Dear Ellie



I have to tell you about an incredible experience I had over the weekend, but before I go any further, I need to share the backstory…

This summer I received an email from one of the band directors at Cuero High School, Rick Varela. For those of you who are new to my journey, Cuero, TX is where my late husband, Andrew, grew up and where he, our daughter, and I lived while Andrew battled cancer. Rick went to high school with Andrew and was deeply touched by his life and by the book Andrew wrote and illustrated for our daughter, The Ellie Project. He was so moved, in fact, he created an entire band performance inspired by Ellie and Andrew’s relationship called, Dear Ellie. On that particular summer day, he emailed to ask my permission to use our story as the theme for the band production and for permission to use Andrew’s drawings for the band competitions. I was so moved by the idea of creating a musical performance out of The Ellie Project. I quickly agreed and thanked him. I told him I’d be at Homecoming to see it and I wanted to sell Andrew’s books at the game and donate a percentage back to the band as a small way to show our appreciation for honoring my family in this way.

Fast forward to last Friday afternoon. Picture this:

My parents, my aunt, Ellie, our dog Keller, and I pile into my dad’s new Ford F-150 King Ranch after filling the bed of the truck with boxes of Andrew’s books. Then we cruise five hours down the road, arriving just in time to eat a quick dinner at Andrew’s parent’s house, then head straight to the game to unload boxes and set up the merchandise table. (By the way, shout out to my amazing family. I truly have the best support system and it meant the world to me for them to make the trip with us, as well as Susan Graves, Langston Graves, and Betty Strauss. Love y’all!)


Upon arrival, I get instructions to come to the band hall to introduce Ellie and myself to the band students. I’d been told the performers were deeply moved to be doing such a personal piece and wanted to meet us. Nothing could have prepared me for what I see. I asked Andrew’s parents to come with me into the band hall, because I knew how much this production meant to them as well. After walking around campus, we finally find the band hall, walk through the door, and wave at one of the band directors, Brian Black. Suddenly, it grows silent and all eyes are on us. The students had been practicing their performance and Ellie and I carefully step around their instruments as we maneuver our way to the center of the room.

Rick and Brian say some very kind words about us, then I take the floor. I thank them for honoring our family, tell them how much it means to us, and how we couldn’t wait to see the performance. I glance down at Ellie’s face, wondering what’s going through her mind. If she understands what this is all about. Then, like a dam breaking, we’re flooded with students asking if they can hug us, their eyes filled with tears. I feel their compassion. I am blown away that these precious high school students care so much and that they are so emotionally connected to their production.

Rick asks me if I’d like to see the beginning of the performance. I enthusiastically say yes! as a student grabs us a chair to sit on in the middle of the room. Some of the students are trying to hold it together emotionally as the music over the loud speaker begins. It’s a recording of Andrew’s voice, cut from a sermon he preached in Dallas. His voice is the sweetest sound I’ve ever heard. It’s been so long since I last listened to his voice and tears stream down my cheeks as I soak up the sound of Andrew. Then I hear a little girl’s voice come over the speaker saying, “Come home, Daddy. I miss you, Daddy. I love you, Daddy.”

I hold Ellie tightly at this point, both protective of her feelings and curious as to what she is thinking. The instruments start to chime in and we’re blown away by the sound, talent, and heart being projected in our direction. We clap loudly when they cut the performance short, knowing we’ll get to see the rest on the field. At half time, they usher Ellie onto the field at the end of the incredible production, where she stands on a beautifully painted cloud.

We spend the night at Andrew’s parents home and wake up early to drive home the next morning. On the way, my family and I reminisce about Andrew. We laugh, we cry, we share sweet memories, lessons we learned from Andrew’s life, and about how Andrew has profoundly impacted each one of us. It’s a deep and meaningful conversation. On a bathroom stop, I hear Ellie tell my aunt, “I don’t want to talk about death.” She feels uncomfortable seeing me cry and attempts to entertain or make me laugh. I know this is a part of her process of working through her emotions and I let it be.



I walked away from this trip feeling re-inspired and reminded of my big WHY for everything I do, which is perfect timing as I’m about to travel the country bearing my heart and soul to those I’ve never met with the intention of bringing HOPE to those in pain.

I want to know what has re-inspired you lately? What actions will you take because of it?

Can’t wait to read your answers! As always, thank you for spending time with me today. I hope you have a wonderful rest of the week! Blessings.

PS – Email me at [email protected] if you know of a group who would benefit from my family’s story about living your legacy while overcoming challenges and fear.

2 Responses to “Dear Ellie”

  1. Brian Black


    It was such an honor having you here to watch the band perform! I’m so glad you allowed us to tell your husbands story. I know it meant the world for your students and it has left a huge impact on them which they will carry on for the rest of this season and hopefully further on!

    —Brian Black
    Cuero ISD
    Asst. Band Director

    • Bailey Heard

      Brian! Thank you so much for sharing this with me. It was our pleasure to be there to see the amazing performance y’all put together! Those students are incredible and their love truly touched our hearts. Thank y’all for honoring our family in such a beautiful way! I’m grateful the students have been impacted by Andrew’s love for Ellie and through our journey. I know y’all will do so great in all your competitions. We’re rooting for our Gobblers! Please keep us posted and we’d love to see video of any of the competitions!! Blessings.