As Amanda Ruddy talks about the ways she feels her son’s presence – by sitting in his room or at the memorial bench at his school – a yellow lantern floats by.
Perhaps Tommy’s way of saying hello.
Yellow, Tommy’s favorite color, tends to pop up in special moments since his family lost him to Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG) in Nov. 2016.
“We climbed the Haleakala volcano the morning of the one year anniversary of his death and watched the sun rise,” said Amanda. “That was a pretty special moment, being as close to heaven as you think you can be at least, being out amongst the clouds.
“Then when we got to the top of that mountain there was one little yellow flower growing through a crack at the top, which was just kind of an a-ha moment from Tommy.”
The past 22 months have been painful for the Ruddy family, with those moments at least providing a little reassurance that Tommy is still with them. Tom, Amanda, and Tommy’s sister, Isabella, talk about him daily as they struggle through the days without him.
“In the second year without him, reality is definitely more prevalent,” said Amanda. “There’s just a lot more quiet time and time to realize this is it.
“It’s just more and more days away from him. If you actually sit and count the days it’s like, ‘Oh, wow. I haven’t seen my son in 670 days.’”
Embraced by a Community
The Ruddy family moved to Grand Rapids, Mich. from the Philadelphia area in September 2014 for Tom’s job. Tommy loved the Eagles, Phillies, and Penn State.
When he was diagnosed in August 2016, they had only been living in their community 23 months.
“We’re non-Michigan natives,” said Amanda. “We’re complete strangers to this area and they’ve totally embraced us and welcomed us in.”
The community has been so wonderful that the Ruddys chose not to return to Pennsylvania after Tommy’s passing because Isabella had found such a great support system.
“The community continues to wrap their arms around us,” she said. “It’s still volunteering for a child many never even met. A family they barely know.
“I come home to flowers on the doorstep or wine and cheese on my doorstep and people just seem to know.”
That community is rallying around the Ruddy family for the 2nd Annual RunTough for Team Tommy event being held Sept. 29. The 5K and 1-Mile fun run will take place at Countryside Greenhouse, a local business in Allendale.
“Tommy had a wonderful teacher, Ron Herig,” said Amanda. “When Tommy was diagnosed he wasn’t in his class anymore, but the incoming class embraced the story and walked the journey with us.
“The mom of one of the students in that class took hold of our family and her husband works for Countryside Greenhouse, the largest greenhouse in West Michigan.”
The gesture not only secured a spot for the event, but took a lot of the planning out of Amanda’s hands.
“This is a family that would send us cards weekly and come to all the fundraisers we were doing,” she said. “Then they just said they wanted to help even more and offered the venue.”
RunTough for Team Tommy
Tommy was a child always thinking of others. He once shaved his head in support of a friend with alopecia and insisted on buying presents for friends from the hospital gift shop after his radiation treatments.
So it is 100-percent fitting that RunTough for Team Tommy will support other local children lost too soon.
Emma Buron, who passed away from DIPG in May 2017, will be honored through ‘Emma’s Candy Shoppe’ that will allow children attending to make their own bags of candy.
Rory Bent-Buist, who died of cardiac sarcoma, will be honored through ‘Rory’s Chalk Garden.”
Cardiac sarcoma is a rare type of tumor of the heart. The Bent-Buist family has become advocates for ChadTough and DIPG research as a way to honor their daughter.
“Our kids all died within months of each other, so we’ve become very close,” said Amanda.
All proceeds from this year’s RunTough for Team Tommy will be directed to The ChadTough Foundation, which raises funds and awareness for pediatric brain cancer.
Individuals unable to attend the local race can sign up as a virtual runner to receive a Team Tommy t-shirt. Many out-of-town virtual runners walk or run at the same time as the local race to participate and spread awareness.
“It’s powerful to have so many people out in support of Tommy, to remember we’re not alone,” said Amanda. “I appreciate each and every person who hears and shares his story and works to make a difference in his name.”