Monday, August 2, 2010

Three Years Ago Today

Three years ago today, our niece, Andrea, married Mike Cunningham in a ceremony that was moved up six months in order to allow Katie to be a bridesmaid. Andrea and Mike had asked Katie to be in their wedding the day Katie and David returned home from Camp Goodtimes West. They knew it was one of her dreams, to be a bridesmaid. We found out a couple of weeks later that Katie was going to die.
After she had a few days to process the information, Katie looked at the "Save the Date" card on our refrigerator and asked me, "What if I don't live that long?" That's a hard question to hear, let alone to answer. I was honest. I said I didn't know.
Mike and Andrea came over one day soon after, and said, We want her to be in our wedding and we are going to move it up. How soon should we do it? We answered, The sooner the better, as we've been told she is likely to become paralysed.
Andrea's parents hosted the wedding at their beautiful home on Hood Canal. The sun shone, the attendants and their dresses (and tuxes - David was an usher) were beautiful, and there was deep joy in Andrea and Mike's love - laced with awareness that many of our family members might not see Katie alive again. It was sweet, and bittersweet. Mostly sweet, because a couple deeply in love were united that day - led by their love for one other, and for their family - and their love and unselfishness made it possible for Katie's dream to come true.
One week later, Katie became paralysed from the waist down. A week after that, she passed away. I will always be thankful to Andrea and Mike for the priceless gift that they gave to Katie, and to us.
Happy Anniversary,
Andrea and Mike!


Maggie May said...

What a special and loving couple to move their wedding for your Katie. I admit to being entirely humbled and in awe of Katie here. Her shining beautiful smile and eyes with the knowledge of her life cut short- how did she do that? I don't know if I could be like that. I do know that she clearly had the devoted love of her family in order to find it.

Karen said...

This is one of the most beautiful stories I've ever heard in my life. It is so moving to see that kind of love in action. I hadn't known till now that you already knew that Katie would die. How does a family hear that kind of information and wake up the next day? I am gripped by the love and courage in all of you, Karen-- esp. you as an already grieving mother, and Katie as the one leaving. What a beautiful final precious memory you made together. This is that time of year for you and my heart and thoughts are with you in a special way for the next two weeks.
Much love and may you be deeply comforted by God,

Sheri said...

Happy anniversary indeed. What a beautiful thing, to let the love joined together in marriage that day expand and enfold a little girl who obviously got a lot of joy out of that experience.

Katie is beautiful. I always love these pictures of her.

I love you my friend. Keep writing.

Robin said...

I look at these pictures, and for a moment I think about all the wedding details that usually occur in the six months before the date. The dress fittings that didn't happen, the musicians who weren't available on short notice, the favors that didn't arrive, the showers and parties that had to be scrapped, The bride who squabbles with her mother and then breaks down as cracks start to appear in her imagined perfection. I think about my own wedding 36 years ago and everyone maintaining a sense of joy in the hope that I would not be disappointed that a giant storm and a tornado had altered all the planning and work for an outdoor wedding. A tornado that hardly registers at all compared to the one you all were experiencing.

And then I look at that extraordinary couple, and their extraordinary families, and I cannot imagine a better start to married life than such generosity and such clarity about what "for better for worse, in sickness and in health" can really mean. Because, really, what do we care about "worse" or "sickness" for ourselves? - it's when they happen to our children that we get it.

I know that you have a hard two weeks ahead, Karen. You should be buying new clothes and a calculator for a beautiful high school freshman and instead you have to contend with this mixture of anguish and gratitude. Much love to you.

It's way too early in the day for me to be crying.

Robin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ChiTown Girl said...

Even though I already knew this story, it still grabbed my heart, and squeezed it. Hard.

Your niece and her husband are amazingly generous, loving, kind people. It's not surprising that they are a part of YOUR family.

I always love to see pictures of Katie from this wedding. She's just glowing!

Happy anniversary, Andrea and Mike!

Truth Ferret said...

Karen, I don't have the vocabulary to describe my gratitude towards you for sharing such a meaninful time with me. I've always loved the picture of you and Katie, where she is lovingly cradling your face. Now that I have the whole story, with the fragile timeline, I am awestruck. Thank you so much, for allowing me to see what never ending love is.

Your friend.

Mary Potts said...

This has to be one of the most beautiful weddings - ever. Not many couples can say they began their days together by giving a gift of ultimate love in this manner. What an extraordinary and selfless gift to give Katie and the rest of you.

Katie looks gorgeous! Absolutely stunning! The way our beloved children truly LIVE until the day they die is a lesson for all of us.

God bless all of them.

AnnDeO said...

I have heartfelt tears of love reading this. My tender thoughts are with you this time of year.

Smileygirl said...

They are such a beautiful couple. Wishing them many happy blessings on their anniversary and each year after.

A beautiful post.

