Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Lovely Little Lauren

I've posted before (here and here) about Amanda and Stephen Loughheed and their lovely daughter, Lauren Olivia.  Or, adorably, LOL for short. 

Amanda went to the same high school as Kelly-Anne and me.  She and her husband gave birth to Lauren in January 2011.  The first 8 months of Lauren's life were perfectly normal.  She hit (exceeded, even) her developmental milestones and laughed, cried, and babbled like every other baby. 

Last fall, however, Amanda and Stephen began to feel something had gone horribly wrong in Lauren's development. Suddenly she could no longer sit up on her own and was frequently irritable.  

After a grueling battery of tests at Montreal Children's hospital, Lauren was diagnosed with Krabbe Leukodystrophy.  A fatal disease for which there is no cure.  Krabbe is a cruel, cruel illness.  It robs its victims of their ability to see, their ability to eat, their ability to walk or move normally, their ability to smile, and their ability to hear.  It often claims its victims before age two.  

How does one go on after such a devastating diagnosis?  That's the question I asked myself after hearing that little Lauren had been diagnosed with Krabbe disease.  I worried about my friend and wondered how she would cope with caring for her daughter as she slowly slips away. I prayed for the entire family as they came to terms with this diagnosis.  

This weekend I had the pleasure of visiting with Amanda and Steve and their beautiful daughter.  It's impossible to convey just how proud I was of them.  They are handling this situation with a grace and peace that exceeds all understanding.  I know they have their hard days, but Amanda has truly risen to the occasion. 

Lauren is an absolutely beautiful child. She radiates peace and is being extremely well cared for.  Amanda has reorganized her entire life to ensure Lauren gets top notch care and can still have as many experiences as possible.  Most importantly, she advocates for her daughter, learning about the latest treatments and insisting that Lauren be given a chance to live what's left of her life without being pumped full of morphine.  

I'm so proud of Amanda.  She is going through the most difficult trial imaginable, yet she is peaceful and even serene.  She has immersed herself in a world she never could have imagined--a world of medical tests, feeding tubes, palliative care, and end of life decisions.  Yet she doesn't complain.  

She simply tries to put one foot in front of the other and get on with living.  She tries to love Lauren and make sure she is as comfortable as possible.  And she prepares for the inevitable.  Trials bring out qualities we didn't even know we had.  Sometimes they break us.  But sometimes--and I think this is the case for Amanda--they shape us into a person we wouldn't have even recognized.

Please keep Amanda, Steve, and Lauren in your prayers.  And if you can think of some way to help this precious family, please don't be shy.  They deserve our support. 

Friday, October 05, 2012

Head on over to Doreen's blog

Doreen, Kelly-Anne's mother, has been doing a great job on her blog the past couple of years.  Please head over and check out her posts.  Leave her a comment so she knows you swung by.

My Daughter, Kelly-Anne

Wednesday, October 03, 2012


Today is a somber day in my books.  It's the day Kelly-Anne lost her life in a senseless attack from behind.  It's the day by which I divide my life--the period before Kelly-Anne was killed and the period after.

Those periods are nothing alike.

Before Kelly-Anne was murdered, my life was relatively lighthearted and fun.  I had a wide circle of friends and acquaintances and a handful of friends who I simply knew I would be friends with forever.  I worked hard in school and had tons of part time jobs, but I also thoroughly enjoyed an abundant life. I volunteered at my church. I studied like crazy (usually at the last minute). I went on crazy road trips and adventures.  And I loved entertaining people with my stories and antics.

I once told a professor in grad school when I was in the throes of dealing with a mouse invasion in my ground floor apartment building that having mice was the worst thing that had ever happened to me.

His response? "You're lucky to have had such a wonderful life."

I had no idea how true that was until a few years later when I woke up to an early morning phone call that informed me Kelly-Anne had been stabbed in the head and was in the hospital on life support with injuries that would prove fatal.

After Kelly-Anne was attacked I was more cynical.  Less willing to put myself out there.  Less tolerant of wasted time and energy--because, really, who knows how much time we've got left?  I was also sad.  Sad that Kell was dead and sad that it was completely unnecessary. My grief colored my worldview for a lot longer than I cared to admit. Things that once meant something to me began to be meaningless.

I found it hard to go to church, to participate in the community, to feel joyful.  I knew in my heart I still had much to be grateful for but it was hard to really believe that on a day-to-day basis.

