As members of the Laguna Beach community join Penguin Cafe owners Sabrina and Michael McMurray at a memorial today for their son, William, another young boy copes with the passing of his best friend and partner in all things Pokemon.
“I will never forget you and will cherish every moment I did have,” wrote Taylor Fritschmann in a poignant elegy placed among the other mementos, flowers and stuffed animals that began appearing outside the Coast Highway cafe as friends, family, and even acquaintances and strangers learned of William’s death last week.
The McMurrays’son William Aiden, 12, died Wednesday, Aug. 7, when he succumbed after a year-long battle with a brain tumor. The family plans to disperse William’s ashes off Thalia Street beach at 10 a.m. on Friday, Aug. 16, and they welcome all to join in the paddle out. Later, they invite the public to a memorial in celebration of William’s life at 4 p.m. at the Aliso Creek Inn, 31106 S. Coast Highway.
“Our wonderful beautiful strong boy passed yesterday afternoon,” Sabrina McMurray wrote last week in a Facebook post, circulating news no parent should ever have to share with friends and loved ones. She continued, adding eloquently, “In one breath Michael’s and my life have changed forever.”
The community rallied to support the McMurrays last July when the couple first learned their son had an inoperable and fast-growing tumor called a brain stem glioma. Some took shifts at the Penguin to afford the McMurrays the time to attend to their son’s medical needs; others organized or contributed to numerous fundraising efforts to help defray costs at a time when the McMurrays lacked health insurance and had suffered financial set backs in keeping the family business of more than 40 years afloat.
The efforts to ease the family’s emotional and financial burdens never really stopped, attested Lisa Schmid and Jill Quindt,
staff workers at the Penguin. “Our community has been so amazing and supportive,” said Schmid. Now, with the burgeoning memorial to William at the cafe’s entrance, “everybody cares and wants to know how Sabrina and Mike are doing,” she observed, adding that even strangers start to tear up with compassion.
In addition to the physical tributes crowding the Penguin’s doorway between Thalia and Anita Streets, hundreds of caring friends and well-wishers have posted their heartfelt expressions of empathy on the “Supporting William Aiden McMurray” Facebook page.
Meanwhile, Taylor must grapple with accepting that his “best buddy William” won’t be able to share the middle school experience the two had excitedly anticipated together last summer.
Taylor and William, classmates at Top of the World Elementary, became fast friends due to their similar temperaments and interests, recalled Taylor’s mom, Royanna Fritschmann. “They just hit it off perfectly,” and could talk for hours about Pokemon video games, she mused.
After William received his diagnosis, the boys were crushed when they realized they wouldn’t start Thurston together last September. Taylor’s older brother Alec, 15, came up with a remedy of sorts. He corralled fellow members of the student Thurston leadership team to compile a documentary “day in the life” of a Thurston sixth grader for William. They took photos of the sixth grade teachers in action, interviewed students and began to organize everything into an album. Though William died before they could complete the virtual experience for him, they plan to finish it as a memento for the McMurrays.
“He meant a lot to us,” said Fritschmann, her voice fraught with emotion, describing how William and his parents continued to show their concern for others even as they navigated their own physical and emotional hurdles.
Disabled herself as she battles the rare blood disease aplastic anemia, Fritschmann spoke of Mrs. McMurray’s seemingly bottomless wellspring of strength and compassion. “No matter how sick her son was, she always took a moment to make sure I was okay,” and give others a hug, she marveled. “The depth of love in their family is just amazing.”
Exemplifying this family trait, William, during his last weeks, even as his affliction sapped his energy and robbed him of the ability to speak, managed to fashion a penguin out of clay for his best friend’s mom. Mrs. Fritschmann said that it was William’s wordless way of telling her to never give up and to keep fighting. “I will carry this little clay penguin for the rest of my life,” she said.
Photo by Jody Tiongco