Deborah said...

I know not how you do continue with such grace, other than it must be given to you from heaven, from a special Angel who never leaves your side or your heart.

This song comes to mind every time I think of you:

This is what it means to be held
How it feels, when the sacred is torn from your life
And you survive
This is what it is to be loved and to know
That the promise was when everything fell
We'd be held.

May you continue being held. Sending all my love upon the wings of a desert sparrow, Deb

Lakeland Jo said...

Much love to you Karen. Katie is such an inspiration to me- I think about her often XX

Anonymous said...

Every time I think of this story I feel profoundly moved. Such an utterly generous act by Andrea and Mike - they deserve every happiness in their life together. Karen, I am sure these days are hard for you - thinking of you.

Irene xxxx

S/K/O said...

Oh, Karen. I remember Andrea sharing these intimate details, and being so incredibly moved at the time. To hear you retell, from your perspective, the story of that event, made me cry. I hold the memory of Katie - meeting her just a few days before Owen was born - so close to my heart. Her warm, genuine smile. I think about all of you often and am thankful for the gift of knowing ALL of you.

Elizabeth said...

I have seen these photos over and over, I think, Karen, and each time I just can't get over it. I can't understand/believe that someone so beautiful, so seemingly whole and radiant and peaceful, your Katie, would succumb so soon to that terrible disease. It is so much to bear, and I know that you bear it always. I send you love and grace and comfort this month -- and thank you, once again, for sharing this wondrous daughter of yours with us. She has truly graced my life in more ways than you know.

Anonymous said...

Dear Karen (Truffle)

I loved reading this post, and I love these pics. Katie is so beautiful and you can see so much grace emanating from everyone in the family picture—once again, thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing your stories and memories. I love reading your blog and am so glad that we actually know each other for real instead of virtually! xoxox and thoughts with you, JIFFY

Gabriele said...

Reading about the wedding has been moving on so many levels. It’s such a beautiful, generous, loving gift from two people to another. Katie’s spirit and strength are awe-inspiring. I’ve enjoyed reading about her in your blog. And right now, her story is becoming ours.
I found your blog a few months ago, I’m not exactly sure how. I’ve been enjoying your current writing ever since, but haven’t been able to read your early entries. Now though, we’ve been told our eleven year old son has no medical options left to treat his medulloblastoma. Two weeks later, we are home from the hospital with hospice to help us. God willing, Jack will have many more days, weeks, months with all his family.
I know that when I need them, your early writings will be there. So thank you!

Busy Bee Suz said...

Andrea and Mike are so wonderful, I wish for them a lifetime of love and happiness.
Katie looked so happy and beautiful, I am thankful she had this gift too.
hugs to you my friend, Suz

Kay said...

I've read and re-read this post, thinking I would come up with the right words to say. They just won't come. The love shown here is simply beautiful. What a beautiful couple. What a beautiful gesture to make sure Katie's dream could come true. What beautiful pictures of the blessed day these two became one. Love all the moments Paul Dudley was able to capture for your whole family. So sad for you in these coming days that I know are hard on so many levels.

Hugs and prayers, my friend.

Dawn ~ BJSMomma said...

I absolutely love the photo's and this story...I remember it from when I first "met you in blogland"...I have always thought Katie looked so much older than her years, and my favorite photo is the one of you and her on your sidebar. You are in my heart and prayers as this is your time of year as well as ours.

Much Love,

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful way for a couple to start their lives together -- by making their earlier-than-planned wedding a gift to your special daughter. Katie looked beautiful; how wonderful that your family had that joyous experience in her final weeks.

Blessings to all,
Joan from PA

Ellen said...

Your Katie was such a lovely young girl. It makes me ache for your loss. For your the dear couple to move up their wedding and for the amazing day you all had to be a part of...priceless memories. The photographs you shared were more lovely than any words I could ever say Karen.
Thank you for continuing to share your story of your brave daughter.

karen gerstenberger said...

Thank you all for your kind comments. xoxoxoxoxoxoxo

Gabrielle, I am so sorry to hear about Jack's diagnosis, but am glad for your courageous and loving attitude about it. I pray that you and Jack will have many days, weeks and months of love and joy together, and that you will know the power, mercy and comfort of Love as you walk this path with him.

Everything Coastal said...

Hi. Just wanted you to know that I was thinking about you this week.


Tracey Axnick said...

Beautiful story, Karen. What a wonderful couple.
And what beautiful pictures of Katie... she is literally radiant with joy and beauty.
I know these are wonderful and special memories.

Sending you Peace and Love, my friend,

Marina said...

Hi Karen;
Thank you for sharing that story. It was so touching and what a beautiful last memory for everyone. I love the smile on Katie's face in the pictures. I will be praying for your family, I know tomorrow is the day and it must be so hard to face.
May God surround you and your family with His love and comfort.