October 21, 2014

Inspired By Todd

Twenty seven seasons of attending the National Trout Festival in Kalkaska, MI, has provided me with a cherished collection of memories. I’ve enjoyed it all, but browsing at the flea market and craft show is my favorite activity. I’ve met many interesting people whose handcrafted works bring joy, sometimes inspiration, to others.

Beth Donahue, of Johannesburg, is one such person. She made her Festival debut this year by selling sun catchers—those shimmering, eye-catching ornaments one might find dangling from the a back porch or the low branches of a tree. Her creations, which include elegant silk flower arrangements, are beautiful. But even more beautiful is the story of how these wonderful creations came to be.

Beth’s son, Todd, was diagnosed with Jeune’s syndrome not long after his birth in 1982. It’s an aggressive disease that attacks specific vital organs. In Todd’s case, his kidneys were severely damaged and by age four, he was undergoing frequent dialysis. By the time he was a teenager, he had endured several unsuccessful kidney transplants, but he kept a positive outlook towards better things to come.

In his personal life, Todd excelled in nearly everything he did. He was fair-minded, well-liked and approached everything with a positive attitude. When he graduated from high school in 2000, his entire class gave him a standing ovation. He responded by waving his diploma in the air, first running, then jumping across the stage, rock-star style.

On Jan. 10, 2003, Todd died. For Beth, life seemed suddenly empty.

“I thought I could get through the grief on my own,” she said. “But I couldn’t.” She sought counseling, and then reached out to good friends she hadn’t seen since before Todd was born. Through these friends, Beth met Kevin Donahue, fell in love, and got married.

Eventually, the couple moved from Berkley to Johannesburg, making it difficult to visit and place fresh flowers regularly on Todd’s gravesite. So, Beth began making silk floral wreathes that would last indefinitely. It wasn’t long before she was making wreathes and flower arrangements for friends, as well.

One day, Beth was sitting on the porch, looking at a wind chime. A glint of light bounced off the mirrors attached above the chimes. She thought it would be interesting to attach beads, instead of chimes, to the tiny mirrors. And she thought of Todd. She said it was as if he was sending her a message: ‘You can do it, Mom.’

It didn’t take long for the idea to come alive, and with it came the beginning of a small business.

“I’ve never created anything,” Beth said. “I spent 34 years at the phone company. I was a businesswoman, not an artist…but I wanted to do it.”

In the beginning, Beth was thinking about naming the business Suncatchers, Etc. But then a friend suggested that she spell Suncatchers with an ‘o’ instead of a ‘u’ in honor of her son, Todd. Soncatchers, Etc. was born.

Beth works from home now, creating sun catchers and floral arrangements to sell at local craft shows. She also does custom orders for events such as weddings, graduations and funerals.

“I’ve never had artistic abilities,” she said. “Flower arranging…me? But I gave it a try and it took off.”

As for the sun catchers, Beth said the ideas just keep flowing.

“Todd’s inside me, somewhere. I know he is. And he keeps on telling me, ‘Mom, you can do it!’

Todd’s strength of character, and the love his mom has for him, will always be a precious memory of love and inspiration for me, too, not only because I acquired two of his mom’s sun catchers at this year’s Trout Festival, but for a more personal reason: Todd is my husband’s son. He’s my son’s older brother. And, yes, he’s my step-son. He’ll always be loved. And he’ll never be forgotten.

Rock on, Todd. We miss you.

Margaret Thompson and Beth Donahue are both members of Great Lakes Energy Cooperative. Margaret is a freelance writer and retired nurse, and Beth is in the midst of starting a home business featuring her Michigan-made products—especially sun catchers and silk floral arrangements and wreaths. Find Beth at: SONCATCHERS, ETC., 586-557-5488, beth4u2c@gmail.com.