The Power of Pablove
Since May of last year, I have been inspired by a great many things: live shows that are unlike ANY I’ve ever seen before (NIN at the Forum 7/19/08), Synecdoche, NY, Sir Ken Robinson’s book “The Element,” the support of my friends and colleagues when I was laid off in November, and my grandfather’s process as he learned to live without his wife of 55 years. But through all those things, nothing even remotely stacks up to the way I felt reading Pablog, the blog written by the family of Pablo Castelaz documenting their feelings, stories, triumphs, let-downs and spirit for all to see and share. You see on May 17th of 2008, Pablo was diagnosed with Wilms’ Tumor a rare childhood cancer and for their family nothing has been the same since.
Pablo’s dad, Jeff Castelaz owns indie label Dangerbird Records, home to Silversun Pickups, Sea Wolf, Dappled Cities, Division Day, The Dears, and many other noteworthy L.A. bands. At that time, I was working at indie label, Eenie Meenie Records, so Jeff and I were regularly attending the same shows and having meetings about tours featuring bands from both labels. The first time I met Jeff I believed him to be a hardcore music fan, honest businessman and fair negotiator. In the last week of May 08, I started hearing from mutual friends, bands and industry folks that Jeff’s family was stricken with some bad news about their son and they were spreading awareness for his condition by sharing their story on a blog. The first time I read Pablog, I learned that Jeff was also a dedicated and loving father and husband. I also learned the name of the young man who would teach thousands about courage over the coming year: Pablo Thrailkill Castelaz.
The earliest posts were about the family’s devastation and shock intertwined with factual (yet thanks to Jeff’s break-it-on-down writing style, easy to understand) info about Pablo’s diagnosis, treatment and process by which this brave family considered their options as a team and made decisions that were best for Pablo. The levity in the reality of his posts seemed downright therapeutic and his musical references and links to pop culture kept me invested without bumming me out. After all, real-life childhood cancer is not exactly light reading.
The blog continued through the summer and we watched and read as doctors were chosen, friends and family visited and strangers commented sending their messages of hope. We counted farts and prayers as we learned to approach cancer as a full-time job, not an unmanageable dilapidating curse. One of the first really emotional times when Jeff’s feelings cut through the facts and daily play-by-play updates was when he and wife JoAnn were forced to come to terms with the fact that their little boy wasn’t going to be starting kindergarten with his pre-school friends in the fall. A milestone for most children and their parents was stripped from them and through their honesty and willingness to consider an alternative, the Pablog clan rallied. Plans were made to make sure Pablo got to interact with his teachers, classmates and friends, so he wouldn’t have such a hard time catching up when he was well enough to return to the business of being five.
The fall of 2008 also marked a special moment for the Pablove Foundation, the organization Jeff and JoAnn created to support the pediatric community at CHLA where Pablo fought his mighty battle. The CD “Give, Listen, Help” was released in September and the proceeds from it will benefit the foundation, so all kids can share in the quality of life Pablo’s been so lucky to have through his journey.
We checked in and received twitter updates always keeping them in our minds and hearts. When little P started losing his hair from the chemo, his family and friends rallied again – most of them shaving their heads so he wouldn’t be the lone baldy in the bunch. We read on through Halloween (Pablo was a robot) and musical tributes and setbacks and tiny miracles and the winter holidays. Scores of family, friends, co-workers and strangers dropped off food, gifts, made special visits and calls and pulled together to keep the strength in the right hands. The power of that community could only be described as remarkable.
A new year meant a new set of challenges particularly the need for blood and spiritual support from the growing number now invested in the hope circle started with the family. We all felt a sense of community sending out daily thoughts and prayers to engage a large audience in the need for more positive energy directed towards them.
Fevers in the middle of the night and trips to the emergency room were regular occurrences for Jeff, JoAnn and Pablo’s half-brother Grady who provided the half-kid/half-grown up commentary to the blog often reflecting what Pablo what feeling when he couldn’t speak for himself. However, so were trips to the movies, visits from heroes like Lance Armstrong and super playdates with nanny Polly, P’s grandparents and cousins and friends of the family from every part of their lives and all points on the globe. The photos are perhaps the sweetest part as we get to see that through all the insanity and what Jeff regularly referred to as the “roller coaster,” Pablo stays full of life, personality and innocence.
