your pumpkins! I told her she could pick out ONE thing from the shop, so she was looking and looking…finally I told her she needed to make her decision so we could finish up and take our pumpkins home. She started whining and said, “but I can’t decide, I want these two things…” (mom, I know you're laughing right now). I said, no, you can only have one, and she continued to whine. Finally, I gave her an ultimatum and said if you can’t choose one, we’re going to leave without anything from the shop. By this time, John had gone ahead to pay for the pumpkins and was walking in the parking lot when I can imagine he turned around in horror when he saw me walking towards him with Hannah hauled under my left arm, her thrashing and screaming like a lunatic. She had continued to whine and beg for the two items, so being the mom that follows through, I dragged her out of there literally kicking and screaming! Never in her life had she thrown a tantrum like that, there’s always a first time, I guess, and this was it! All I remember is that I got to the car with her, somehow got her strapped into her carseat, and then proceeded to get in myself. We had taken my car, so poor John was in the passenger seat with Hannah screaming and kicking his seat the entire ride back to his house. At one point, I cranked up the music on the radio to drown out her screaming! Poor John, I think he was in shock at that point! As we arrived at his house, he asked if we wanted to come in (probably didn’t know what else to say) but I was so horrified, I declined and said thank you for the pumpkins, but I think we better go home. At this point in the story, I think 99% of men would have run and never looked back, but he did just the opposite – as he got out of the car, he opened Hannah’s door, leaned in and talked softly to her. Whatever he said in the moment completely calmed her and she stopped crying. She fell asleep on the way home and I remember my mom called me to ask, “so, how was your date?” I’ll never forget telling her, “oh, he’s such a nice guy, but he’s NEVER going to call me again!” Well, as we all know, he did call me again, and the rest is history. The reason I share this story is because John doesn’t get nearly enough credit, he is an incredible guy and loved Hannah dearly. It’s certainly not easy when you suddenly have an ‘instant family’ but that’s what we became. On our wedding day, John not only married me, but he presented Hannah with her own ring so she knew without a doubt that he would always be there for her in her life, just as he would be for mommy too.
So, happy birthday to my love, and thank you for loving us all, especially Hannah, in the good times and the crazy.
Oh, and for anyone wondering, she never threw another tantrum like that again! Another funny story, years later when she was about 9, she and I were school shopping at the mall at a store called Justice (the ‘hip’ store for kids that age back then). We picked out a few things together and got in line to check out. While there, I noticed a girl about her age being extremely rude to her mother & grandma – they had armfuls of clothes for her and she was screaming she wanted more and just being a brat. I didn’t say a word, but Hannah walked over to me, tugged on my shirt and said, “mommy, if that was me you would drag me out of here by my ears”!!! Well, not by her ears, but yes, we would have been leaving, for sure! Guess my life lesson all those years before paid off!
As we continue our 31 days of shared stories in honor of Hannah’s birthday month, today we celebrate John, so happy happy birthday!!!
Our Family Hero
My name is Jason and I am Sue’s baby brother. While ten years may separate our age, we are very close. She asked me to share a few words in honor of my niece, Hannah Rose Duffy. While it would be impossible to express what Hannah means to me in such a short passage, I aim to convey just a tenth of Hannah’s character and strength.
Over the last 25 years of military service, I have served among giants who have accomplished the impossible. While deployed overseas and in the states, I have had the immense privilege of working alongside heroes. The true definition of the word heroes - Soldiers who have been awarded our nation’s highest military decorations, to honorable men and women who wear our uniform proudly every day. There are countless examples I can recall of witnessing true bravery, selflessness, and sacrifice from America’s best. After 25 years of wearing a uniform, I have come to learn that heroes come in all shapes and sizes. Though I have friends who wear our nation’s highest awards, the biggest hero who inspires me in my life is a young 14-year-old girl who now only lives in our hearts.
What defines a hero? Who gets to make that distinction? Heroes walk alongside us every day without us ever knowing their names. A name that is synonymous with the competencies and attributes of heroism is Hannah. From her diagnosis of a terminal disease to her last breath, Hannah portrayed strength, determination, character, honor, and compassion. Wisdom beyond her years as demonstrated through the late-night talks she held with Sue in a Philadelphia hospital or at home in Tinton Falls. Hannah understood the immense challenges ahead of her but faced them with courage and strength many of us could not fathom or produce. I am in awe of the feats she accomplished, from scoring the winning soccer goal, to being the best big sister to her brother Robbie and to the promises she made her best friends abide by. Hannah gave her all in every task- she set the standard we should all try and live up to. Her heroism extended to all aspects of her life by treating everyone with dignity and respect and always looking out for those who needed help. Hannah lived every day to the fullest and I miss listening to her amazing laugh.
