No parent expects a young child to make a Bucket List.
So, when eight-year-old, Ella Goering from Des Moines Iowa, returned home from school one afternoon and announced she wanted to create a Bucket List, her mother, Sherri knew the ensuing conversation would be important… and special.
The Diagnosis. And the Plan.
On December, 18, 2015, Ella received the devastating news that her young and beautiful self had terminal brain cancer. There was nothing left the doctors could do to save her life. In that moment, Sherri felt how precious life was, and how fleeting it could be. She decided to make it her mission to help Ella live each of her remaining days as fully and as joyfully as possible.
“Ella’s teacher had just read the book, Judy Moody and the Bucket List, to the class, which stirred something inside Ella, and the first thing she wanted to do when she returned home was to talk about it,” says Sherri, a mom of two girls. “So, I started recording the conversation on my phone. I regret I didn’t videotape a lot of our family experiences with Ella before she got sick, so now I try to film as many moments as I can. I wanted to listen to her. Be completely present with her. And I wanted to remember it always.”
The video was, indeed, special, for it captured Ella asking her mother to create a Bucket List together.
And while that question from a terminally-ill child is so heartbreaking, Sherri chose to surrender herself to the moment and not succumb to fear. And so, following the question came a heartwarming conversation between mother and daughter.
VIDEO CAPTION: 8-year-old terminally-ill Ella asks Mother to create a Bucket List together
“I explained to her that instead of creating a Bucket List, we could create a Liv List. This way, we would not wait to make her dreams come true, but would actually do them as soon as possible,” says Sherri.
A New Mission
This idea of turning a Bucket List into a Liv List was the mission of a lifestyle company Sherri had recently joined called, Liv.
“The Liv mission impacted me because I’ve found that we all make excuses of why we can’t take a trip or have a certain experience. For the past three years, we talked about doing family vacations, but there were always reasons why it wasn’t the best time. Like, oh, it costs too much. Or, work schedules are busy. Or, the kids are too young to remember it. And maybe they wouldn’t … but I would. I would have had memories of Ella running down the beach. Swimming in the ocean. Playing and laughing in the snow.”
But Sherri knows that although she doesn’t have those specific memories, there are new ones she can create with Ella in the time they have left. And that’s through checking things off of Ella’s Liv List.
Creating the Liv List
With her mom sitting next to her, an ambitious Ella started composing her Liv List.
“I let her put down whatever she wanted. I was curious. I mean, how often do we ask our children about their dreams?” says Sherri.
And then Ella suddenly put her pencil down, looked up and asked, “What’s on your list, Mom?”
It was then when Sherri realized she had never created her own Liv List.
“Your list is now my list,” she said to Ella.
A Whole New Perspective
Fast forward a couple of months to the video finding its way to Nick Sarnicola, Liv’s Co-Founder & CEO.
“The minute I met Sherri, I knew her story would profoundly impact our mission of helping people turn their Bucket Lists into Liv Lists before it’s too late,” says Nick. “I had just come off our company’s event stage after delivering an emotional message about our mission and how there’s thousands of people in nursing homes or in their 80s who regret not taking the chances or the risks to create amazing experiences. And then the next thing I’m on the phone with Sherri.”
What Sherri said next especially touched Nick.
“Sherri told me she’s sad there’s all these people who live their whole life and have bucket lists they never follow through, yet her daughter isn’t even old enough to know she’s supposed to have a bucket list. That really got to me. We were all crying on the phone.”
The discovery: Creating Liv Lists was recommended for adults – AND children.
“I told Sherri she had turned me on to a whole new group of people who I never thought of when I created this company. My filter has always been set to people who have lived an entire life but who haven’t really lived. I thought about people who were old, or who were sick in their 40s, or who lived life on cruise control, but I never thought about children who were terminally ill and would never have a chance to do any of this stuff … or even know to create a list of those things.”
The Trip of a Lifetime
Nick knew immediately he wanted to do something and collaborated with Blake Mallen, Liv’s Co-Founder & President to create an experience for Ella and her family.
“We believe people should stop waiting and start living, and so we thought up a way to give Ella and her mom an incredible experience – now, not later,” says Blake.
Seven days later, Ella was in Chicago about to meet Nick, Blake and the rest of the Liv family.
“When the Liv Founders asked for Ella to come out to Chicago, we were ecstatic,” says Sherri. “I surprised her by letting her take her best friend, and the three of us truly had a trip of a lifetime. They put us up in a gorgeous hotel, and it was so fun for me to see the girls in awe about the ‘fanciest hotel they’ve ever seen’ and discover cupcakes, shirts, goodies and a customized note in their room. Ella felt like she was on top of the world.”
Braving the Stage
It takes a brave girl to walk onto an event stage in front of hundreds of people and share her story. And that’s exactly what Ella did.
“Nick approached her, and she gave him a hug. They told her story on stage, and everybody was crying. She was crying. And I know it’s because she could sense how everybody was feeling and how precious, how special life is. Life slowed down in that moment, and Ella felt it,” says Sherri.
Ella had been so excited to share her story, she had written a speech but forgot to take her notes with her. Here’s what she wanted to say to the Liv Community.
“Some people just sit on the couch. So they need to get up and Liv. You shouldn’t be afraid to die, but you should be afraid to not live. Liv is Awesome.” – Ella, Age 8
A Mouse Named Mickey
After a trip of surprises, Ella was about to meet her best surprise yet.
“We wanted to help Ella check something off her Liv List immediately, so we arranged for Mickey Mouse to meet her on stage and surprise her with a gift to Disney World,” says Nick.
Like everybody else in the room, Blake was overcome with emotion. “We were able to witness incredible joy on her face. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room. The only thing better than living your life, is finding a way to help others truly live theirs. Stories like Ella’s is why we do what we do.”
Ella’s story was a life lesson for all – and a powerful reminder.
“As big as you may think your challenges or problems are in any given day, things can be significantly harder or worse,” says Nick. “My experience with Ella and Sherri has reminded me to focus on things I’m grateful for and to always help others. The lesson I want my own daughter, Gia, to take away from this story is that she should always look for ways to use her abilities to help or support those in need, just like we’re doing through the Liv mission.”
Adds Nick, “Ella’s story will be a catalyst for thousands of children to check things off their list, which is so inspiring, so powerful.”
Dream a Little Dream
What’s next for Ella?
“We’re taking it one day at a time and really want to complete her Liv List,” says Sherri. “Throughout all this, I’ve learned that you never know how long you’ll be here. There will never be a perfect time to do something you want. My message to every parent – whether they have a sick or healthy child – is don’t delay in dreaming with your kids. Make a list, and do it together. Teach them how to dream. Help them make their list by showing them how you created your own. Allow it to be the start of a conversation. And before you create the list, do research together. Don’t just pick the top places that everybody thinks of. Spend time really thinking it through and visualizing your dreams. Create the list – and then DO it. I’m using Ella’s list as a roadmap for life.”
Ella’s roadmap includes visiting Canada for the first time and also being able to eventually put her walker aside so she can walk independently with her mom again.
Adds Sherri, “Making a million dollars is also on Ella’s Liv List, so I guess that means I better start building my Liv business now.”
If you know a child like Ella and would like Liv to help or support checking off items on the child’s Liv List, let us know.
Watch Ella’s Story!