Today's blog is about rules, small towns and faith and the common denominator of all of these is a young girl named Taylor Heersche.
First the rules. There are two rules that should stand fast always. Rule #1...no parent should outlive their child. Rule #2....cancer (or any other life debilitating/taking disease) should never come in contact with a child. As we all know though....rules are broken and these particular rules are broken all too often. Just in the last few years I have seen too many families suffer and mourn because mans rules and God's will don't always mesh.
Small towns. If you have never lived in one then you are missing out. Sure everyone usually knows your business and you usually know everyone...if not personally then at least by site. As a kid growing up in a small town, you can't wait to leave...but funny enough, many come back....for nowhere else can you feel such a presence of community and belonging. There is no place like a small town.
Finally....faith. Many of us talk of faith...our belief that our Higher Power (God) has a plan for us. A belief that through good and bad that God is always by our side and in the end we will die in His grace and go to spend eternity in the home that He Himself has chosen for us. On paper it sounds perfect....but walking in faith through the good and bad and remembering that God gives us nothing we can't handle is not always as easy as it sounds. Accepting the peaks and valley's that are in our path often make us falter and facing our own mortality or that of our children is sometimes where we drop the ball with our faith. Still though....there are those that never lose faith, never question and in some cases even restore the faith of others through their own. When this faith comes in the form of a child....it is both amazing and humbling.
And this brings us to Taylor Heersche. Taylor was a little girl from a family that had been in Mulvane long before my time. Heersche was just one of those names you knew. I do not know her parents Dan and DeAnne personally....but I could pick them out in a crowd and know all about them. It is a small town thing. Dan and DeAnne have two daughters, Taylor and Connor. Taylor is a year behind Z so he has known her since she started school. Everyone knows Taylor on sight.. and as a child she had the most gorgeous curly brown hair and she is the absolute sweetest little girl.
When Taylor was about 10...she was diagnosed with leukemia. In a small town such as ours....that kind of news travels fast. At that time in my life...David was having his own health issues, but when I could I would keep up with Taylor through friends of friends and information Z would bring home from school. Eventually her leukemia went into remission and for a little while...life went back to normal. Then...sometime around last Christmas the unthinkable happened and they found out that Taylor's leukemia was back. Z who goes to school with her and hangs out with her and many of her friends would come home and give me updates. Taylor spent a great deal of time in and out of the hospital. When she was out...often you would see her in town with her mask on...protecting her from the germy world outside. At some point....not sure when...... Taylor lost all of her hair. I remember seeing her and thinking that even though she no longer had all of those gorgeous brown curls that she was still such a beautiful girl.
Taylor had many close calls over the last year....but both Taylor and her family along with many doctors and nurses fought for their ultimate goal. It was to get Taylor healthy enough for a bone marrow transplant that would give her a chance at a long and healthy life. Her little sister Connor agreed to donate her bone marrow for her sister. When I heard this I cried. This family had not just one brave daughter...but two. What a wonderful job Dan and DeAnne had done raising these strong and caring daughters and neither were even old enough to drive.
Finally in July of this year Taylor went to Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City. It was here that they hoped to get Taylor well enough to receive the transplant and the Heersche's were ready to stay however long it took. In the months that followed, the doctors worked to get Taylor's body healthy, to get her body to make it's own white blood cells and to get the leukemia down so that the transplant would be possible. DeAnne would keep everyone up on Taylor's condition through her Caring Bridge journal. There were times of great optimism where it seemed like Taylor had climbed the hill and it would be smooth sailing....but there were just as many times where you could read the fear in DeAnne's words. My heart would break for her knowing that but for the grace of God....there go I. There go any of us. Through all of this....Taylor had a steady stream of family and friends making the 3 hour drive back and forth quite often to visit Taylor. She looked forward to these visits as did her friends.
At some point....not sure when, her uncle began a facebook page called Taylor's Gang. Here he gave us updates and offered items such as t-shirts and bracelets to help the Heersche's fend off some of the medical expenses incurring. Periodically there were those that took up collections for gift cards and food cards so that Dan and DeAnne could step out of the hospital from time to time and have some "real" food. The community was pulling together for this family and through it all....we had hope.
Right here let me say that Dan and DeAnne are amazing parents. Since Taylor has been at Children's Mercy one or both of them has remained by her side. They usually switch off so that one is with Connor too. Trying to hold down jobs and take care of everyone is no easy task...but they seemed to make it work. They are phenomenal.
In the last month or so...it looked as if Taylor might just get the bone marrow transplant. All seemed to be working in that direction although she had some set backs. I would watch carefully for the updates and smile and thank God when the news was good and shed some tears and pray harder when it wasn't.
Last Wednesday evening Z came into my room looking ashen saying he had gotten a text that Taylor was not expected to make it through the night. I was stunned because the last posts had been so positive. I got on fb to find that indeed....Taylor's respiratory system was shutting down and they did not expect her to be here come morning. Taylor's body was simply no longer strong enough to fight. She knew though and she was not afraid. She told her parents she was ready. How can a child have such faith? I was amazed. Prayer chains were popping up everywhere....not just in our little town but all across the country. I could not sleep that night and every time my phone went off with messages....I was terrified that it would say she was gone.
