Do you have people that you look up to in your life that you admire? Do you admire them for who they are and for their strengths and gifts? I have a variety of people in my life that I admire and learn from their example, and I am thankful for each one.
My oldest daughter Kylee just happens to be one of those people for me. I have been able to witness such a strong work ethic, determination, and perseverance in Kylee. I am simply amazed as I reflect on what she has accomplished and how she has persevered in the midst of great pain and heartache.
For those of you who don’t know our story, my husband, Kylee’s dad, died in a work- related accident in August 2011, and my only son PK, Kylee’s older brother, died instantly in a car accident in June 2013 just 22 months later. At the times of the deaths of her daddy and her brother, Kylee was 14 and 16 years old. I was horrified that my daughter Kylee would not only have to cope with the death of her daddy but also the death of her only brother. There are no words to describe the pain that she has had to live through or the effects that she has had to continue to work through.
In the midst of this tremendous heartache and pain, I have watched my daughter continue to pursue whatever she was involved in with tremendous perseverance and determination. In high school, I watched her push through her classes and graduate 2nd in her class. In her sports, I watched her hard work and determination push her through whatever she was facing, and I witnessed Kylee giving her all every chance that she was able to. I was amazed. I still am amazed. In spite of all of my own pain and grief, I was heartbroken that my two girls were having to work through all of this pain and suffering. I marveled at how Kylee seemed to push through her pain along the way to continue to excel in whatever she did.
I watched her journey off to college just three years after losing her daddy, and 1 year and 2 months after losing her only brother. I remember the heartbreaking times when I would hear from her when the pain would truly hit her. I remember one day that she told me that she spent a long time sitting in the bathroom sobbing and feeling so alone. It broke my heart. As parents, we want to protect our children from everything possible that can hurt them. I was not able to “fix” my daughters’ pain in any way. She shared with me later that she often battled feeling like she was going to be the next one in our family to die. She said that due to this mental battle that she struggled with future plans because of the continual fear and anxiety that she faced. Yet by the grace of God she was able to keep going… step by step… class by class. Now, I have had the amazing blessing of watching her graduate with her undergraduate degree.
Throughout her undergraduate program she was on the track team. Kylee participated in track for one year in junior high. She was a thrower in the discus and the shot. Her dad and I would go out and watch her as a 9th grader as she would throw. She did so well. Her dad would stand and make the grunting noises for her while she threw and as we cheered her on. She had so little technique training, but she was able to set the record at her junior high. In the spring of her sophomore and junior years of high school, Kylee did not participate in track because she wanted to do traveling basketball in those two springs. Kylee wanted to continue to work on and improve her basketball skills in order to do her best for her team. Kylee and I traveled a lot those two springs, and I watched her continue to work hard and to learn all that she was able to. They were difficult years for Kylee as she was now experiencing life without her dad, and she missed him so very much. Her heart hurt greatly.
The spring of her senior year, Kylee told me that she was going to participate in track. Kylee did extremely well that season in the shot and discus. She did this with lots of pain in her heart… she missed having her dad out there cheering her on and grunting for her as he did when she was a freshman. She was also dealing with the loss of her brother.
Kylee and PK were only 15 ½ months apart. They were so close. They often felt like they were growing up as twins because of the closeness of their ages. This was so much for a teenage girl to deal with and to heal in, and yet I watched Kylee continue to give her best in tremendous pain and hurt. I watched Kylee get 5th in the state in the discus. What an exciting time that was for her. She had so little experience and training, and yet she did so well.
Kylee received an opportunity from the university that she would be attending to be on the track team. Kylee was so excited, and I was so thankful. To me this was about so much more than track. I was very excited for her to be able to receive training and compete in track. As a mom who was painfully aware of the hurt that continued to live in Kylee’s heart and mind, more than anything, I was so excited that she would continue to be on a team and to have that type of camaraderie and scheduling. I felt that this would help with Kylee’s transition into university life immensely. So much had changed for Kylee in her life of losing her daddy and her brother so very young. I felt that her opportunity to continue to be on a team would be something that would feel normal to Kylee as she prepared to move away from her sister and me. Kylee was continuing to grieve, and now to move away from the tight bond that the three of us had was an additional change that she had to learn to emotionally handle.
I still remember when Kylee told me her goals of breaking the university records in the hammer throw and in the weight throw in her sophomore year. I know my daughter. I could hear the determination in her voice. I knew that I would be witnessing a lot of hard work, effort, and perseverance to meet her goals. Kylee is so strong in these areas, and I knew when she set her mind to it that she would push herself to accomplish those goals. I watched as my daughter worked and worked to meet these goals. Not only did I witness my daughter breaking these university records once, but Kylee broke these records multiple times throughout her junior and senior years.
