I’ll never forget the night I got the phone call. It’s nearly midnight and I’m trying to get my eight months pregnant body into a comfortable position. My husband comes into the bedroom and asks, “Did you see the email from your mother?” I shake my head no. “She wants you to call her immediately,” he says and stands there with concern on his face. I lumber out of bed and we go into the guest bedroom. We both know that something bad has happened and we don’t want to risk waking up our sleeping twenty month old. He wraps his arms around me and I dial.
My mother answers right away, sobbing, her words nearly impossible to understand. “Ken just died.”
Somewhere in my 20’s I started to come to grasp with my parents’ mortality. I continue to hope and pray that they’ll live long enough to share a room at the old folk’s home with me, but I’m smart enough to realize that this probably won’t be the case. Nonetheless, the news of my father’s death sucker punches me right in the chest.
“She just died. We don’t know what happened.”
The pronoun sears across my brain. She. Not He. Lightning has struck my family down. It isn’t my father we’ve lost, but my fourteen week old niece. Kenzie, not Ken.
Within twenty four hours we are all there. I wall off my emotions and stand guard over my family as they kneel down under the grief. My mother and father wrap their arms around my sister and my mother cries on her shoulder, “If I could rip my arm off so that you could have Kenzie back, I would do it. I would do anything to bring her back.” I know she means it. We all mean it.
In the quiet of the wee hours of the night, my mother and I sit at the foot of my sister’s bed. None of us can sleep. “I’m afraid that people will forget her,” my sister says and her husband nods his head.
I look back on that week through a haze of grief, but my sister’s quote stands out in my head. “I’m afraid that people will forget her.”
What she doesn’t seem to understand is that we can never forget little Kenzie, because we see and hear her every day in my sister. We see the woman that she would have become, the person she was meant to be.
I see the core of molten steel that makes up my sister’s backbone. The core that held her upright when anyone else would have crumbled. I see that and I imagine a sassy mouth four year old standing firm that she will bring her favorite doll to nursery with her no matter what her mother or teacher says.
I see the warm heart and easy nature that causes friends to flock to my sister. I know that Kenzie would have been equally blessed, the girl next door that is invited to every party and playdate.
I see the natural beauty, the effortless charm and I imagine my brother-in-law standing at the front door with a shotgun as a line of teenage boys wraps around the block.
I see a daughter and a mother, a friend and a wife and I know that Kenzie would have been all of those things.
Sometimes my sister dreams about Kenzie. She dreams she is older and playing at the beach with the little brothers she never got to meet. My sister loves those dreams, loves thinking about her whole family, finally united and her young sons getting to know the joy of living with a bright spark of a girl.
What my sister doesn’t realize is that her boys already know their sister. They know her the same way that we do. They know her because they see her in my sister’s heart, eyes, and arms. They hear her in their father’s laugh. They feel her, as we do, and we will never forget her.
In memory of Kenzie, my sister and brother-in-law are raising funds for March of Dimes. If you are interested in donating, you can do so on their website.