Sierra was and is in my heart forever more. This angel was blessed to her Mother and I in 1986 in Grand Junction, CO. This perfect little sole came to our young family, a twenty two year old mother, a father of twenty three and a sister of three, all ready to embrace this little girl. My memory seems to come in and out of clarity regarding these early years of fatherhood; pictures seem to stimulate the process and some days are better than others. Love always surrounded our family then and continues to this day, but I must admit as a young father I remember how often I was in a hurry. Looking back now, I wish these times were more savored, more appreciated; things seemed to be happening so fast for our family when sis was born. It was a time when we as such a young couple were buying our first home which seemed so impossible in itself, chaos was the norm and we never had a dull moment. Our little girls were our life; most of our friends had not started their families so our girls were an attraction to many of these future moms and dads. It was always strange to go to school functions when the girls were in elementary. Lisa and I were generally much younger than the other parents and we were so proud of the fact that we had such well behaved children. This by no means suggests that they were perfect, only in our eyes I’m sure. Sherrell was always prim and proper, and Sierra on the other hand, was kind of thrown together so to speak. This child wanted nothing other than to be with and like her older sister. Sierra was the shadow of her sister and mimicked her whenever possible. Like I mentioned, my memory fades, but to this day I cannot recall an argument between the two of these girls, Sierra wouldn’t have it, her older sister walked on water, she always took her side right or wrong. When reflecting back to Sierra in her very young years, the image of her is always sporting a Kool-Aid mustache with hair going in every direction. Lisa was forever keeping her up, but by the middle of the day that had all changed. I can never remember her not being happy, though if she got mad it never lasted and nothing ever seemed to be too important to her for very long. I do remember the tight braids that would slant her eyes, Lisa would work hard to get them just right only to have them frayed and wild by lunch, and the braids seemed to get tighter over time.
Today, I am only able to remember short dreams of Sierra after I wake and for some reason they are of these early memories, three to five years old. Why, I don’t have a clue. I long to go back to that time when life was so simple and everyday was fresh and without regret; when getting up and in the day was not even a thought. Why does life become so complicated, why is our little girl gone from my embrace, what is the master plan for such deep pain. My faith, my faith, my faith… I believe that God will provide these answers. I believe this and looking back on Sierra’s life on this earth I know He had a predestined path for our little Angel. Why else was she so good? It can’t be anything else! We were so blessed to have her for almost twenty one years. Why didn’t I realize just how special she was to all of us? I want to hold her so bad I ache from my soul; I want to tell her how much I love her. The image of her lifeless body tears at my mind, my worst hours come with these images, this was not Sierra but they surface and I have to beat them down with happier memories, so many happy memories.
Jesus, I accept you as my savior, please lift this burden of grief from my family, lessen our hurt and help us to more understand your way. God, thank you for the blessings in my life, most of all for my wife and children, they are my future on this earth and I pray for their safety. I am trying to be strong Lord, your promise is my resolve, I give glory to You.
Sierra was a friend to so many; she never met a stranger, really. Sierra would always take the time to be there for everyone in her life, and I mean everyone. This little girl was always on the go and it never was for selfish reasons. She was putting herself through college so that she could help kids. She didn’t care what it paid; just that she loved little people so much. I so looked forward to the day she would have her own classroom and how I couldn’t wait to drop in and see her working with all of the children, working in her element. I sometimes picture her in Heaven conducting class for all of the children that left this world too early. How comforting would this be to all of the parents of these kids knowing Sierra is up there with their precious angels. Sierra talked about how she would have her mom as a room mother and show and tell days to include Sherrell, Ty and me, and to show off her little niece. It was her dream, it was our dream. Her teachers in elementary were inspirational in her life and I used to think they impacted her so greatly, after listening to them talk of her, maybe she was their inspiration. I think God knew that Sierra would not be able to leave the problems of her students behind in the classroom. Neglected and abused children would have been her burden to bear, there would have been too many for her, but she would have tried to resolve them all. It would have been a lifelong struggle, because it was who she was. So small of a body, yet so large was her heart, she made time for everybody. She was the one to sit in class with the slower students, the first with a hello or a smile and she so cared for kids with disabilities. I remember so many times she would come home with sad stories and remedies for ways to make it better for this kid or that kid.
