When you lose a child, the community mourns with you in ways you don't expect.
The phone rings, and on the other end is always a small voice.
So sorry if I'm disturbing you.
I have something for you. May I stop by?
There are tiny keepsakes from schoolchildren. Meals of rigatoni or chicken. Checks for one of Kiersten's causes.
For most of these things, it's easy to be gracious. I'm always grateful for the food. Never thought I'd be happy to have meals brought to my house, but I'm so exhausted all the time right now that a meal I don't have to cook is always a good meal. The checks allow me to focus on the work that Love-A-Stray and the zoo are doing.
Yesterday was different. Two families of Kiersten's classmates brought over dinner and Christmas cookies. But they also brought over two things I didn't expect. The first was a prayer quilt that their church had made. The second was a memory tree.
They had collected thoughts about Kiersten from each of her classmates, and had placed them on a large cut-out Christmas tree, with the pictures of each classmate who had written something.
I couldn't look at it while they were there. I had to fight to keep from crying. We talked about the dogs. I asked the girls about their letters to Santa (which earned me a nervous laugh, like they weren't sure if I actually knew -- you know -- about Santa). We talked about the zoo and the animal shelter and the church. I had to fight to stay on an even keel; to talk when I wanted to scream.
Then they left as Kiersten's friend, Serena, came over. She was K's best friend. We had made plans to make popcorn mix, like we have for the last three years. I also wanted to give Serena some of Kiersten's things that would be meaningful to Serena.
It was a great visit until it was time to go. Losing your child also means losing that child's friends -- children who used to fill your house with laughter and love. You're left with only echoes and memories.
Late last night, I looked at the memory tree. Fourth-graders are wonderful.
Ashley: Kiersten loved animals.
T.J.: Kiersten loved everybody!
Sarah: She was my first friend.
Hannah: She was my best friend.
Jillian: Kiersten was beautiful.
Maeve: Kiersten was courageous.
Jonathan: Kiersten was the most loveable person I've ever known.
Yes, Jonathon. Yes, she was.
I miss her so much.