Today is Alesia's twenty seventh birthday. Alesia was born with a defect in her heart. The earliest picture I have seen of Alesia is a blurred Polaroid of a team of nurses rushing an incubator down the hallway of the hospital. Alesia survived the heart condition and began living life the best that she could.
Alesia had to be careful playing while she was growing up. She was not very strong because of her heart situation. Her parents, Marsha and Gregg, took her in for checkups to keep an eye on how her heart was doing. If I remember right she had several heart surgeries as she grew older and bigger to keep that precious heart going.
Gregg works with me and has since before Alesia was born. We use to get together a group of guys from the office and play basketball every once in a while. Good Friday was the big game of the year because we had that day off from work. We would all meet at whatever gym we could get and play about four hours of basketball. A lot of us brought our kids with us. I took my son, Brett with me and Gregg always seemed to have his two daughters in tow. His eldest daughter Kristie and Alesia. Kristie spent most of her time looking after Alesia. The kids would shoot baskets in between games and Brett and Kristie would be sure to get a basketball to Alesia so she could shoot some during the breaks.
When the girls would go for walks Kristie would pull Alesia who was sitting in a wagon because she could not walk very far without getting totally wore out. Alesia could not have asked for a better sister than Kristie. Nor could Alesia ask for better parents than Marsha and Gregg. They would take Alesia with them and let her do as much as she could. They did their best to give Alesia as normal of a childhood as she could have and they did a terrific job of it. The family would make trips to Central Missouri State University in Warrensburg during the basketball season and Kristie and Alesia would stand on the floor in front of their front row seats and cheer the team on. I went to a few of those games and the girls had a fun time. Both the girls seemed to love basketball as much as their father did. It was during these early years at CMSU that I think Alesia decided she wanted to be a cheerleader. Her health and her heart would determine in the future if she would be able to do that or not. I think she was pretty determined to be a cheerleader one day though and it remained a dream of hers to succeed at eventually.
As she grew older her heart seemed to get stronger. The trips to the doctor for checkups began to become further apart. Gregg and Marsha were starting to feel more confident in Alesia's health. Every once in a while Gregg would give me an update on how well she was doing. Then one day he came in with the news he had been waiting to get for fourteen years. The doctor had told them that Alesia's heart was in good shape and that even though she would need to continue to come in for checkups there was no reason why she wouldn't live a long and normal life. The doctor gave her the okay to be more physical.
After this news Alesia went and tried out for the Oak Grove Cheerleading squad and made it. She had accomplished one of her lifetime goals. She was going to be a cheerleader. She got her uniform and all the trimmings and prepared for the up coming school year. To Alesia and her family it was almost on the level of being a miracle. She was going to be okay and be able to do what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.
Two weeks later I arrived at work and sat down to start the day. I had not been there very long when my supervisor came in to ask if I had heard the news that Gregg's daughter had died. He did not know the name and I assumed that possibly Kristie had been in an automobile accident. I felt my stomach start to turn into knots thinking about Gregg and Marsha. Then I heard the actual news. Alesia had died. Kristie had gotten a new camera and was taking pictures of her family. When she entered Alesia's room, she found her sister laying still and not breathing. Gregg did all he could to try to save Alesia but it wasn't enough. On July fifteenth nineteen ninety-eight, Alesia Dawn died.
I felt totally sick. It had just been a little while ago when the doctor had given her the green light on life and now she was gone. My heart ached for Gregg, Marsha and Kristie. I have never felt more helpless to reach out to a friend than I did during those days. I began to think how I would deal with it if something had happened to Brett. He was just two years older than Alesia. I could not imagine the pain and anger and all the other emotions that must be flooding over Gregg and Marsha during this time.
Barb and I went to the visitation for Alesia. There was a big crowd waiting attesting to how wonderful a girl Alesia had been in life. I stood in line with my wife and my friend Dennis and I tried to figure out what to say to Gregg when I got up to him. I did not want to say anything wrong but I wanted him to know that there was no way I could feel what he was feeling. As we got to Kristie , Marsha and Gregg, I gave Marsha a simple hug without saying anything. Then I looked Gregg in the eyes. His eyes were so sad, his whole face and body language spoke of a man that was beaten down. All I could think of to say was that I didn't know what to say. Gregg hugged me and I hugged him back. There was nothing to say. How can words comfort a family at a time like this. Nothing can comfort a family facing what they were facing.
Alesia Dawn laid in her casket with her cheerleading uniform on. A uniform she had worked so hard to get and now would never be able to wear it in public cheering the Oak Grove teams on to victory or defeat. She had met her dream and it was taken away from her. I was hurting for Gregg and Marsha and Kristie and yet I knew there was nothing I could do except to be there if Gregg ever wanted to talk.
Gregg did eventually come to talk. He talked about how hurt he was and how people would not seem to think before they talked to him. People would tell Gregg "It will be okay" and Gregg would think no, it wouldn't. People would suggest that the it would get better with time and Gregg would think that no, it wouldn't. People would stop talking about Alesia as though she had never existed because they did not feel comfortable talking about it or they thought it would be a bad thing for Gregg to talk about Alesia. Gregg did not want Alesia to be forgotten. He wanted to talk about her and to talk about his feelings. It was during these talks with Gregg that I realized how the hurt from losing a loved one never leaves. I felt it when I lost my grandfather and I still do feel that hurt as I miss him. Grandpa has been gone for a long time and it still hurts and I was expecting him to die. Alesia has only been gone about thirteen years and was totally unexpected. The pain that Gregg and Marsha and Kristie feel is still overwhelming. It will be for quite a long time.
Gregg kept a journal over the first year or so after Alesia died, describing his feelings and his thoughts. Personally I think it is something that people should read so that we can get a feeling for what a person goes through when they lose someone. It is not okay. It will not pass with time, The hurt will never go away..
All of us need to be careful and to stop and think before saying something that will hurt more than help.. Words mean things and if the wrong words are spoken they hang around for a very long time causing more pain and suffering.
I did not know Alesia that well. I knew that she was an adorable little girl full of love. She was a girl filled with determination. She was a girl who loved her family and all of her friends. She was a girl who would have grown into a lovely young lady and accomplish many things. Now I think of Alesia as having a chance to teach people in her own way about sensitivity, spirituality, and love. I see her teaching these things everyday either through her mom and dad and the way in which they remember her or through her dad's journal that spells out so well the pain and suffering that a child's death can bring about and how it never goes away.
Gregg's Journal on the M.I.S.S. website