Amazingly.....Thursday morning came and she was still with us. She was alert and kept her parents both entertained and updated on what she wanted when she was gone. I had to leave to take David to St. Louis that afternoon and I said a silent selfish prayer that Taylor would hold on at least until I got back. I didn't want Z to have to deal with such a loss on his own. That night the MHS football team dedicated the game to Taylor. There was orange everywhere (orange is the color of leukemia awareness) and they won (39-0) I believe. There were tears and prayers and it was all for Taylor.
Friday...Taylor was still here. A group of her closest friends went to KC to say good-bye. Taylor visited as long as she could and I imagine the room was full of both laughter and tears. I know it was a bitter sweet moment for all involved.
The weekend came and went and still she held on. I remember thinking how amazing this was. Her mother put out a request that people NOT pray for her recovery...for they knew that was not to be, but she asked that we pray that Taylor make a peaceful transition from this world into God's loving hands. Again I was amazed as DeAnne's journal would tell of Taylor waking up morning after morning thinking she would be with God...only to find out sadly that she was still here. What amazing faith this child has and how tired her little body must be. More and more though...my thoughts were going to her parents. How hard this all must be for them. I couldn't even imagine being in their shoes. Many times in this last week I have cried thinking of how difficult it must be for them to let go of this precious child. Their faith must be tremendous.
At some point DeAnne wrote that Taylor had basically planned her own funeral. She had picked her music, the place and she was leaving specific instructions on what she wanted from those in attendance. There would be no dress clothes. She wanted everyone in either orange or Taylor's Gang t-shirts and jeans. She wants this to be a celebration of her life and not mourning of her passing. Wow! Fifteen and knowing all of this. Being able to plan all of this. Again I use the word amazing because there is just no other word fitting enough.
Sunday night DeAnne posted that on Monday the doctors would be in to re-evaluate Taylor. She had already lived days longer than they expected and although she had kind of drifted in and out from time to time and seemed to be seeing people that others could not see...she had stayed alert and carried on many conversations with family and friends. People began to speculate hopefully that maybe this wasn't the end. Perhaps there was a miracle in the making. My thoughts were that God's will would be done...but not until Taylor had accomplished all that she had to do on this earth.
Monday we got the word that Taylor was coming home! After the doctors met....they still felt that Taylor was not to survive this particular journey and that soon she would succumb to respiratory failure, but for whatever reason she was still here and she wanted to come home. It was decided that they would bring her home to be with family and friends today. This town was excited. When news got out that Taylor was coming home....fb was alive with activity. There were plans of lining 2nd street with orange ribbons, signs and the entire town wearing orange ready to greet her. Tonight's football game would also be dedicated to Taylor and it was expected that there would be a sea of orange in the stands. Word even got out to the rival team and many of them too pledged to wear orange for Taylor. As I saw all the excitement of Taylors return flooding fb and the many plans being made....I felt my heart drop. Without thinking I turned to Z and told him that I didn't think she would make it back. I don't know why....it was just a horrible feeling I got.
This morning as I was trying to function in spite of a major headache....I got on fb to see that plans were still being put together for Taylor's homecoming. As yet....no definite time had been given but things were to the point that they were ready as soon as the word was given. My cell phone rang and I almost didn't answer it because I didn't recognize the number. However when I did...I wished I hadn't. A friend of mine was on the other end telling me that word had come down that Taylor had passed this morning. I felt a stabbing feeling in my stomach. Since no official word had come out to fb about it...I sat silently and watched as the happy homecoming plans continued to be made. I hoped in the back of my mind that maybe this was just misinformation...but I knew in my heart it wasn't. When official word came out...the tears flowed. Taylor had slept peacefully through the night, started having breathing issues early this morning....and passed without every waking up. This morning....Taylor got her wish....she woke up in heaven.
Z was at school when the announcement was made over the intercom. He texted me and told me that the whole school was devastated. There were tears flowing from teachers, administration and students. The school was broken hearted. They/we had lost our Taylor!
As I have tried to wrap my mind around all of this, my thoughts have been all over the place. DeAnne has posted another post on Caring Bridge reminding everyone that Taylor wanted her funeral to be a celebration. What strength this woman has to continue carrying out her daughters wishes even after the unthinkable has happened. They are three hours away from family, friends and home (although I know they have some family and the support of the hospital staff who also knew and loved Taylor)...but now they must come home to bury their child. My heart breaks for them. But Taylor would not have wanted the tears. Taylor was so much more than her leukemia and in thinking about it....the leukemia was the way Taylor touched so many lives.
If you read through the messages from others on Caring Bridge and Taylor's Gang....you realize that Taylor touched so many far beyond our little community. Taylor's bravery and strength taught family, friends, those who cared for her and even those who never met her but followed her journey.....about faith and living without fear of dying. To many Taylor was a hero! Seldom in life do we get to know someone that fights such a horrendous battle and continues to stay positive and faith filled. When you find this in someone as young as Taylor then you know you have come in contact with someone very special. This young girl single handedly brought together a community. She taught us all about faith beyond what we can see, feel and touch, and she showed us true grace in both life and death. Yes....Taylor you are amazing and I can safely say....your life was a miracle and in the hearts of everyone in our community and far beyond....you will never be forgotten.