A Conversation with Brigid Collins Stewart

Brigid Stewart Collins
Brigid Stewart Collins
Brigid Collins Stewart

By Gianna Volpe

It’s been six years since Sag Harbor parents Jim Stewart and Brigid Collins lost their 12-year-old daughter, Katy, to a rare form of pediatric liver cancer known as hepatoblastoma, but it’s also the sixth year the East End community at large will come together to celebrate Katy’s courage this weekend with a 5K event that raises money for scholarships, cancer research and other causes.

I’m excited to be doing this because I covered Katy’s Courage [5K] two years ago and it was the most touching event I’ve ever covered. Your daughter was an incredible person and — especially because of her age — unbelievably brave. Did she ever get scared?

I think she definitely had times when she was scared—like anybody has times when they feel scared—but I think she felt a lot of love in her family and with her friends. I think she felt very supported through her whole journey. The Sag Harbor community and the whole East End community really reached out to her and everyone was so good to her. She often would go to the hospital for a chemo treatment, for example, and have a binder full of beautiful gifts and cards from the teachers and children from Sag Harbor Elementary School, so she always had all kinds of remarkable support — more than you can even imagine.

In that vein, has the success of Katy’s Courage [5K] been therapeutic for you and your family?

Definitely. I guess I feel, to be honest with you, that we’re not surprised by it because we felt about Kate that she was special and that we were blessed to be her parents and that she had a higher purpose in the world. That’s just the way we feel about it. In a small, simple way, she touched a lot of people because she was such a loving child.

And she continues to touch people. I remember two years ago you were going to be using the money to establish Katy’s Kids [Center for Grieving Children @ CMEE]. How has that progressed in the past year?

We were able to form a collaboration and last July we launched Katy’s Kids @ CMEE.
We needed — of course — a space in the beginning. Our dream is to have our own space, but for now we’re so delighted. It’s such a perfect combination for us because we’re interested in children having the opportunity to express themselves through play. We provide peer group support and a lot of opportunity for children to play together who have similar grief experiences in their lives. The feedback that we have from participants and their families is that it’s really been a great help for the children who have been involved in the program. I think there’s a great strength and power as a child just knowing you’re not the only one and not to feel so isolated.

What coping advice do you have for parents who have just lost a child?

Well, it’s hard to tell anybody how they should feel. The truth is that we know everybody experiences grief in a different way and — however you experience grief — we believe that it’s okay. It’s not a place where you can judge people, but we do know that there is a lot of strength and solace in having the opportunity to share your experiences with other people and we know that from our own experience. Just to have a space where you’re understood or where you can talk about your child and don’t feel like you’re making other people sad because you’re talking to people who do understand — I think that’s important.

Is there anything new happening at this year’s event?

I don’t think there is anything big or new. I think it’s a pretty classic, traditional 5K day. We’re going to try to do some fun things. There is going to be a photo booth there this year for kids and people to enjoy. A friend of ours is donating services for that. There’s a few small things that we think is going to be fun, but for the most part, it’s just a day where we feel like there’s lot of community bonding and friendship and people feel the kindness in our community and is just a nice day for people to come out and celebrate together the work Katy’s Courage tries to put out there.

Katy’s Courage 5K will be held on April 16 on Water Street in Sag Harbor with check-in from 7 to 8:15 a.m. and an 8:30 a.m. start. The cost is $25 for pre-registration; $30 the day of the race. Visit katyscourage.org for more information.