Putting faith-based learning into real-life action …

First grade class with their “Loved Ones in Heaven” project ...

First grade class balloon release with the Howe family in attendance ...

Ms. Meyer’s first grade class with the Howe family ...

As part of its Religion education “Loved Ones in Heaven” unit in early March, the first grade class of Ms. Thea Meyer at St. Patrick School in Waukon has been incorporating discussion about family members, friends or even their pets in Heaven following their passing. Students were asked to suggest ways that they feel would help them get to Heaven, and they also created a project that listed lost loved ones in a rainbow they colored as it arched over an image of Jesus (group photo at right), with students and staff in the class each sharing their own story of a loved one lost.

The timing of that Religion unit also encompassed the birthday of a deceased older sibling of one of those first grade students, Markus Howe, son of Mindy Howe and Matt Howe of Waukon. The class celebrated that birthday of the late Macoy Howe by releasing balloons up into the sky Friday, March 12 outside the St. Patrick School lower building (as evident in middle photo below) to Macoy and to all other loved ones of students and staff who have passed away and are in Heaven, with the class writing special messages on the balloons that were released. Members of the Howe family attended the balloon release event, with Macoy’s family talking to Ms. Meyer’s first grade class about what he was like as a child and then taking a photo with the class (bottom group photo below), as Markus Howe held a photo of his late older brother, Macoy.

Macoy’s family shared that he was born March 10, 2004 in Iowa City and was diagnosed with congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) at just seven days old, causing him to be on a steroid regimen for the rest of his life. At five months of age Macoy suffered a stroke on the right side of his brain and battled through a series of consistent seizures throughout the next several years, living life in a wheelchair and being nonverbal but always interacting through a variety of facial expressions. Macoy had been seizure-free for 18 months before he passed away of natural causes in his sleep at home March 16, 2009, six days after his fifth birthday. Macoy’s final gift was being an eye donor.

“From the time he was seven days old, his body had to overcome triumph after triumph, and he showed us along with the doctors what a strong fighter he was,” Mindy Howe reflected. “Macoy had the most contagious laugh, most beautiful blue eyes, and a smile that could have lit up an entire galaxy. He loved to hold his mama’s hand any chance he had. Anyone who met Macoy, fell in love with him. He was so special!”

His family said that it’s important to them that they continue to remember and celebrate Macoy’s life, especially because some of his younger siblings never got a chance to meet him before he passed. “We reminisce with our older three children, Miles, Mason and Max, and we share stories with our younger three children, Mallory, Maddy and Markus, who did not get to meet their brother,” Mindy Howe said. “We have several photos up, we celebrate his birthday each year by releasing green balloons and having his favorite meal, which is goulash and chocolate milk.”

“When I get sad, I think about all of the memories my mom has shared with me about Macoy and smile,” shared first grader Markus Howe. “My mom holds my hand and tells me stories about him.”

“When we lost Macoy, I lost all of my faith in pretty much everything and questioned why my son had to die; at only five years old, why him?” Mindy further shared. “But within a year, Matt had shepherded me to find my faith again. Now I know God always has a plan. We may not know what that might be right now, but he certainly has a plan for us all. We know we will see our sweet Macoy again someday, and what a wonderful reunion that will be!”

The family appreciates Markus’ first grade class including them in the balloon release celebration and the fact that St. Patrick School incorporates such realities of life into its curriculum. “When Ms. Meyer messaged me her plans as a class, I was in total tears of happiness because I have never done anything honoring Macoy publicly in Waukon since we didn’t live here when he passed away,” Mindy explained. “So seeing the love and feeling the love at the school meant everything to us. Those first graders showed us so much compassion for our son and their classmate, Markus, for the passion of his brother, I was in awe.”

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