The Heinzelman family attended Inheritance of Hope's first Legacy Retreat, which took place at Lake George, New York, in the summer of 2008. Three and a half years later, the family has fond memories of the weekend.
Yet the Heinzelmans are getting by without Mark, their husband and father who died of cancer more than two years ago at age 42.
"We're gettin' on with it," says Sue, a mother of two living in Ulster County, New York. Sue's 12-year-old daughter, Jessie, is active in sports and church youth group, and 5-year-old Robbie started going to school.
Mark had leiomyosarcoma, a rare form of cancer that is difficult to treat. Mark was diagnosed in 2006, and Sue said doctors told her that only a third of leiomyosarcoma patients survive more than three years. The timing of the diagnosis was bittersweet: Sue was in the hospital giving birth to Robbie at the same time Mark learned of his illness.
"My husband being sick complicated my son's birth," Sue said. "It was just a hard time in our family because there was so much going on."
Mark began cancer treatments and mostly maintained his health for the first two years of care, Sue said. Mark had to stop working to focus on his therapy, adding financial stress to the list of concerns that included a new child and a serious diagnosis.
"We went from an average family where the husband is the main provider to him being sick and not being able to work," Sue said. "We were struggling."
By the time Robbie was three years old, Mark was struggling with his cancer. Sue said her husband became weak, required extra sleep, and lost weight. Stress mounted.
A friend of the Heinzelmans and the Milligans, the founders of Inheritance of Hope, told Sue about the organization's upcoming Legacy Retreat at nearby Lake George, New York. Sue said the organization appealed to her because of its Christian foundation, the Milligans' story, and the opportunity to take a free vacation. Sue's friend gave her an application after church, and soon the Heinzelmans were on their way to Lake George for the first Legacy Retreat.
Sue said the retreat offered her family an opportunity to unwind and bond after years of cancer treatments and financial stress.
Volunteers planned details and put toddler Robbie to sleep so Sue and Mark could enjoy time with their daughter. Jessie made friends with other kids at the amusement park. They all participated in group sessions with other families.
"They gave us an opportunity to talk about things we maybe wouldn't have talked about otherwise," Sue said. "It was very carefree."
Mark passed away three months after the Legacy Retreat, but Sue said it felt like time passed slowly. The Heinzelmans went in and out of hospitals as Mark's health declined, but lessons from the retreat stayed with the family near the end of his life.
"The retreat did change the way we looked at our time together," Sue said. "I think it made us value our time together more."
Sue said the Legacy Retreat helped Mark come to terms with his life and the things that were important to him. He planned his memorial service and, inspired in part by the Legacy Videos retreat attendees record, spoke to both of his children to say goodbye.
Now, more than three years after the first Inheritance of Hope Legacy Retreat and Mark's passing, Sue says the retreat is helping how her family moves forward.
"I look back at it as a chance for us to really build good memories with my husband," she said. "The retreat helped me see that the legacy we leave behind is more important, that relationships are more important."