Val and I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Sharon Babineau. I had never met her before but Val had the opportunity to not only meet her previously, but to work with her on a project that was started and continues to be inspired by her daughter Maddie.
Val recalls her first time connection to the Babineau family: The first time the Babineau family’s story was told to me was by a family friend who was busy recruiting help for a fundraiser called ‘Moving Mountains for Maddie’. She told me of Sharon’s struggle after losing her husband to ALS and then of her daughter Maddie’s diagnosis at age 12 with Ewings Sarcoma, which is an aggressive form of cancer. I hadn’t much experience at fundraising with the exception of helping out another friend fundraise for another friend’s daughter who had an inoperable brain tumour, but their story was so moving, I felt compelled to do whatever I could to help. I went to the first meeting for the fundraiser and the women embraced me as if I were an old friend. We soon got to work and launched the ‘Moving Mountains for Maddie’ fundraiser, which can only be described as a magical evening.
Maddie was facing a terminal cancer prognosis, which for many of us would have been a reason to give up but she had other plans. She was approached by the Make a Wish Foundation to grant her a wish of just about anything she wanted. This gift came to Maddie after she had seen a story on Craig Kielberger, the founder of Free the Children. Craig was just a young man of 12 years old when he decided to make a difference by helping other children in need by building schools all over the world. When the Make a Wish Foundation asked what she had decided on for her wish, Maddie’s answer was to have a school built in Kenya in her name. Her selflessness and kindness towards others in need fuelled those around her as well. The school was built and Maddie’s fundraising efforts continued as well. While in hospital, she made and sold jewellery to donate to Free the Children. Maddie had learned that many girls could not attend her school as they spent many hours of their day just walking to get drinking water for their families. Her next mission was to build a drilled well near the school so that the girls could attend the school and be educated. The next fundraiser was up and running and Maddie’s Wishing Well project was underway. That night of food, family, friends and live music raised enough money to ensure that Maddie’s well was built before she passed away at 15.
Since her daughter’s death in 2007, Sharon Babineau has not only continued with ensuring Maddie’s legacy lives on to help many more people, especially in Kenya, but she has grown personally to be able to exist in a world without her daughter. Shortly after Maddie passed, Sharon wrote the book, “ The Girl who gave her Wish Away”, which chronicles Maddie’s fight with cancer and the never ending spirit she had that has proven to live long after her death. Sharon continues to fundraise in Maddie’s name with “Maddies Wish Project”, which raises money to continue the work that Maddie first put in place with Free the Children. Sharon has also learned to live in a world without her daughter, which no doubt has been the hardest part of her journey.
Val and I wanted to share with you how Maddie’s Mom, Sharon is coping with her loss as well as how she continues with Maddie’s wish and also the redefining of her own life in the aftermath of her loss.
We arrived at Sharon’s home she shares now with her new husband and her son, Maddie’s brother Derek. Her home is warm and welcoming, much like Sharon herself. There is a picture of Maddie at the front door, as if to greet you when you enter. Sharon led us to her meditation room where we were able to chat with her for well over an hour.
Crave Life (CL): What has helped you with the grieving process and helped you to heal?
Sharon Babineau (SB): I am constantly healing, it never ends. Life, after loss has a new normal and accepting that is key to your well-being. I like to step out of my comfort zone and practice being resilient and courageous.
CL: What do you do for yourself to sustain a positive outlook?
SB: I practice mindfulness, being in the moment and feeling my emotions by sitting with them and not reacting to them or suppressing them. I practice being grateful and writing down 5 things daily that I am truly grateful for. I also love to learn and am inquisitive. I enrolled in the University of Toronto’s Social Work program for Mindfulness and will be an instructor at the University of Toronto next year.
CL: What advice would you give others who are in the midst of the grieving process?
SB: My advice would be to practice compassion, gratitude, kindness and resilience. There may not be very much you feel gratitude for at the beginning but the list will become easier to make. Practice being present and grateful for even just the smallest stuff in your life. Start small and use reflection to remind yourself of what is good. Try something new in your life as well. Learning something new gives you new perspective.
CL: Tell us about fundraising efforts for Mad4Maddie Project
SB: So far, Mad4Maddie has raised more than 250 thousand dollars for a medical centre in Kenya, complete with a maternity ward. I have been very fortunate to go to Kenya and visit Maddie’s school and medical centre to see her work first hand. She is proof that one person can make a difference.
CL: What lifestyle things (nutrition, exercise) do you do in your own life to help cope with life’s challenges?
SB: We eat mainly vegetarian meals with Indian food being my personal favourite. I love matcha tea and we don’t smoke or drink alcohol either. We don’t own a television, although we have internet so we can stay connected online. I still have a gratitude practice and keep a journal along with my meditation practice. I love Bikram Yoga and in the winter I ski and play hockey.
CL: Wow, you play hockey? Have you always played?
SB: No, actually started as an adult with an all women’s league and I absolutely love it.
CL: Do you have any long term plans or what would you like to see in the future as far as your own professional life, as well as in the causes you are involved in?
SB: I plan on teaching Mindfulness Meditation at the University of Toronto as part of their program. My husband and I have started a new business as well; Mindful Solutions for Change. We act as facilitators to bring awareness to the stress in our busy lives and teach ways to reduce that stress and find a more positive, and peaceful existence. We plan on taking a pilgrimage to India and also to study silent meditation as well. We will continue the fundraising efforts for the Maddie’s Everlasting Wish and we would love to go back to Kenya and visit the school and hospital on the 10th anniversary.
Val and I could have talked to Sharon for another hour at least as she is so very welcoming and inspiring to listen to. If you have an opportunity to see her speak, we encourage you to do so. Please take a look at the links we have provided and find out more about this incredible story of Maddie and the work she continues to fuel in those who knew her.