As a young adult Sierra found so much time for everyone, and I mean everyone. She had such a way to make everyone feel special. She would take the time…she had “Ty days” for her brother, spending an entire day once a month only doing fun things with him and only him, he so looked forward to that. Growing up with five sisters, I don’t remember having that kind of bond with any of my siblings like Sierra and Ty shared; we loved each other but not quite like this. Again Ty was the brain child of Sherrell and Sierra, Lisa and I were quite content with two little girls but they begged us to have another baby. Thank you so much for that, Ty completed our family. Sierra knew we would need him later.
I want to add this paragraph from our 2006 family Christmas letter because it is fitting; Sierra loved this letter so it is important for us to share it.
Our middle child Sierra, her heart continues to amaze us, she is everything that is good in this world and she is not afraid to share her outlook on life with anyone and everyone. Sierra simply can’t wait to be an aunt and spends every extra cent on her soon-to-arrive niece. Even her cell phone ring tone from Sherrell is programmed to “is it time yet”. In her third year of college at UNC in elementary education, she continues to put herself through school being a nanny for a wonderful family with two little guys Rachel (6) and Case (1). Did I mention she works at a fitness club in daycare and tutors Ty on the side? I do my best to offset the liberal teachings from her professors in college to see the right side (redneck) on most of the issues. She pretends to agree with me, we love her!
Two weeks after writing this Christmas letter Sierra’s biggest dream to date came true, she was the aunt she always wanted to be, her niece was born December 20th, she was front row for the birth. It was her best day!
Darkness, total darkness as I started to come back to consciousness, my body was strapped to a bed, I screamed and struggled to free myself, a lady stepped into the room as I freed my arms. She told me to lie still, that I had passed out and fallen, my thoughts were foggy, my face and mouth throbbed, I could feel my tongue piercing through a hole in my bottom lip, and my tooth was broken off. For a moment I thought the nightmare was just that and for some other reason I lay in this hospital bed. The lady was a nurse and she explained that I had passed out while they were inserting a breathing tube in my little girls’ body. The nightmare was back and I cried as the nurse prayed with me. Sierra was losing a battle, but with what, no one knew. The medical staff was in slow motion, doing what they had been trained to do, but stumbling over one another, grasping at everything, total chaos. I had to call Sherrell we needed her with us, she has always been our rock and it was important to have her here. Things were happening so fast, our world was spinning out of control. Family has always been what we are about and we needed everyone with us, it was hell on earth and my worst nightmare was now a sickening reality happening before our eyes. Earlier in the day I had seen Sherrell and Dan on the highway as I was leaving town, it is vivid in my mind, at the stop light we rolled our windows down, don’t go by the house Ty and Sierra have the flu. We both understood the last thing we wanted was to get Makenna sick at such a tender age of 3 months; Sierra wouldn’t have had any of that. Little did we know, Ty had strep throat and Sierra was dying from meningitis and we were losing her by the minute. I would give anything I own, including my life, to have had just an inkling of an idea what was happening to her little body at that hour in the morning of April 9th 2007. It was a beautiful spring day, my intentions were to stay away from the flu bug at home, get some morning work done and maybe get nine holes in with some friends later that afternoon. About four o’ clock Lisa called to tell me that the doctor confirmed that Ty had strep throat and that she was taking Sierra into First Care to see why she wasn’t feeling any better, I would be home to sit with Ty shortly.
