[Written by Barbara Taylor in mid-1996.]
As I write this, over a year has passed since Krissy left us. As a mom, it still hurts more than anyone can know. They all say, “I know how you must feel,” but they don’t. Only someone who has lost a child can ever know how awful it feels.
Each morning I wake up, and within two seconds it all comes back to me. Krissy is not here anymore. I suppose death is the price we pay for life—we are all born, we will all die—but it seems to be something we all avoid thinking or talking about...until it happens. Perhaps if we were more familiar with the inevitable, we could accept it with a little more understanding. But, like most people, we avoided the subject. Whenever I brought up the topic with the girls, they would say, “I don’t want to talk about it.” So we didn’t...and then it happened. We were so unprepared.
Dealing with the death of anyone close is difficult in itself—let alone your own child—but if you add the elements of celebrity and the press, you have a formula for disaster. All those TV camera crews, with their satellite dishes in your front yard, wanting to interview “the family.” Knocks at the front door at 5 and 10 p.m. for live news broadcasts. Did they have any idea what hell we were going through? Live with this for a week, and having to sneak out the back door to go anywhere, then you’ll know. Then, we got a phone call from the police saying that the media had demanded they release the 911 tapes! What more could they put our family through? She wasn’t murdered—there was no foul play. Why did they have to air our desperate attempts to save our daughter’s life on the national news?
I began to wonder whatever happened to simple human decency.
I remember the night—being abruptly awakened by Niki saying something was wrong with Krissy. I remember seeing Krissy’s lifeless form...Ken performing CPR...my breathing into her...Niki’s desperate pleas for help to 911...the sirens getting near...red lights flashing. I hoped faintly that a miracle might happen when the medics took over, knowing that they sometimes bring back people who have drowned and been without air for several minutes. Maybe this could happen for Krissy?
The medical examiner could find no immediate cause of death from the autopsy and therefore declared that her death was not a result of natural causes. This led the press to speculate...after all, she was a teenager.
In the weeks that followed, we tried to analyze everything. What happened? Was there anything that could have been done differently that would have made a difference? Was it our fault as parents that we didn’t recognize some underlying problem? The burden of guilt drove us to find out what happened. Why did Krissy die? We met with the medical examiner, doctors, attorneys, advisors.
Every one said SUE.
Then we received yet another blow: the medical examiner advised us that the resuscitator was improperly used. It had been found in her esophagus instead of the airway to her lungs! How can emergency medical staff work on her for over an hour and not know to check this common procedure? She just wasn’t meant to make it. All the money in the world can’t bring her back. Trying to lay blame for her death would have been easy, but was it really anyone’s fault? We wanted and needed to know.
Were the paramedics at fault? The medical examiner didn’t seem to think so. Efforts at resuscitation had come too late, he said. I asked why, then, had they worked on her so long? His answer: “Nobody likes to give up on a young person.” I can appreciate that...I know I did on that one fateful morning. I didn’t want them to stop trying then.
Was it the Primatene? Krissy had taken a puff of Primatene earlier that night to combat shortness of breath. She had allergies that congested her upper respiratory system, and the Primatene seemed to help. Her doctor knew she was taking it. Unfortunately, it seems we’ll never know if Primatene caused Krissy’s death. The epinephrine it contains can cause cardiac arrhythmia, but it was impossible to prove she had taken any just prior to her death. Epinephrine is absorbed quickly by body tissues, and it is also used by doctors in resuscitation efforts.
Three weeks later, the final results came back from the medical examiner’s office: microscopic tissue studies indicated that Krissy might have had undiagnosed asthma. The medical examiner deemed her sudden death to have been caused by an acute asthmatic attack, complicated by (unproven) cardiac arrhythmia.
The conclusion that Krissy had died of asthma left us filled with doubt. We were told that the vast majority of asthmatic deaths have prior warning, including severe attacks leading up to the time of death. The lack of warning in Krissy’s case was inconsistent with this pattern. Later studies of tissue slides from her heart uncovered evidence of a rare heart disease called right ventricular dysplasia. We now feel that this was the major component of Krissy’s death.
Days, weeks, months passed. Her friends were so sweet to come and visit us. We needed to stay in touch with them. They were going through a lot of heartache, too. For most of them, Krissy was their first close exposure to death. We shared a lot of hugs and tears together. Getting through the first year was not easy. It was the first time she wasn’t with us, and at no time was that more evident than during holidays.
