An Interview with Julie Alongi
Julie is the heart of Rosepetals, a 501 3(c) non-profit that visits and supports terminally ill children and their families with personal care and comfort and financial support for daily living expenses.
Q: You provide comfort to children who are in hospice care and who are terminally ill. From what inspiration did this avenue of your life open up?
Julie: I understand about these children very well because I too was quite ill myself with remedial polio affecting my entire left side. Until I was eight I spent a lot of time in bed and was unable to play and be active like other children.
One night, when I was about 3 years old I was laying in bed and saw a beautiful lady at the end of the bed. She had a bundle of roses with her and I called her the "rose lady". She visited me often and told me that one day I would help a lot of children.
I said, "How can I...I don't know I can do that!"
She said, "I'll lead you the way. Your uncle will teach you how to walk."
"Uncle Otto, and you'll learn one step after the other. You'll learn at the beach."
I said, "I want to dance."
She said, "You'll learn to dance, but pray for Mommy because she doesn't think you're going to get well."
She was beautiful. She had a beautiful golden- white light around her. One time my mother was in the room and asked me, "Did you spill my perfume ?"
I said, "No, Mommy, it's the rose lady, can't you see her? She's standing right by the end of my bed." She couldn't see her.
She was right there, but mother couldn't see her at all, she only could smell roses.
You see, somehow I was born with the ability to see Spirit and the human Aura. I cannot turn it off it occurs 24/7. As a child I believed everyone saw the world as I do.
Q: How did these experiences gradually translate into a desire to help terminally ill children?
Julie: I continued to see the rose lady as I grew up. When I was 22 I had serious breast and ovarian cancer. The rose lady came and said, "You're going to be ok. I want you to visit heaven so you'll know that heaven is real."
Shortly thereafter due to the toxic effects of chemotherapy, I spent 28 minutes in 'heaven.' I was clinically dead. I had risen up out of the hospital bed and was looking down at myself and my mother while the doctors worked furiously around me. I saw so many colors, all bright and vivid and beautiful. It was peaceful and calm. I met my wonderful grandfather, Papa Frank, who was there too. I thought I really didn't want to go back down below, but heard a voice saying, "Not yet little one, it's not your time. you have much work to do." I realized that people shouldn't be afraid of death at all. My mother was happy to hear that when I told her what had happened.
I didn't know who the rose lady was ... not till I was 25 years old did I understand. I was with a friend who told me that I reminded them of someone. She gave me St. Therese's prayer on a card. And when I read it and saw the picture I realized that the rose lady was in fact St. Therese of the Little Flower. St Therese has always taught the we ought to cultivate the heart of a child in order to prevail over our sufferings.
Q: St. Therese expanded your understanding of religions.
Julie: Yes. St. Therese showed me Roman Catholicism, Judaism, and Native American religions. Later in life I studied all of the major religions. I have been practicing Buddhism for over 30 years.
Q: When did you begin working with children?
Julie: When I was about 23 years old a young boy was suffering with leukemia. I was impelled to spend as much time with this child as possible and bring encouragement and comfort to him.
Q: What inspired the creation of Rosepetals?
Julie: I had begun helping other children through their cancer and therapy and learned some parents could not pay for food or rent ... the simple every day things that we take for granted.
I created Rosepetals, taking the name from the rose lady who had taught me that life is like a rose; thorns are the many obstacles to overcome in order to reach the beauty of the rose. To me, children are the rose petals. They are the love of my life.
Q: How does Rosepetals function?
Julie: I am a full-time volunteer and I work with a team of nurses and volunteers. No one receives any salary. Our children are often referred to us by social service organizations and we remain in service with them and their families from the time of their diagnosis till the end.
We volunteer 7 days a week, often into the middle of the night. We hold parties for birthdays, Christmas, Hanukah, Halloween, Father's Day, Mother's Day. We arrange for summer camp and winter parties. We visit the children. We support their parents. We help their parents make ends meet. Sometimes we provide for funeral expenses. That's what we do.
Q: You have donors and sponsors that support Rosepetals?
Julie: Yes. That is how we fund all activities. Some of our sponsors wish to remain anonymous. They have made their own homes available for activity and parties; they support 100s of children to go to summer camp. Donors help us raise money for the children or even conduct funerals at no charge.
I want to acknowledge one charity, the Make a Wish foundation which has granted wishes to several children. For example, recently Miss Evelyn got to go to Disneyland. I was grateful she'd been chosen, but she could not go on an airplane. They put her and her mother on the auto train to Orlando Disney.
Another child was Danny. He wanted to learn how to surf and Make a Wish sent him and his whole family to Hawaii. He wanted to learn how to surf and he did.
These children are true super stars, they won't take no for an answer. They only become upset if you don't explain what is happening.
Q: They must be amazing children.
Julie: Yes. Anyone who complains about their life should make a visit to a children's terminal ward. It will change their life forever. Valiantly facing the inevitable, these blessed children never ever complain.
