A Day With a Palm Tree: A Tribute to Kate, from Kaleidoscope Wojo

A day with a palm tree is a great day!
Stories of personal triumph, community engagement, and environmental stewardship.

About today’s story

Ever since my 2019 close call with a ruptured aneurysm while traveling in Amsterdam and my subsequent return to full life, I am keenly appreciative of the value of life. Today’s story is one that inspires me to remember to live fully every day.

Tom Rhiel, one of the three angels behind Kaleidoscope Wojo — who included my essay Surviving Amsterdam in a recent anthology — wrote a touching tribute to his niece Kate, a young woman whose life was longer than predicted but way too short for those cheering her on. Kate’s optimistic and altruistic commitment to life inspired her circle of friends throughout her life. Tom’s tribute — portions of which I’ve included here, with Tom’s permission — allows Kate to inspire those of us she never met. Tom says that Kate would have liked this idea, too.

The question of why certain things happen to people — and particularly you — isn’t as important as what you did while you were here. You taught us so much. We never stopped learning about ourselves as we watched you live your life.  

Tom Rhiel

A celebration of life

Kate was born with frailties that normally mean a very brief life, and she underwent 200 surgeries. Maybe being aware of the finality of those hours made Kate’s life mean so much to those she loved. As the Tim McGraw song goes, if you live like you were dying, you fully live. And it’s never long enough. My close encounter with death in 2019 was my own wake-up call, but it’s easy to forget. I am so glad to be reminded that this is all fleeting.

You got to know all too well the finality of death at such an early age as dozens of the children you became friends with at Children’s Hospital succumbed to their illnesses. Contained within the sadness of losing these people in your life was the celebration of life that you shared with each other.

The news of your passing hit like a hundred hammer blows to the gut. How many times had we recoiled at the possibility that this day or that day could be your last on earth? You always amazed and delighted us by pushing on, staying with us for 38 years. Except that wasn’t enough. Not nearly enough.

Tom Rhiel

Putting others first

It is so easy to be inward looking. The pandemic has only reinforced our social isolation. Kate put others first, even when she had the chance to keep things for herself. During her Make-A-Wish Foundation visit to the DC Disney store she could pick out anything she wanted.

You being you wouldn’t take anything. 

Tom Rhiel

Attendants quietly bagged anything Kate seemed to like. When the shopping trip was followed a restaurant meal, Kate made sure that the limo driver was also having lunch.

And Kate’s close understanding of death even led her to want to help others through this inevitable conclusion through the study of thanatology in the Montgomery Scholar college honors program. How about that? Such maturity at such a young age, when many of us hide our heads in the sand.

You were wearing Big Girl pants long before anyone knew what that meant. 

Tom Rhiel

Letting others in

This was the ultimate gift this remarkable young woman gave her friends and family: letting them do for her. That’s grace. Inspirational.

As your world was narrowing because of ever growing health challenges you began to let more people in. You discovered just how caring people can be as the number of cheerleaders grew and a community formed around you, ready at a moment’s notice to start prayers, the sending of positive thoughts and energy and any other force they could muster for you to cling to, for you to draw strength from. You touched so many in such a powerful way.

Tom Rhiel

Blasting across the universe with Sammy the dog

We want to think of you now blasting across the universe, Sammy in your arms, as black holes come ablaze as you whiz by the two of you grinning mischievous smiles, hoping you’re causing a bit of trouble for the cosmos.

Tom Rhiel

Always and forever

And, finally, there remains the mantra of love, such an important reminder that we must tell the people we love how we feel. Since 2019, I do not leave words unsaid. Since 2020, none of us can afford to stay mute.

Every phone conversation, every in person gathering ended with the same expression: “I’ll love you always and forever.” Time is infinite, Kate. We will love you always and forever.

Always and forever.  

Tom Rhiel

You can read all of Tom’s blog here and more on Kaleidoscope’s open invitation to women writers here.

Tom Rhiel’s niece Kate
Kate and Sammy

Do you have a story of personal triumph, community engagement, or environmental stewardship that should be shared? Let me know in the comments!

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