From my earliest days in the Army, every time I came back to New Jersey, the most beautiful smile and laugh welcomed me home. Memories of Hannah waiting in an airport lobby or her homes in Jersey are ever-present in my mind. Knowing that my favorite food in the world is doughnuts, Hannah always had a box in her hands to give me upon my return. Somehow, we started calling her doughnut head. The name stuck and is now honoring her memory engraved on Hannah’s walkway in a beautiful park that now welcomes families and friends to spend time together making memories. I laugh at the thought of people walking through the park wondering why such a beautiful soul was named “doughnut head.”
I want to share one last point that does not get raised enough: the integrity, honor, and character that Sue has demonstrated since losing her beautiful daughter. When we speak of character and strength, there should be a picture of Sue pasted in the dictionary. With her ability to raise thousands of dollars for pediatric cancer research, to sharing her story with thousands through the media and social networks, Sue has served as a role model for other families facing the tough journey of dealing with an ill child. No one would have faulted Sue for turning inward after experiencing such an imaginable loss, but it's not in her DNA. I admire her ability to carry the message forward of the need for research funding to hopefully one day end the losses that so many families are suffering with. Through Sue’s lead in raising awareness for cancer research and the support her husband John provides daily, they are making a difference in many lives. I am proud to be your brother. You are one of my heroes!
In closing, on 26 September 2013, heaven gained an angel. Demonstrated by the huge outpouring of support from the community to the hundreds of people who came to her funeral, everyone knew that a special and once-in-a-lifetime person had departed. In many of Sue’s writings, articles, and letters, Hannah expressed a fear that she would be forgotten. I promise you doughnut head—memories of your laugh, your smile, your determination, and wisdom beyond your years ensure that you are alive in many hearts. You are not forgotten; you never will be. The impact you had in your short 14 years is unforgettable. We miss you. We are lucky we had the chance to be a part of your life. I love you.
As Hannah’s 22nd birthday is around the corner, I imagine what other memories we would have created throughout the years. Would she be away at school playing soccer? Did she stay home from school to spend more time with Robbie? Counting down the days until graduation? While those are things I’ll always wonder, it is nice to look back on all the memories I have cherished through what feels like a lifetime of Hannah being gone.
A memory I have held onto throughout the years was the private concerts Hannah and I would host for my laptop and occasionally our parents. Hours on end would go by of Hannah and I lip syncing to throwbacks while showing off the best and very worst of our dance moves. Before Hannah was diagnosed, we would play a game where we would collide into each other with a yoga ball between us and see who would fall to the floor. After surgery and rounds of chemo Hannah still begged me to play. The nervous wreck I was couldn't say no to the girl who constantly put a smile on my face. This ball of energy would come over and do handstands and the worm while I sat there in amazement. Between that and riding quads in my backyard, we really never shared a dull moment. Hannah’s sense of adventure was something I will always admire. In all honesty, I don't remember much of her being sick until the bitter end. Hannah didn't let cancer define her. Her courageous, fun and strong personality did.
To this day I take her “I'm not letting anything hold me back” attitude with everything I do. Growing up as a relatively shy kid, Hannah constantly implemented how freeing it is to just be yourself. To that, I am eternally grateful to have met someone that accepted me for who I am and allowed me to be completely and utterly myself. Besides being that fun girl everyone knew her as, Hannah had so much more to her. She was an amazing sister. There are a countless amounts of times Hannah would stop what she was doing to show me the newest pictures she took of Robbie. Conversations consumed how much she adored her brother on a daily basis.
The day that changed my life forever was the day we waited for the results of soccer captain selections. Since 6th grade it's all Hannah & I wanted, and the day finally arrived. On our way home from practice Hannah had the seizure that changed both our lives forever. For a moment, I thought that was the last memory I would ever have of my best friend. While it was the hardest year of my life, I am so grateful to have had an extra 12 months of friendship with the kindest, most welcoming, intelligent, goofy, loving person I have ever met.
One of Hannah's first posts after that seizure was, ”I’m gonna fight till I can't fight no more” and wow, was she right. I consider myself beyond blessed to have had a friendship with such a strong girl that has inspired so many people. Hannah Duffy changed my life and continues to inspire me to this day.
Happy 22nd Han, I love and miss you.