I remember after an indoor meet in her senior year when Kylee called me. She had been in tears. When she was throwing that day, she was completely alone. No one was there with her. She described to me how she felt. I had tears pouring down my face on the other side of the phone call. I felt a fierce determination rising up in me. I prayed and pleaded with God to help me to work it out with work that I would be able to get to as many events of hers for this last outdoor season that I was able to. Throughout her college years, I was able to get to some track meets each season. I am thrilled to report that I was able to cheer on Kylee in each of her outdoor meets with the exception of one meet that was in Kansas. I am so thankful. MiKayla was able to get to quite a few with me. We marveled as we watched Kylee break her own university record over and over. I am so thankful for each time that we were able to be with her and that she did not have to feel alone at those again.
Her last meet was the conference meet the first weekend of May. Kylee was to be throwing on that Friday. It worked out where I was able to travel on Thursday night to get to Kylee’s event. The day before her event, Kylee was struggling with some physical issues and was not feeling well, and she was missing her daddy and brother so desperately.
It is so difficult for those who have not experienced deep grief to understand how it travels with you throughout your days. As a young lady and as a teenager, Kylee had so many events and milestones that she has wanted her dad and brother to be a part of. Grief travels with us in the heartache of missing our guys and their presence in our lives. Grief is deep in our hearts when they are not there celebrating with us and seeing all that Kylee and MiKayla are doing and experiencing. That is one of the things that hurts my heart so desperately for my girls… all of these moments that they wish that their dad and brother were there for. It grieves my heart that my husband missed out on so much of what has happened and is still to come in the girls’ lives. He was so proud of his kids, and he would have loved being a part of each one of these moments. Grief comes with longing and wishing for things that we are not able to make happen. We are grateful that we had them in our lives and for each moment that we had with them. The longing for them to still be there with us and to be a part of all of these milestones runs deep within us. Kylee experienced this deeply as she was graduating from her undergraduate program and her track season.
Her university is division 1 and is in the southland conference. Once I got to the track to wait for Kylee’s event, Kylee was doing a variety of things to warm up. I just kept praying for her. I wanted her to feel good about her ending. I wanted her to be able to look back and know with all of her heart that she did her best. I was so thankful to be there for this event that closed this chapter in Kylee’s life. I was trying not to be worried about how she was feeling the day before in her grief and in some of her physical pain. I kept praying for her. I wanted her to be able to be present in this moment and to have no regrets.
I watched Kylee during her warm up throws. From where I was standing, I could not see where the hammer was landing. I do not know enough about technique to know when I watch Kylee if all is going well. All I am able to do is to watch Kylee’s expression and try to guess how I think my daughter is doing. Usually I can tell. As Kylee was going into this final competition, her best throw for the hammer had been 45.37 M. Her sister and I were at the meet where she went from 44 to 45, and it was an exciting time. I remember her coach Ethan talking to me after the event when she broke that record. He had a huge smile on his face as he celebrated, but he was also laughing and saying what Kylee wanted to accomplish next as she had already told him right after reaching 45.
As Kylee threw her first throw in the competition, I thought her expression looked like she was feeling good. When we heard the official announce 47.13 M, Kylee and her coach were jumping and celebrating as this beat Kylee’s university record by an additional 2 meters. I had my hands straight up in the air in celebration and kept smiling at my daughter. I could tell she was so excited. She still had two more throws to do in this flight. After she threw her second throw, I could tell again by her face that she felt good about it. We waited for the official. He then announced 48.92! According to her university, this throw was 14 feet better than her university record!! Kylee and her coach were celebrating as they waited for the third throw. Coach Bo had joined them and was also congratulating Kylee. Sweet Hannah was over there with them and was pumping up Kylee as well. Her third throw was another 48 but not quite as far as her previous one. When Kylee’s flight was over then she came over and gave me the biggest hug. Kylee was so excited. We awaited the announcement of the finals and one additional flight that still needed to throw. Kylee looked at me with her big, beautiful eyes and said, “Mom. I want to make the finals and place. I want to get points for my team in the conference finals. My coaches have believed in me, and I want to do this for them.” Kylee and I were both praying for this desire that she had to occur.
We were thrilled when it was announced that Kylee made the conference finals. When it was time for her to throw again, then I just kept praying for my daughter. Honestly, it was hard for me to hold back the tears as I watched her. I have watched her persevere through her heartache and have continued to watch her to accomplish so much. I have watched her continued hard work and effort in spite of her continual emotional pain. I have watched her time and time again give her best. I have watched her do her best to live with no excuses and no regrets. I stand in awe of my daughter. I watched her get 7th place in the division one southland conference finals. I watched her earn points for her team. That was the thank you that she wanted to give to her coaches for believing in her.
Remember in the beginning when I shared that I admire my daughter. I do with all of my heart. I have watched her continue to find purpose in her pain. I watched her give her all in the hardest of times. I watched her meet the goals that she had set with lots of hard work and fierce determination.
Kylee, I am beyond proud to be your mom. I am so thankful for the strengths and gifts that you have and for having the honor of being your mom. I would choose you every time to be my first girl. I love you with all of my heart.