But still, God was with me.

I can see looking back how protected I was.  Do you know that I have never once dreamed about Kelly-Anne since her death?  I am one of those people who often remembers dreams and is occasionally even woken up by them if they are particularly upsetting or exciting.

In the days, months, and years that followed Kell's murder, her parents and our friends would often tell me they were kept up at night by dreams about Kell.  I never was.  It was as if God realized that I needed to sleep in order to be able to even remotely function at my job--which, at the time, was brand new.  I thought about Kell nonstop during the day.  But at night I was able to rest peacefully.

After a little while things became somewhat normal again.  The new normal, I call it.  I began to function at more than a basic level.  I made a couple of new friends.  I showed interest in things I once loved.

But still I deeply felt Kelly-Anne's loss.

It's been one of the themes of my life these past years--a leitmotif, if you will.  I try my hardest to put a positive spin on it (hilarious, really, because there's no positive spin) by drawing attention to the lessons I think we should learn from Kell's life.  And I work really hard to try to make sure Kelly-Anne is remembered, not just for her brutal death, but for how she lived and what she loved.

I think we--and by that I mean everyone who loved Kelly-Anne--have done a pretty good job making sure she's remembered in the community.

Thank you to all of you who take the time each year to tell us you still miss Kelly-Anne and still think of her.  It means the world to us.

Kelly-Anne checking things out in a film studio during her extended trip to California one summer.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Reaching out

Kelly-Anne cooling off at Montreal's Place des Arts the summer before she died.  

I think a lot about how Kelly-Anne would want to be remembered.  It's something she never really considered, I'm sure.  We all feel invincible when we're in our early twenties.  Yet none of us really are invincible.  Only God knows for sure the number of our days.  

"Show me, O Lord, my life's end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life."
Psalm 39:4
My take--especially after going though something like losing Kell and trying to figure out how to go on--is that should always live like its our last days on earth.  Always focus on the important things and the higher things in life.  Always tell those around us how much we love them and how much they mean to us.  Who wants to die without letting those around you know how much you value them?  And who wants to be left behind by someone you never truly expressed your appreciation for.

Of course, this is all easier said than done.  The day-to-day pressures of life fill our minds and hearts, distracting us from what's really important.

We fear that we don't know how to say the right thing to someone who is suffering or mourning and, as a result, we fail to say anything at all.

Do you know how alone you feel when you're grieving someone you love? That intense pain and emotion can be all encompassing.  It means the world to those dealing with this sort of pain to know that you care.  That you remember their pain.  That it means something to you and you care enough to let them know.

This is especially essential once things die down.  Life returns to normal for those around you but for you it will never be normal because you've lost your wife, husband, daughter, son, mother, father, or friend.  For you, there will always be emptiness and loneliness and sadness.  You will always think of them on holidays and anniversaries.  Or when you see someone on the street who has similar looks or mannerisms.  Or when your loved one visits you in a dream.

I think it is incredibly powerful to know someone is there for you and cares for you and shares just a little bit of your pain.  It's rare, these days, that anyone mentions Kell to me or even remembers what happened.  And, when I bring her up or mention her, people have a look of shock and horror on their face when I tell them what happened.

But I want to talk about Kelly-Anne.  I love to think of her and remember what she meant to her family and friends.  I beam when someone brings her up in any way.  I am so touched when someone remembers an anniversary or mention's her passing, or even her existence.

It's so, so, so rare.  And I understand--it has been eight years, after all, and none of my friends here ever had the chance to meet Kelly-Anne.  But still...

I try (albeit, often unsuccessfully) to reach out to others around me who are mourning their own losses. I don't ever have the right words, but I at least try to let them know I'm thinking of them and praying for them.  I sent a note to the father of a friend (whom I never met personally) who lost his son in a fire that destroyed his family home and his wife to breast cancer within a few months of each other. I sent my great aunt who was dying of cancer a note letting her know how much I've learned from her a few weeks before she passed.  I try to reach out to Kelly-Anne's family frequently and make sure they know I haven't forgotten.  On Father's Day this year I happened to be home in Montreal and I popped over to Kelly-Anne's father's house to say I was a representative of the "Drummond girls" and wanted to wish him a great day. I do what I can--and I know it is often not enough.  But I tell myself at least its something.

