Sunday, December 18, 2011

Kirsten Leigh Perrine

My niece passed away a few days ago. She was 12 years old. Having been diagnosed with neuroblastoma at age 21 months, she lived much of her life going in and out of the hospital. In fact, since I live in Seattle, the first time I was really around her was when she was in Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia for the first time. I sat with her while she watched endless cycles of Toy Story and Toy Story 2. Her parents, William (my brother) and Kim had so much on their plate. Throughout Kir’s illness, I’ve always been so impressed with the strength they have both brought to parenting her and her siblings Jake and Delanie.

Over the years, we spent some time together when I was able to make it home for holidays. I’ll always remember our Thanksgiving celebration in my Dad’s last year. Grandpa Don and Aunt Patricia and Kirsten were down on the floor playing “Whack – a - mole.” Kirsten had to teach Don how to play the game – happily correcting his mistakes.

One Christmas, we were at cousin Bruce and Nora’s home, and between their 2 boys Ethan and Spencer, and Kirsten, Jake and Delanie, there was quite a bit of hubbub. To try to calm things down, Will started reading a story. By the time he was a page into it, he had kids on his lap, his shoulders, and hanging over the arm of the chair. He was covered in kids. Our longtime family friend Auntie Ev was there. In her early nineties at this point, she was still sharp, although she confessed that it was harder for her to have the energy to enjoy being around the commotion as much as she would have liked. Will had been very close to her and Uncle Jay when he was a boy, so I was glad he was able to show off his kids to her.

It was hard to miss so much of the kids’ daily life being so far away. After Dad died, Will and I were in more frequent communication. It was great to hear about the soccer and other games, Kir’s outings for dinner with dad, ice skating and the various birthday events. Kim kept me updated with annual pictures of the crew, sometimes in calendar format, once in a beautiful coffee table book.

Kir became my “gift advisor.” We’d talk on the phone, and she would tell be about what she and her siblings liked to do. She would always have great ideas about what I should get for the other kids for birthdays and Christmas. And of course, we’d talk about cooking. She was passionate about cooking. Cooking shows, cook books, and making dinners and desserts. I can tell by what others have written about her that she was not shy about sharing the treats she made.

Perhaps the memory that is dearest to my heart is of sitting in the living room watching television with Will. The kids were all in their beds. Suddenly, Kir came running out of her room, and bee-lined into my lap. I covered her with a blanket, and there we stayed, my hand gently rubbing her back. I gave her my heart that evening and she has it still. She was an extraordinary person. In her brief time with us, she touched so very many, reminding us of the lessons of her beloved turtles – go slow and steady, enjoy every moment you can, and when things are scary or bad, remember you have a tough shell to protect yourself.