The first holiday actually came just a few days after she died. The 4th of July is known for fireworks, so perhaps that’s why we included fireworks in Krissy’s memorial service. It was so like her—full of spark and life.
Then came Thanksgiving, my favorite of all the holidays. It’s a time for the whole family to be together. No gifts required; just good food and friendship. A time to be thankful for all your blessings. But our whole family was not accounted for that Thanksgiving day: Krissy was gone. I pondered all day about what I would say at the blessing that evening. I felt such incredible loss...I certainly wasn’t thankful for that. Then, in through the front door came little Jake and Hunter (Niki’s twin boys, barely walking at that time), and Joelle’s three-year-old girl, Blake, saying “Grandma, we’re here!” At that moment I realized we all had a lot to be thankful for. As I stumbled through the blessing with a lump in my throat, Blake came to my rescue again when she came over to me and said, “Grandma, I know a blessing,” and proceeded to sing “God is great, God is good.” She saved the day. And the blessing.
After Thanksgiving, we dedicated a beautiful tree to Krissy in nearby Markham Park. Friends and family planted seeds by her tree to symbolize their continuing love and friendship.
Then came Christmas.... I found myself decorating every corner of the house. Ken said “STOP!” I can only think back now that I was trying to fill a void; an emptiness that Krissy had once filled with her warmth and laughter. The house was so quiet. No coming-and-going of girls shopping or wrapping presents. No parties. Just Ken and me.
My Christmas theme was Angels. Actually, I had picked the theme the previous Christmas. Everywhere you looked, angels seemed present—even commercially; on paper and cards, on ornaments and in songs. Angels, angels everywhere. It seemed almost as if they were honoring Krissy’s arrival in heaven!
I gave Jake, Blake and Hunter a gift from their aunt Krissy. They were so young—I wanted them to know her. I gave them a beautiful photo of Krissy with a guardian angel painted on the frame. Each one had their names inscribed on it, “with love, from Krissy.”
New Years, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, Mother’s Day. Every holiday was different now. We had to adjust, but not forget. Krissy’s stocking will still hang with all the rest. We said goodbye to 1995 and wondered what 1996 would bring. Krissy will always be our sweetheart and green was her favorite color...reminders on the Day of Hearts and the one for Leprachauns. We celebrated Easter with an egg hunt by Krissy’s tree in Markham park with Blake, Jake and Hunter. Then, on Mother’s Day, Krissy sent me flowers! The tree we had planted in the park started to bloom!
A few days later, on May 15, Krissy would have turned 18.... The seeds we had planted by Krissy’s tree managed to bloom into big, lovely sunflowers in time for her birthday. I baked a big sunflower cake and met with all her friends in the park by her tree. We shared cake and a moment of reflection, then each friend left with a sunflower seed to take home and plant. We asked them to keep the sunflowers growing and share their seeds with friends. Each sunflower seed planted would bloom in memory of Krissy’s beautiful spirit. We sent these seeds all over the world, to our friends, in hope that they, too, will plant them in her memory.
That night, our family all went to see Wynonna Judd in concert. Krissy loved Wynonna, and we knew if she were still here, that’s where she would have been on that day. I’m sure she was there with us. On the way home, our local DJ (Jade Alexander) closed her program with a dedication of “Remember Me This Way” in memory of Krissy’s Birthday.
June came and went. The Class of 1996 graduated. All her friends went to Prom, got their diplomas and made plans for college. Krissy’s school dedicated a page of their yearbook to her, as she would have graduated with them this year. I guess now she has an alma mater after all—Cooper City High.
July marked the one-year anniversary of Krissy’s death. Ken and I decided we should get away for awhile on a much-needed vacation. Part of me wanted to go and part of me wanted to stay. Joie and Niki planned to meet at our home and be together on this day. I put together an album of photos in memory of Krissy and gave one to each of them as an heirloom to share with their children, so they might one day come to know their beautiful aunt who couldn’t be with them. Niki stayed the night and slept in Krissy’s old bed. At Krissy’s tree, flowers and notes were left by friends that came to pay tribute to her. We gathered them all and are keeping a special collection of messages from all her friends to her.
Our family has come face-to-face with the reality that life is very precious, and that life is a gift of time on this Earth which we should accept and celebrate each day of. There may not be a tomorrow.
I have one peace: knowing that Krissy knew how much she was loved. I got to kiss her goodnight and tell her I loved her. Many people never get that chance...I’m so grateful to have had that opportunity.
Love is our strength: it gives us the will to go on. Be sure to let those you love know it.
In loving memory of my sweet Krissy,