Chris Grundner is the Founder of The Kelly Heinz-Grundner Brain Tumor Foundation* & son of the “Tulips Against Tumors” creator.
“If I could fill the world with tulips, I would.” Those words were uttered by my wife, Kelly Heinz-Grundner, who died from a brain tumor back in 2004.
In the months after Kelly’s passing, I worked hard to establish The Kelly Heinz-Grundner Brain Tumor Foundation to raise awareness and educate the public and medical professionals about the disease. This was such a worthy endeavor, and I had so much wonderful help from my mom and our family and friends.
As we approached the first anniversary of Kelly’s death back in 2005, my mom and I were brainstorming ways to pay tribute to Kelly. Suddenly, mom came up with the perfect gesture to honor her. Kelly always loved tulips, and especially purple ones. We thought that an awareness and fundraising campaign involving tulips would be a great way to honor Kelly’s memory. So the Tulips Against Tumors Tribute was born and has continued to blossom ever since.
We dreamt that it would someday grow into a national program that would bring widespread attention to, and raise valuable dollars for, the brain tumor cause. Given our aspirations, my family and I are beyond thrilled to see how it has grown in both scope and impact, thanks to the efforts of the National Brain Tumor Society. As we sit back and reflect upon all that the Tribute has become, we took some time to think about how it all started.
My mom, Susan Morisson, wrote an extremely poignant piece last year, to recognize the 10-year anniversary of Tulips Against Tumors. It was so heartfelt and touching, that I asked the National Brain Tumor Society to re-publish it this year. Hope you enjoy the tribute below:
The room was aglow with soft candle light; the music, a calming whisper in the background. The tables were exquisitely filled with hundreds of the most beautiful tulips in every color and shape, a gift of love from one of her best friends and a symbol of the hope we held for her as she bravely battled for her life.
It was May 11, 2003, and it was Kelly’s 30th birthday and we, 100 of her closest friends and family members, awaited Kelly’s arrival at her favorite restaurant in Wilmington, Delaware to celebrate with her. The look on Kelly’s face when she saw the breathtaking sea of tulips lavishly arrayed before her was amazing. (Anyone who knew Kelly knew she just loved tulips!) Despite the pain she was feeling, Kelly smiled from ear to ear and used the strength she garnered from this joy to take her first steps – just eight months after the surgery to remove her tumor left her completely paralyzed on her left side. The doctors told Kelly that she’d probably never walk again, but walk she did that day, and believe me, there wasn’t a dry eye in the place.
Sadly, the next time I saw another array of glorious tulips was sixteen months later at the luncheon following Kelly’s memorial service. This time, each one was a symbol of the utter grief of the several hundred people who came to pay their last respects. I was prime among them. I had been so grateful to have had Kelly in my life, as the daughter I had always wanted. I was just heartbroken to lose her.
When I first met Kelly, I was eager to get to know her and to find out what we had in common – other than the most important thing – we both loved my son, Chris. As it turned out, Kelly and I had several other things in common, one of which was a love for tulips. In fact, I remember her telling me: ‘If I could fill the world with tulips, I would.’ I never forgot those words.
After Kelly was diagnosed with a brain tumor, I was completely devastated and wanted to do something to let her know that she was in my heart every minute of every day despite my being hundreds of miles away in Buffalo, New York. Then I was reminded of how much Kelly loved tulips. I was thrilled, not only remembering the conversation she and I had about tulips years ago, but also because I was able to have some sent to her immediately and regularly.
As always, Kelly was very grateful for the tulips, especially the purple ones. She said she loved tulips because they always made her smile. I told her that I loved tulips because they never actually die. Since the life force within each bulb is so strong, even after being dormant and out of sight for a while during the winter, they always bloom again. I told Kelly that tulips reminded me of her strength and resilience in the face of incredible odds and that she was such an inspiration to all of us during her battle.
I hope everyone who reads this blog and tribute can find it in your hearts to purchase a tulip package(s) in honor of Kelly or anyone (and everyone) else who is suffering with a brain tumor. And, this year, in conjunction with the recently launched Defeat Pediatric Brain Tumors Research Collaborative, there are special packages available to purchase in honor of the all-to-many children whom are also diagnosed with this terrible disease.
During the next week, 50% of your purchase will be donated directly to the National Brain Tumor Society to fund research to discover new and better treatments, and, ultimately, a cure. Order your tulip bulbs today – and remember to tell your friends and spread the word to maximize our impact for brain tumor patients.
*In March 2010, the National Brain Tumor Society merged with the Kelly Heinz-Grundner Foundation (KHG) – a Delaware-based group dedicated to raising awareness about brain tumors. KHG was founded in 2004 as a tribute to Kelly, who died in September 2004, after a two-year battle with a brain tumor.