Hold on folks, this one is going to be a little bumpy. You may (or may not) have noticed that my blog posts kind of came to a screeching halt a couple of weeks ago. And I knew that I would have to write about it but it took some time to get there. Leading up to a couple of weeks ago, my life had already been a little chaotic. Life going in so many directions that is seems fated that I would have been just home from a great business meeting when I called my mom to share the news.
But she had news of her own.
My family lives about 2000 miles away from me which most of the time I don’t give much thought to. Having grown up an Army brat, living far away from both of my grandmothers (sometimes across an entire ocean) I took it for granted that I would most likely live away from my parents as an adult. I was never really by choice. It just kind of was.
However, that Wednesday afternoon, two weeks ago, I would have given anything to live “right there”. My cousins each have children that are similar in age to my own. Our first children were born within 6 weeks of each other (there are three of us – my sister had her son later.) Our second children are further apart in age, with Kasey Elizabeth Stroke bringing up the end of the sibling pairs. Kasey was a blessing to my cousin Michael and his wife Robin, who were both a little bit older when she was conceived. And Kasey was born with Down’s Syndrome.
If you think that means that she couldn’t do what other kids did, she certainly never got the memo. Whatever she was delayed in learning physically, she made up for with sheer force when she did learn how. She was a toddler when her father (my cousin) died unexpectedly from a heart attack.
Her sister and my oldest daughter are a Facebook success stories. All the time, I hear about how Facebook is terrible for teens. (And there are some compelling arguments, for sure.) But in this case, these two kind of discovered each other and forged a long distance friendship that ultimately has brought our two families closer. Kit came out here a couple of years ago and we shared our Southern California lifestyle. It was during that stay that I witnessed first hand the strength of the bond of the women my cousin had left behind. While second-hand clothes shopping on Melrose, Kit called her mom and they just chatted. Like they were friends. Then her baby sister got on the phone, and Kit lit up talking to her and telling her how much she missed her. I witnessed this scene over and over again in the less than two weeks Kit was with us. Truth be told, I was a little envious.
Eager to return the hospitality, when we went to Indiana to spend Christmas with my parents a year and a half ago, Kit invited Hayley to stay with her family for a few days which was great. When Hayley came back to my parents’ house, Kasey threw a fit. She did everything at full throttle to include loving. And she made it known she wanted Hayley to stay. With them.
With this relationship developing, I became Facebook friends with my “cousin-in-law?” and we began sharing comments about each other’s day-to-day. Things I wouldn’t have any way to know otherwise. Like when one of the girls were sick. Or they were participating in a Down’s Syndrome Fundraiser. She is one of those people I keep in mind when I think my day is hard. She is on, 24 – 7.
Two weeks ago today, Kasey choked on a piece of bread at the dinner table. Robin, a preschool director (CPR and Heimlich Maneuver trained), was unable to dislodge the bread. Kasey was taken by ambulance to one of the finest children’s hospitals in the United States. Less than 24 hours later, they pronounced her brain-dead.
As my mother shared this news, I argued back. Unable to believe. Unable to accept. Unable to do anything from 2000 miles away.
I could only get news. The news that Kasey was going to be a donor. That Kit was a wreck. That Robin was somehow holding up. I sent an email requesting prayers from my own church’s prayer line. I asked that all pray for a miracle, still unable to reconcile the inevitable.
That Saturday I read the most beautiful Facebook posting – one I hope to never read again. Filled with grace that I cannot conceive of, Kasey’s mother shared the news that Kasey’s kidneys and livers had been the ultimate gift to three lives. And that Kasey had made her final journey home where her father would be greeting her with open arms.
I was unable to make the calling and the funeral that were held several days later. I so wanted to be there even though I knew my presence would change nothing. As I write this, I know I have to conclude it. I held off writing it because I didn’t want it to be preachy about keeping perspective. Being grateful. Loving your kids. I realize now why I delayed putting the words down. It’s conclusion / purpose is simply to acknowledge this little girl’s life. And to say good-bye. I couldn’t do that until today. And I couldn’t write anything else until I had taken care of this.
Kasey Elizabeth, because of distance, we did not see each other often. But I will miss your mother’s Facebook posts about funny things you said or did that day. Pics of you with your Hannah Montana wig. I will miss the joy and pride on your sister’s face in pics that she posts of her at her latest cheerleading competition with you by her side. I will miss how you gave your grandmother a run for her money (like I gave your great-grandmother a run for her money before you). And I will miss that you always held out for your own way and refused to be ignored. Your sister has said several times in the past week or so that we now have an angel watching over us. I believe that to be true. Love and peace.