Who can you support today?  Is there someone who could benefit from a kind word or note from you?

Monday, October 01, 2012

Another sad tale

This is Alexandra Kogut.  Her mother apparently became concerned this weekend when Alex didn't answer her phone and asked campus police at the State University of New York's Brockport Campus to check on her daughter.  Sadly, she was discovered dead in her dorm room, the victim of apparent blunt force trauma.

Prosecutors believe that she was murdered by her boyfriend, Clayton Whittemore, who was visiting for the weekend.  Clayton was a talented hockey player and a student at a different college.  He has been charged with second degree murder. 

An active Twitter user, Alex had posted several messages in the lead up to the weekend that she was excited her boyfriend was coming to visit.  But obviously something went horribly wrong.  According to this ABC news report, Alex sent out one ominous final tweet at about 12:13 am the night she died: "Should've known."

Exactly what happened between Alex and Clayton is unknown.  But what is known is that Alex is dead and can no longer tell her side of the story.  And what is known is that Alex's mother was so concerned about her daughter's welfare when she didn't pick up the phone in the middle of the night that she called the campus police immediatley, suggesting that she feared Alex was in danger.

Another young life taken entirely too soon.  Another family of the beautiful victim left to pick up the pieces and ask themselves what they could have done differently.  Another family of the perpetrator also picking up the pieces of their shattered lives and asking themselves how their son could be responsible for such a heinous act.

I wish I had an easy policy solution to this kind of issue.  But I don't.  It baffles me that the situation continues to repeat itself time and time again all around the world.  People murdered--not in random acts of violence, but by individuals they loved.

We must protect ourselves.  We must make sure to be vigilant about ensuring personal safety and security.  Situations can change in an instant.  Every day I hear stories about young women staying with men who abuse them because they are afraid to leave.  Or because they think they have it under control.  Or because they don't know where to turn or what to do.  Or because they don't think they deserve better. It breaks my heart. 

It's better to be alone than to be with somoene who is endangering your life.

I feel confident that if Kelly-Anne were still here today, this is the message that she would want shared with the world.  I can't tell you enough how strange it is to me--even today--that Kelly-Anne was murdered by her boyfriend.  Of all the people in the world I thought could ever happen to--she is the least likely.  She was strong, athletic, confident.  She had a wonderful family and many friends.  She had a university education and a good job.  She was beautiful, kind, caring, and loyal.

The opposite--in every way--of the typical sterotype of a victim of domestic violence. 

Yet she allowed herself to get trapped in a situation that got out of hand.  She didn't tell the people closest to her how bad things were.  We all saw warning signs, but none of us knew what a volatile past Marty had or how violent he already was with Kelly-Anne.  We saw changes in Kelly-Anne that didn't seem normal--for example, right before leaving for Italy, she called my mother from the airport, sobbing into the phone that she was scared.  My mother was baffled--Kelly-Anne had never been scared of much!  Eventually Kell calmed down enough to board the plane, but she wasn't specific about why she was so scared. What are you supposed to do with that information?  You know something is horribly wrong but you don't know what. 

The fact is that there isn't much you can do when someone you love choses to put themselves in harm's way with a volatile or dangerous boyfriend or husband.  You can't kidnap them.

But you can make sure that they understand you are there for them no matter what.  That you're waiting--with open arms and love and support--to help them get away before its too late.  That you'll provide whatever is needed to help them start fresh and protect themselves before it is too late.  That there's a tough road ahead, but there's a light at the end of the tunnel.  That they aren't helping the person who is abusing them but staying put.  That they deserve better. 

I hope Kelly-Anne's story is an example to women in their twenties and thirties who are afraid to get out of a bad situation.  I can assure you, Kelly-Anne did not think she would end up dead.  Sure she knew Marty was violent and capable of hurting her--as he had done many times before.  But I'd bet a lot of money she thought she had time to deal with the situation before it got truly out of hand.  I know she believed Marty had a hard life and that some of his behavior was understandable, which may in fact be true.

But that's the problem.  Kelly-Anne couldn't help Marty.  He had problems that went far beyond her and their relationship.  Deep-seeded issues with voiolence and volatility that were a threat to those around him.  Kelly-Anne couldn't give him the kind of counselling he needed.  So she stayed.  She tried to be mature and end her relationship like an adult.  And she ended up being the one who lost her life.

What a terrible, terrible shame.