Things were looking up at we blasted through some major successes for Jeff’s company, particularly an article in LA Weekly, for which JoAnn touchingly proclaimed her love for Jeff on the blog, yet another example of their teamwork and mutual support. The label’s biggest band, Silversun Pickups headlined the second stage at Coachella and it was there the family discovered one of Pablo’s favorite places to be and one of the best places for his body to recover in its fragile state, Palm Springs. The coming weeks saw snippets of their time in the desert and smiles all around despite an accident Jeff had while biking (one of his and the family’s favorite pastimes). Again, the team snapped into action and with TWO Castelaz men trusting their care to those who love them, we got a glimmer of hope that normal things were continuing to happen even while cancer was happening.
Then April 20, 2009 happened. I sat in my office in Santa Monica on the 21st and read with tears in my eyes shortly after the post went up on the Pablog that the cancer had recurred. Those of us in the extended circle (defined as pretty much everyone wearing a yellow Pablove bracelet or commenting with thoughts on the blog) shared a collective rash of emotions ranging from sadness to anger to fear to anxiety and still a sense that no matter what they decided, this family would do the best thing for Pablo. Following the initial shock, they did what they do: they reached out. They asked us to adopt a slogan that will live forever as a testament to the power of a strong miracle circle: Actually F***ing Do It. A.F.D.I. circulated on IM away messages (my favorite was “not here at the moment, Actually. Fucking. Doing. It.”), Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, blogs, email signatures, text messages and from friend to friend. The strength of the campaign to surround Pablo with support and hope grew and grew and the acceptance Jeff, JoAnn, Grady and the whole Pablove team that they had to make the most of every possible moment took hold.
Another major fundraiser was planned for the Pablove Foundation at The Echoplex featuring Silversun Pickups and tickets sold out in minutes. I was lucky enough to be there to witness the outpouring of support for Pablo and family as well as the attendees dipping into their pockets to buy t-shirts and copies of the CD to show their support for the cause.
May saw playdates, toys, trips to some pretty great places and less and less of the interior of a hospital. We also felt the sense that although the desire to beat it was still strong, the options were dwindling. I think I speak for everyone when I say I think we were hoping they’d figure out the cure for cancer was a trip to Legoland. And shouldn’t it be?
The post “No More Fighting” went up on the blog last week and I remember being relieved that for the umpteenth time those loving, compassionate, selfless people in charge of this little life made the right choice. They elected to bring their little fighter home from battle and grant him the opportunity to be tube-less, beep-less, and surrounded by his own familiar and familial things.
On Saturday June 27, 2009 the following post went up on the Pablog: Pablo Is Gone
Pablo Thrailkill Castelaz passed from this life at 1:30 p.m.
He left this life in the same way he entered it: beautifully, gracefully and in the loving arms of his Mommy and Papa and dear big brother Grady.
He left this life in the middle of his parents’ bed – the bed he’s grown up in, from day one until today, his final day. Our family is grateful for your love and light.
From our hearts,
Jo Ann, Jeff and Grady
Posted by Jeff at 02:36:00 PM
His last words were of his mother, often represented through her own words on the blog and through the words and descriptions of her devoted husband and partner and the co-head of Team Pablove. In the days since dear Pablo’s passing the blog is as active as ever with posts of tribute and updates about the ways in which this powerful group will honor their hero.
reconandpablo.MP4 — powered by http://www.livestrong.com
The information about Pablo’s memorial was posted as well:
Join us Tuesday, June 30, to celebrate Pablo and the brilliant light of his spirit. Please bring your children, families, and loved ones. We invite anyone and everyone who has felt touched by our inspiring little boy to join us. All are welcome. The memorial will be held at 5:30 pm, at Descanso Gardens, Van de Kamp Hall, 1418 Descanso Drive, La Canada Flintridge, CA 91011.
I am full of gratitude today for being given the opportunity to bear witness to the unbelievable courage of “the boy lion” who lived “exactly six years and six days”. I feel equally blessed to know there are families out there like Jeff, JoAnn and Grady (and their extended families and friends) who are a prime example of what families are supposed to be. They’re not perfect and they’re certainly not without their problems. But they face them together, head-on with all the right tools. When they are depleted they ask for help and when they are at the mercy of the universe they accept whatever comes. Jeff said they’re glad Pablo chose them as his family. Well I think I speak for us all when I say I think he made a great choice.
In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that donations be made to the Pablove Foundation and if you’re in Los Angeles tomorrow night (Wed, June 30th) a benefit concert has been scheduled as a place to honor Pablo’s memory through music and to support the cause that will keep the honor of his light shining in everyone around him.