*** Enjoy the video clips -- and PS, Hannah was completely fine after the 'yoga ball' video! ***
Sue's additional thoughts/memories:
Liv, I can't thank you enough for these little video clips -- of course, I knew all about the crazy antics as Hannah would come home and tell me the funny stories but actually SEEING the laughter and smiles in real time is such a tremendous gift for me. I have seriously watched the dance party clip about 50 times and it just makes me smile so big every time I watch it. And, for anyone watching these little clips, they capture Hannah to a tee....she really was as silly as she appears, but as Liv also stated above, she was so much more too.
Hannah was unique in that she had a special relationship with so many of her friends, loving each one fiercely in her own way. It also makes me so happy to know that Liv & Hannah were able to share so many of these silly times, especially after her diagnosis. You see, Liv was with Hannah when she suffered that massive seizure. So, to know that they were able to pick up where they left off following that fateful day that changed everything...well, to me, that is Hannah's greatest legacy for her best friend....beautiful, funny, hysterical memories - that's the gift.
When I think about Hannah- I think about her laugh. She had one of the most incredible belly laughs- it was infectious, it filled the room and made you laugh just hearing it.
I especially remember this laugh during one of our family trips to the Outer Banks. Whenever we go to OBX, we rent a house and pretty much try to fit as many "Funcky" family members into the house as possible. It’s never a fancy vacation - it's bonfires on the beach, family dinners, simple day trips. We really do have the best time just being together as a family. I am so incredibly grateful I was able to spend that time with Hannah, making memories with her that I will always keep close to my heart.
It is surreal to me that Hannah would be graduating college this year. Hannah gained her angel wings during my sophomore year in college. For those that know me- know college was a stressful time for me. But, I was comforted by a purple ribbon I received from Hannah’s services that I kept on my backpack throughout my entire college education. It was there for every class, test, everything. I remember one time the pin came loose and the ribbon fell off without me realizing. I panicked- and started searching my entire apartment for the ribbon. When I couldn’t find it inside, I decided to trace my steps outside to my car. To my surprise, as soon as I opened my apartment door - the ribbon was on my welcome mat. It had stayed there the entire night, and I know that was Hannah - I mean how else would a small ribbon last an entire night outside in a Connecticut winter?! I always love and welcome signs from Hannah - but that for sure is one of my favorite signs I received from her.
Hannah is part of my story now - I talk about her to new friends or coworkers, and she will be part of my wedding day this June - an “H” in my wedding dress. I know she will be by my side through every milestone in my life-I just need to look up and see a purple sky, or 9:11 on the clock- and I am reminded she is there.
Her life may have been short, but her impact was immense. I am proud to be part of Hannah’s family, and look forward to continuing to share her legacy and remembering her every time I belly laugh.
Hannah is a true testament to the phrase, “Love always wins.” She embodied a true angel, both during her short time on Earth and now.
I am Hannah’s oldest cousin, Katie, on the “Funcky” side of the family. I remember meeting Hannah years ago when my Uncle John began dating my now “Aunt Sue.” We were having our traditional Funcky holidays at Grandma Mary’s house, and I just remember her energy and enthusiasm for life. I can relate as I tend to have lots of energy as well. Because of our age gap, I didn’t know Hannah that well when she was younger. It was during the last years of her life that we really shared great memories together.
I can also recall going with Aunt Sue and all of Hannah’s friends to Point Pleasant Boardwalk for one of Hannah’s birthday parties. My mom and sister were so happy to help out, and it was such fun to see how loved Hannah was. She was always talking about her friends and it seemed like she had endless friendships!
As the years went on, our families traveled to the Outer Banks for vacation. I spent the week with Hannah and we had great times hanging out at the house, having “girl time”, and going to the beach together.
My last vivid memory of Hannah was at the Monmouth Park Racetrack, August 2013 (right before she got really sick). Even in the sweltering heat, she still showed up and insisted on checking out the horses. We walked together, just the two of us. It’s a memory I will never forget. After viewing the horses, we walked back to our picnic area and she wanted these free sunglasses they were giving out. I grabbed two and a few minutes later, we took a photo together. It will be one I cherish forever.
Hannah always handled every situation with grace and strength. She was not only my cousin, but someone I looked up to, even at such a young age. We always had the best and silliest times together. I miss you and wish you were here to share in all of our milestones together. Even though you aren’t physically with us, I carry you with me every day and smile every time I feel the warmth of the sun shining down on me.
