It was 5 years ago today that cancer took the life of beautiful Katie Gerstenberger. Time diminishes a lot of things in life but certainly not loss and definitely not LOVE. Katie is loved by her family just as much today as she was back in that heart wrenching, although at times quite joyous, summer of 2007.
Katie would have been 17 years old now, the same age as my son Miles. What would she have grown up to become? The sky was the limit for that feisty, energetic, creative and compassionate 12 year old. Her older brother David has impressed me so much over these past 5 years with his maturity as well as his goofiness. David and Katie definitely knew how to have fun and were the very best of friends. I'm positive that wouldn't have changed at all.
I've shared this photograph before but I have to again. I took this two weeks to the day before Katie died. It was a day where she was able to fulfill one of her short life's greatest dreams, to be a bridesmaid in a wedding. Katie's cousin Andrea and her fiancé Mike moved their wedding up a full 6 months to make Katie's dream come true.
Katie glowed that day and never more so than in the split second whenshe shared a moment with her mother Karen before the wedding. They loved each other so much and I think this photograph proves it.
Karen's grief journey has been excruciating, enlightening, thought provoking and inspirational. She has turned her grief into a message of hope and understanding for those families whose lives are turned upside down by illness. Her message can also be a reality check for those who might take life a little too much for granted. Her mission now is to improve family centered-care at hospitals throughout the country. This desire led her to write a book, "Because of Katie" chronicling with astounding honesty her family's journey from diagnosis to treatment, through surgery and recovery, from relapse to hospice, through Katie's final days, and then finally, the path towards healing. Karen's candor is remarkable and the way she processes the emotions of such a personal story and then articulates them so beautifully is a rare gift.
You can find Karen's book here;
Because of Katie
Katie would be proud to know how much she is still loved and how much she continues to inspire people all these years later. Her care team at Seattle Children's Hospital all have fond memories of her. One of her Childlife workers recently told Karen that she uses what Katie taught her every single day in her work with critically ill children. Katie's legacy is still incomplete. She has many more lives to touch and the undying love of her mother Karen will see to it that this happens.
I feel blessed to have known Katie and honored to have had her amazing mother Karen in my life, all the way back to when she herself was a feisty 13 year old flipping me crap in our 8th grade math class. How unsurprising that she wound up having a daughter possessing so many of her unique and wonderful qualities.
The Gerstenbergers experienced a staggering loss 5 years ago but their love continues to grow. Karen, her husband Gregg, David AND Katie are still bound together by this love and time can never take that away.