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Evening borne of sadness was filled with comfort and hope

Jeanette Arsenault fills the first of 200 Kait’s Comfort Kits in preparation for Tuesday’s launch. – Photo contributed

Story by Sharon Harrison
For Jeanette Arsenault, Tuesday evening’s official launch of ‘Kait’s Comfort Kits’ at the Waring Hall in Picton was bittersweet.

A project several years in the making, the occasion marked a milestone, a promise kept and an achievement.

Local singer/songwriter Jeanette Arsenault lost her daughter, Kaitlin Angeline Shannon, to cancer in the spring of 2018 after a four-year battle. Kait was just 23-years-old when she passed on April 19, 2018.

It was during Kait’s cancer battle and many hospital stays that daughter and mum came up with the idea of providing a small kit of comfort for others facing a long hospital stay. The kits contain luxury items, such as fragrance-free organic lotion and soaps, super-soft face cloths and hand towels, lip balm as well as crossword puzzles and pens, and a Tim Horton’s card. In tv

Kait Shannon – Photo contributed

Designed to provide a little relief and comfort to other cancer patients facing hospital stays, the kits were named in honour of Kait.

A massive musical celebration held shortly after Kait’s death raised $17,000 to start off the project, but that was just the beginning.

Friend Rick Zimmerman emceed Tuesday’s launch. He explained that when Kait was in the oncology unit at the Ottawa General Hospital undergoing cancer treatment she had an idea.

“That idea tonight comes to fruition,” said Zimmerman. “But it’s thanks to the good people in Prince Edward County as well as far and wide, and there are a lot of different people.”

He explained that Kait wanted every cancer patient that was admitted to the oncology unit to receive a gift of those little luxuries now know contained in Kait’s Comfort Kits.

“Right up until yesterday, we filled and packaged and sorted, and put together 200 Kait’s Comfort Kits,” said Zimmerman.

The first lots of kits will be going to Hospice Prince Edward, Prince Edward County Memorial Hospital, and the oncology unit at Ottawa General Hospital.

Kait and Jeanette’s goal however was 500 kits, and the evening provided an opportunity for people to sponsor a kit for $50.

Kait’s father, Michael Shannon, spoke eloquently and emotionally about a daughter, a buddy, and a best friend, describing his Katie as a precious child.

“I just loved her to bits,” he said. “In the psychological world, they say there is no loss more devastating or tragic than the loss of a child,” said Shannon. “I can tell you first hand that coping with the effect of that loss on a daily basis is really tough; it’s the toughest thing I’ve ever done.”

He spoke to the anger, the confusion, the sense of helplessness. He said it isn’t just once in a while, but the struggle is on a daily basis.

“I’m not usually helpless, but this time I was,” he said. “You can’t predict the emotions, they just kind of come out at you.”

Shannon also spoke about Kait’s mother, Jeanette Arsenault, as a magnificent human being and mum.

“On a daily basis 24/7, for months on end, she was with her Katie, holding her up, holding onto her, but in due course, she lost the grip, and she lost her Kait,” said Shannon. “It tears your heart into a thousand pieces, and you never get over it.”

He spoke to how he also lost the battle though he, as her father, was her protector, her knight in shining armour.

Shannon described how the tears come on a daily basis for a long time. “Even right now,” he said.

“It suddenly occurred to me not long ago, that those tears are not lost. I noticed that almost inter-perceptibly at first, the tears collect at your feet and they crystallize. Over the course of time, those crystals start taking form, and that form becomes a ladder.”

“It’s a crystalline bar, and it’s there, it’s very narrow, it’s very unstable, but it’s there for Jeannette and myself to climb up into the light and into her spirit.”

His imagery vividly spoke about the friends at the base of that ladder, holding it, so they don’t fall.

While the evening brought tears and sadness, it was also uplifting, and filled with comfort and hope.

“There is a lot of love in this room,” said Arsenault.

She expressed her heartfelt, deepest gratitude to each and every person present, and to all those who have contributed in some way to make Kait’s Comfort Kits a reality.

Arsenault spoke to the day she calls a turning point, when on January 23, 2018, she received word that her daughter had suffered a sarcoma cancer-induced stroke. What followed that day was an ambulance trip to the Picton hospital, a further trip to the Belleville hospital, and a third to Kingston General Hospital.

“A few days later she was sent by patient transfer to the Ottawa General Hospital in the fourth transfer vehicle,” said Arsenault.

“She fought with all her might and her energy for the next three months, and without complaining.”

Arsenault talks about how so very proud she was of the woman her daughter had become.

“She was like a meteor that burns bright and fast, and how quickly the light is extinguished.”

She describes how Kait did more in her 23 years of life than many do in a lifetime through volunteering, entertaining and learning.

Arsenault thanked the many, many people who contributed time and talent, beginning with special thanks for Suzanne Pasternak who organized the launch.

Prior to her death, Kait wrote, co-wrote and recorded a debut album, and Tuesday night saw the posthumous release of the music, curated by Arsenault. Funds raised from the sale of the CD will go toward Kait’s Comfort Kits.

The album includes segments of one of her songs ‘Dreamwalk’ which was part of the soundtrack to Suzanne Pasternak’s audio documentary “The Story of the 1917 Halifax Explosion and the Boston Tree.”

The first song on the CD, entitled ‘Supernova’ was played to the room.

Zimmerman said Kait’s many outstanding talents included being a gifted musician, pianist, songwriter and composer.

“She left behind a musical legacy which she had recorded in an Ottawa studio, even when she was undergoing radiation treatment; she went into that studio and laid down tracks.”

Pasternak’s role was as producer of the launch of Kait’s Comfort Kits.

“And keeping Jeanette together, which was a very difficult process as you can imagine,” said Pasternak, who included ‘den mother’ as another of her roles during the process.

“As musicians in this community, when something happens to one of us, we are all there for each other, raising money, and I think it’s like that everywhere.”

Pasternak describes the launch, which saw more than 100 people come out, not as the end of a process, but as the birth of it.

“This is volume one,” she said, promising much more music to come. “The financial support tonight with people buying CDs is wonderful,” she added.

She said Kingston General Hospital and Belleville are next to receive the kits, and ultimately Princess Margaret and then pediatric kids.

Tom Leighton demonstrated his fine keyboard and vocal talent for the remainder of the evening, where he said his mandate was to keep the tunes happy and upbeat, and opened with a ‘boogie woogie’, because the beat must go on.

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  1. Renee Melvin says:

    A beautiful tribute, so sorry for your loss. It is inspiring what she accomplished. My friend in London, a cancer momma warrior, does these. I had my own journey, and am amazed at the strength of these parents and children. Spending a few shifts cooking at Ronald Macdonald house, I have seen it first hand. Kaits memory will carry on through this project for certain. Blessings to you all.

  2. Mary Mackay-Smith says:

    What a wonderful article! This gave us a splendid glimpse of what the night was like and we really appreciate that.

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