As we remember All Soul’s in the month of November, I’ve been asked to write in memory of my sister, Kerri, who passed away in January 2014 at the age of 35. She was an extraordinary human being. My hope is that knowing her story will encourage you to be a better child of God, and live a life that is worthy of the promise of eternal life.
Our young life was that of most kids growing up in the 80's. We swam, went for walks, watched movies, enjoyed family trips to Florida, and had fun times with friends. Kerri also spent much time cleaning, something she enjoyed her entire life. Of course, there was also lots of time devoted to getting the right “big hair” and listening to the same music over and over! The songs we loved still take my heart back to those days.
It wasn't until we were older though, that I realized Kerri had something special. She was unique, a breath of fresh air. In a world where people are quick to judge, she had a gift for keeping herself and those around her in check. Everyone was worthy in her eyes and she was usually rooting for the underdog. Kerri was homecoming queen, a loyal and loving mother, sister, daughter, aunt, Godmother, and friend. Her heart was in everything she did, no matter how small the gesture. She made you want to be a better person just by being who she was.
In November of 2006, at age 28, Kerri was diagnosed with breast cancer. This was devastating news to our family. Through the course of her treatments and countless trips to U of M, there was anxiety, tears, tough conversations and even tougher decisions. There were also laughs, stories and memories made that helped us all feel better at the end of the day. Time spent together, we were finding, was precious no matter what form it came in.
Shortly after her treatments were done, Kerri asked my sister Pam and me to attend the RCIA classes with her. We did so without hesitation! It was great to delve deeper into our faith and the healing nature of it, as we had all relied on it to get through the hard times. During those months and ever since, our family has become more comfortable talking about God, what He desires for us, and how He gives many blessings along with the struggles. When I think about how I've grown in my faith, it's clear that Kerri was instrumental in giving me that gift.
Kerri had been cancer free for years, when in April of 2012 we got the call. It had come back in her brain. She had been having symptoms, but did not want to worry anyone and quietly drove herself in for a scan. Her strength and desire to protect others amazed me, and still does. The time that followed was most difficult, with more treatments, testing and waiting. Then the news: Her cancer was terminal and she had 18 months to live.
In the time that followed, we took our last family vacation to Florida and were together every chance we got. We also prayed and prayed for a miracle!! It was during this time that Kerri revealed that she was pregnant with not one baby, but two baby girls. Imagine our surprise as we realized the kind of “miracle” we were receiving! Kerri was not supposed to be able to have children because of the aggressive treatments she had received. The pregnancy was risky for so many reasons, but quite obviously it was God's plan! She was more than happy to carry that out and when Emma & Breeann finally arrived there was so much joy!
Kerri was super busy living life and being her sweet, thoughtful self. We went for walks, did daily tasks together, and talked about everything under the sun! She even signed up to deliver Meals on Wheels, toting the girls around and serving others, even as her own need for help increased. One particular day I had gone to help Kerri with household chores. I'll never forget this day and the effect it had on me. We were folding laundry and the song, “Praise you in This Storm” by Casting Crowns came on. She turned the volume up, saying it was one of her favorite songs. As I listened to the lyrics I was emotional and humbled by her trust in the Lord's plan. The words, and Kerri's life, are an example to live by. I encourage you to listen and remember that no matter the storm you are in, He is with you. That song often plays when I am struggling with something or hurting without my sister here. I've heard that loved ones can come through in the form of music, and I firmly believe that Kerri still walks by my side, even if not physically.
Within weeks of that day, Kerri made the difficult decision to go to Hospice House of Lansing. She had been receiving care at home, but it was time. The following days were a blessing and gave me a sense of peace that is nothing short of divine. Family and friends had been visiting regularly for a week when the call came in the middle of the night. It was Saturday, January 4th. Kerri didn't have much longer. When we arrived, she was awake and very active, even wanting to stand up. A couple of us had just helped her up when her eyes fixed on a spot in the corner of the room. A look of awe came across her face and she said “I see it!”. When asked what she saw, she said again, “I see it!”. She sat down on the bed, exhausted, and simply said “If only the world knew.” I believe Kerri saw Heaven in that moment. The wonder in her voice is something I'll never forget.
Kerri's condition stabilized, but we were warned that it could be anytime. Days went by, and it was hard not to wonder why Kerri hadn't passed yet. I asked the nurse about this and her answer surprised me. She said this was Kerri's journey with God, and that things were happening on a spiritual level that was in their time, not ours. The explanation was simple, but so comforting.
During the next few days, Kerri was not responsive. Some good friends of ours sat with her and prayed the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. They told us when the prayer was finished, Kerri sat up and a tear rolled down her cheek. Even without a word being said, that response speaks volumes.
Kerri died on January 8th, 2014 at the age of 35. She had lived her short life for God and was ready to return to Him. Don't get me wrong -- she did not want to die, but she accepted His plan with dignity and humility. I like to think of her keeping her “internal house” like she did her physical house – always cared for and tidy. Confession and the Eucharist were received regularly, prayers were said, she loved and served God, was humble and forgiving, and those close to her knew they were loved by her.
We have experienced much loss in our lives, including grandparents, our twins, Kerri, and also my dad. Trust me when I say that those losses are so much easier to bear when your faith allows you the hope of seeing your loved ones again!
Take this month of the Holy Souls to remember all those who have gone before you. Allow the Holy Trinity to heal you – we ourselves are the barrier between feeling only the pain of loss or the joy of knowing our loved ones are free and happy! Be that better person, love God above all else, and let your goal be sitting at that heavenly table enjoying the gift of eternal life. It's there for us all. I am certain of that because of what I experienced through my sister's journey. We only need to take advantage of the healing, forgiving nature of our faith and be ready when that day comes for each of us.
God bless, Becky