Meningitis is a disease that strikes with little warning and takes on the symptoms of a flu bug, stiff neck, sore throat and headache are what it hides behind before it kills or cripples you. If caught and treated within the first 12 to 24 hours, the effects can range from nothing to long and short term neurological problems, amputation of limbs or death. It can be contracted numerous ways: sharing a beverage, lip stick, food, any casual contact with a carrier, the disease is most prevalent in the 11 to 22 year old population. We were never warned of the disease or the seriousness to young people especially in places where there are high volumes of kids in these age ranges like high schools and colleges. The university Sierra attended does not make the vaccination mandatory so we were never privileged to information regarding the disease.
Sierra’s last words were “Daddy am I going to be okay?” and my response was a concerned “yes”, I was scared to death because she looked so sick but as her daddy I wanted her to feel comforted. We were terrified, the ER doctors were grasping at straws, and I could see their concern and knew they were at a loss. I begged them to take her somewhere she could get better care at any cost, we were desperate.
Lisa and I knew that she was going downhill fast and we would do anything to fix her, anything. We were told that until her vitals stabilized she couldn’t be moved from the hospital. They had a specialist on the way, and it seemed like an eternity. Sherrell, Dan and Makenna had arrived; Jeremy and Ty were on their way. It was a tough decision to bring Ty to the hospital as sick as he was, but all of us needed to be together in what would become our darkest hour. Calling Sherrell that night was the hardest thing I had ever done, we needed her there, but how could I tell her without sending her into a panic. I was a mess and we needed her, her best friend was fighting for her life and I didn’t have any time or options. Thank you Lord, for giving Sherrell to us. Best friends from the time they met, they always looked out for each other, and sister is not a word worthy for what they are to each other. Sierra cherished her big sister, would have gone to the ends of the earth for Sherrell, a relationship that words can’t explain, this makes the pain that much deeper for her. Sherrell helped mold this little girl into the beauty she had become, God, Lisa and our Relly, showered this child with love and she had blossomed into a real life angel on earth and we all knew it, we just didn’t know how short our time with her was going to be.
Easter Sunday, the day before Sierra got sick, we sat in church together and I remember how blessed our lives were, how perfect our family was, how beautiful this day was. Three healthy children, a great son-in-law, a beautiful new granddaughter, life was perfect and our future looked so promising. We were living a dream and we knew it. How quickly life can change…in an instant, as a family we are shattered and only the deep love we have for each other, the faith in our Lord, and our friendships, keep us going from day to day. Our future now is the present day, it is impossible to look forward without Sierra in our lives, it is impossible to explain how the emptiness affects you mentally and physically. Waking up every morning to again realize that it is real and not just a nightmare, seeing life without her is bittersweet, yet she would want us to rejoice and learn to be happy again. All of us are searching for peace of mind, signs from and about her every minute of every day, it consumes you.
The day of Sierra’s service was surreal, I remember standing there looking out as the masses of mourners poured into our beautiful church. Our life was at a complete standstill, yet I vividly remember looking out onto the street below and seeing how the world hadn’t stopped. Cars were whizzing by, people were in their day to day routines, their lives hadn’t changed yet our world had stopped turning. Nothing will ever be the same, nothing will ever be as sweet, when will this fog clear, when will this sadness recede, when will I be able to breathe again. The service was beautiful, Sierra would have been happy with how wonderful it was, she so loved our church, they did a beautiful job celebrating her life, and it is this life that we have committed our lives to. Lisa and I made a promise to each other over Sierra’s lifeless body, minutes after the doctor told us she was now in Heaven, that we would spend the rest of our lives trying to live as she had. Look for the good in everyone, help the less fortunate, and make the world a truly better place. We promised to reach out and spread the word about this deadly bacteria, so that we might save parents and families from the tragedy we find ourselves in, it is what we want it is what Sierra would want.
This short memoir is but just a glimpse into what Sierra was all about, we have hundreds of stories, letters and pictures, it would take thousands of pages and tears to truly give justice to such a beautiful life. We would love to share with anyone and everyone, our home is open as are our hearts. Please make it a priority in your life to spread the word about meningitis the killer of children.
Sierra we miss and love you so very much, we all long for the day we will again greet you in Heaven, to laugh, rejoice and sing to the greatest band of all time, Highway 16.