One of my favorites was a little girl,, Amy, with myoblastic leukemia. She was a little brave soldier who had had 3 painful bone marrow transplants. She never complained. She had pneumonia and her passing was imminent.
This day she was crying inconsolably. I got in bed with her and looked at her, and started crying just as loudly together with her. She looked over at me, both of us on all fours in her bed, and we both started laughing out loud.
Whimpering she said, "I'm sorry I have 'ammonia.' I'm not afraid to die; you told me how beautiful it is." She loved my perfume, which was unusual since the children often lose their sense of smell. I gave her some perfume. Thereafter little Amy became known as "Amy Coco" because it was the fragrance she loved to wear - Coco Chanel.
Amy Coco was a great judge of character. If a doctor walked by who was unpleasant, she'd call out "dog-pig." Amy loved the cartoon character Pepe Le Pew. And so if she liked someone she'd call out, "Mwah, Mwah" and throw kisses just like the cartoon. "Oh my Dahling..!! Mwah...!!!"
I later asked her, "Show me a yellow rose when you get there."
Q: Tell us a little about Danny, who we often see in your updates and newsletters.
Julie: Danny is our only survivor. He's a sweetheart; he's so brave and has been through so much. He's had so many operations for brain tumors that left him blind in one eye. Just recently he had surgery to replace blood vessels to his brain. It was totally successful. He's so determined to follow his dream to become an illustrator.
I can't do enough for my Rosepetal Kids.
It seems the physical was taken away from me as a child, but in return I was given the metaphysical. I see the world differently. It is such a supreme honor to help these children. My theory of hospice is to be the silent support standing on the side.
Q: You met Mother Teresa in 1987.
Julie: Yes, I got to go to NYC Hospital on a hospice tour. I had the most wonderful experience. I was with an infant named Nicholas. He had a high fever and I was holding him. Looking out through the doorway of the room I could see all the nurses leaving the nursing station. Carrying Nicholas, I walked to the doorway to see what was happening.
I saw a huge, amber aura coming toward me followed by a sea of people. In the center of the aura was this tiny woman. It was Mother Theresa. I went back into the room and the next thing I knew Mother had come right into the room and shut the door.
She asked me, "What's your child's name?"
"Nicholas, and he's having a hard time today."
She took the baby and held it. He quieted suddenly.
She said, "I'm going to ask you a question, will you pray for me?"
I was stunned and thought, "Mother, I was going to ask you to pray for me!"
"You were the only person that didn't leave your patient. That is truly the correct attitude. Please continue with your work. Don't give up, don't be disappointed even if you encounter severe obstacles. Keep serving children and divinity will provide for you. Many times people will promise but will not deliver."
That has been true. It is a struggle to raise funds continually to support these passing angels. I'm sure we have lost donations, because I will not humiliate or disrespect the childrens' image. They are very sensitive about how they look. They are after all just little people with real feelings like our own.
Q: But isn't it discouraging sometimes?
Julie: No. But sometimes I can't wrap my mind around people's attitudes. I give or go to lectures or benefits. I meet people who tell me, "Why stick with dying children? You can't help them."
It's about their lives and soul, not about money.
I have never forgotten my day with Mother Teresa and I won't give up. As you know, Mother received a Nobel Peace Prize, but that wasn't so important to her. When she received the prize she asked, " What else can you do? Can you come and help me wash the beds? What else will you do to help my dying children?"
Q: St. Therese the Rose lady is your inspiration.
Julie: St. Therese is my girlfriend...!!!
Once I was with a young mother who was out of balance due to her tremendous fear of her child being sick. I told her, "Just do this prayer with me." I gave her a card with St. Therese's prayer and we recited together. It calmed her down.
I prayed to Therese asking what else should I do for this mother and people like her?
St. Therese came to me in a dream. She knocked on my door came in and said, "Hello, baby sister, would you like a piece of bread?" (later I understood it to be Communion Bread.)
She said, "I have a question - what is the first tree to tumble in a hurricane? The oak, because it is so busy being strong. What tree remains standing? The weeping willow and palm because they yield to the wind."
"Many people will have great difficulty watching their child suffer when they can't do anything. Tell them, 'stay seeing the light with your heart when your eyes see only darkness.'"
She told me that was a quote from her favorite saint.
I asked, "Oh, you have a favorite saint?"
She said, "yes, St. Augustin. Oh little one, St. Augustin was an alcoholic and addict. His mother Monica prayed for him, and he subsequently recovered from his addictions. He wrote that quote in devotion to his mother."
She said, "I will show them (the parents) a pink rose to let them know I'm here."
Julie: it's such an honor to do what I do
I never want to lose sight of the idea that this came to me because of St. Therese.
Q: Thank you so much for your time. It's an inspiration!
We'd like to talk with you again, perhaps about the role of hospice and how hospices are utilized in the US.