Sleepovers were always Hannah and I's favorite thing to look forward to after a long week of school and soccer - a perfect way to hang out and catch up about our daily shenanigans. Most of our sleepovers consisted of baking and splattering the entire kitchen with red velvet cake batter throughout the process. One night in particular stands out to me, and unknowingly at the time, it was the last sleepover Hannah and I would ever have. In the middle of the night, Hannah decided she wanted to move all of her furniture from her room to her basement (and completely tear apart the entire house while we were at it). After successfully spending hours upon hours lugging furniture that was way too heavy for two 13-year old girls to carry down 2 flights of stairs, Hannah had yet another idea.
Instead of finally going to sleep for the night after redecorating both her room and the basement, Hannah came upstairs with 2 gallons of paint. At the time, I just sat back and laughed at her saying “Your mom is going to kill us in the morning!!!” For the rest of the night, Hannah and I painted the phrase “Forever Young” onto her bedroom wall with pink and purple paint. Hannah being the artist she was, only allowed me to paint an infinity sign while she handled all of the heavy work. After finishing our masterpiece, we were both so proud of all our hard work and were so excited to show everyone in the morning. Looking back, the phrase “Forever Young” still resonates with me, and I try to keep that mentality throughout all of my endeavors in life.
Hannah was a radiant soul who graced with me the true meaning of friendship. I am beyond grateful to have years and years of memories engraved into my mind, constantly reminding me of her beautiful spirit. Every day I aim to carry pieces of her with me and constantly live spontaneously, wholeheartedly, and fearlessly, the way she would have wanted me to.
Sue's additional memories:
i'm usually a pretty light sleeper so to this day I have no idea how I slept through the antics of Hannah & Sam that night! I still can't believe they moved furniture and painted her room all without us knowing what they were up to. The words "Forever Young" is the title of a song by Hannah's all time favorite band, One Direction. I still get chills thinking about it now, knowing all that happened - it's as if Hannah knew that would be her destiny. A couple months later, Hannah painted over the purple letters so that they were grey, and it stayed on the wall for some time. I've since redone her room into more of a reading space now but their words are framed and hung on the wall above the couch. So many memories, so much laughter....
It is so hard to wrap my head around that fact that we are approaching your 22nd birthday. It feels like a lifetime ago since I last saw you, but your spirit is forever with us. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about you and I look forward to every day the sun shines down bright or a butterfly flies past me and I know it is you. I am forever grateful for the countless memories we made growing up and I will cherish them forever.
When I think of you, I remember your contagious laugh, the crazy adventures we used to go on, and how you taught us all what it really meant to be brave, even through the toughest times. My favorite memory has to be the day we went sliding down your stairs in pillow cases! I actually just went through my box of things that you had given me or things that remind me of you the other day and read your Christmas letter you gave to me back in 6th grade. I couldn’t help but laugh when you included the story of us sliding down the stairs and how all we could hear was our screams and laughter. You had a laugh that could cause everyone around you to laugh with you. Oh, what I would do to have another day like that with you. Even though our time with you was cut way too short, I am forever grateful for the countless memories and tremendous impact you have left on my life that I carry with me today.
It is crazy to think that your biggest fear was to be forgotten. I remember telling you that could never happen as your story has touched the lives of many and we continue to carry you with us through all of our milestones. From having HD on the bottom of my sweet 16 shoes, sewing the ribbon with your name on it into my prom dress, to carrying another ribbon through high school graduation, you have been there through it all. No one could ever forget someone as free spirited and brave as you. And now, as we are about to graduate college, I plan to do the same and carry you with me through that next milestone. So, happy 22nd birthday angel, keep shining down on all of us and sending us signs to remind us you are still here. We will see you again soon
Throughout my life thus far I have lived with the intention of never having any regrets, to appreciate the little things, and to remember that love always wins. I didn’t learn this way of life from a book that I read, a movie I saw, or some influential famous figure... I learned it from none other than our Hannah.
To this day I have never met a person who loved and appreciated life more than her. Even in the toughest of times, never did that beautiful smile leave her face and never did that fight escape from her heart. She just always seemed to have a positive twist on every situation. Still, so many years later, there’s not a day that goes by where I don’t think about her and what our friendship meant to me. It’s incredible how much one person can influence your life and it’s safe to say that I would not be the person that I am today without having known Hannah and being with her through her battle.
She taught me the true definition of strength and courage. She taught me to always take that leap no matter how frightened I am. She taught me to always greet every person with a smile on my face and treat them with love and respect. And she taught me there isn’t a single thing worth complaining about in this world because even after everything she went through… she never did. I am alive and I am healthy and as long as that is the case I will live the way that Hannah would want me to.
I know that she and I will meet again someday but for now I’ll continue to pray and have comfort in knowing she’s watching over me. I’d like to wish a very Happy Birthday to our angel, I’ll love you endlessly and may your legacy live on forever.