Remembering One of Our Own

As the holidays approach, we find ourselves thinking about the change and challenges of the year, and remembering friends and family that are no longer with us. Reflecting on 2016, Firewood’s biggest change was growth. New clients and more work meant hiring more employees. And with that brought many new faces and friends.

Early in 2016 the creative department at Post Street consisted of about five people and a handful of freelancers. Late in January, a young designer named Cathleen Nilles was thrown into our mixed bag of creatives. She was fresh out of college and was excited to start off her career at Firewood.

Monday February 29th, Cathleen went home with a headache. And died on Wednesday, March 2nd. She had Loeys–Dietz syndrome (LDS).

Firewood Marketing was stunned. The small group of people who made up the 251 Post Street office were mortified. And our tiny creative department felt gutted.

I can’t lie, none of us knew her that well. Does that matter? Cathleen loved to go out for afternoon coffee because the cafe on the corner gave her double mileage points on her credit card. I cannot remember what she liked to drink. Cathleen told me her favorite band was Arcade Fire. I never got to ask her what her favorite album was. I knew she had asked for time off in April for a little vacation, but had not asked her where she was going. The short amount of time we did spend with her seems magnified now.

Cathleen was shaping up to be a strong designer and was a team player. We are a tough crowd and she was able to go toe-to-toe with our humor. A co-worker brought in a big bag of chocolate peanut butter cups. Everyone crowded around the table and I said, “Don’t eat the dark chocolate ones.” Cathleen spun around with a very concerned look on her face, “Why not?” “Because they are MY favorite!” I said. We all burst out laughing… I will never forget how quickly her face changed from concern to outright laughter.

We were just getting to know her.

In terms of our lives, for someone who was a part of it so briefly, grief is selfish. MYloss. My co-worker. How could this happen to ME? It’s a side effect of being human. But shouldn’t it be the opposite? Their loss… the family, the boyfriend, the best friend. They are who we cry for. I don’t want to trivialize the effect it had on me. Having someone you know, no matter how briefly, die unexpectedly, is traumatic so it’s okay to make it about yourself (in your mind) to be able to process and empathize.

Cathleen and I shared a “cubby”— a little box to keep notebooks, calendars, pencils, etc. because we sat so close. I inherited the cubby. I found gummy bear wrappers, a few chocolates, a hand written cheat-sheet of a digital asset grid system, and her calendar. Her vacation in the spring was to go back to Chicago to see her parents. Finding that brought back a flood of things about her— She had two sisters, she was a Cubs fan, her dad loves his Toyota. How do I even know that?

I kept her little hand-written cheat sheet and when I pull it out to use it I think of her. I don’t scarf down dark chocolate peanut butter cups so quickly anymore, I take a moment to think about Cathleen. I never listened to Arcade Fire before, but I do now and think about what made her love them so much. And I got a double miles credit card.

It’s like Cathleen was a hummingbird who dropped into our lives for a few seconds. And when a little hummingbird drops into my life for those few seconds, I think of Cathleen.

Some things will stay with us forever…

This year we are donating $10,000 in honor of Cathleen Nilles to The Loeys-Dietz Syndrome Foundation, a resource for fostering education, research and support for families affected by LDS. With our commitment to giving back to the community, we will continue to support to this organization, for Cathleen.

Loeys-Dietz syndrome can cause aneurysms of the arteries, including the aorta, which result in weakening of the affected blood vessel. They can be fatal if not treated. Because there’s no cure for LDS, doctors focus on monitoring the development of these aneurysms, treating them medically and if necessary, surgically repairing the aneurysm.

To learn more or to donate visit