“I am exhausted from trying to be stronger than I feel.” (Whisper Quotes)
April 14, 2017. Good Friday. “My beautiful daughters were killed in a head on collision on I-17 by no fault of their own. They died instantly and went home to be with the Lord.”
It’s been one year. One year. Hard to believe. Hard to still fathom what happened and especially why it happened. Losing one child is hard enough. But losing both? Horrible.
Cathy was one of my best and dearest friends in high school. Our parents worked at the same mission organization and we went to the same church and youth group. We both grew up in different parts of Africa so we had that in common. We both had the middle name of Joy and we sang together in competitions under the name of Double Joy. We had boatloads of fun, dated friends, were on our Bible quiz team, loved one another fiercely, and even got in some mischief together (like the time we were arrested because I pointed a dismantled BB gun out of the window of my car and an undercover policeman happened to see it…long story for another time). I think my mom made me “break up” with her because of this (little did my mom know that I was really the one to blame and Cathy was the one who should have been breaking up with me). Needless to say, Double Joy (and maybe Double Trouble) fit us perfectly.
After I left for college, Cathy went on in her career and then moved to North Carolina to become a highly successful mortgage loan officer and then top sales rookie for Aflac Insurance Company her first year. During that time, she raised two beautiful girls, Karli and Kelsey, into wonderful adult women. Karli went to Grand Canyon University and was about to graduate at the end of April 2017 with a BA in Communications with plans to get her masters degree. Kelsey was a Bio-Medical Premed student at Western Carolina University. They both loved life, their Savior, their friends, their mom and one another! Please read more HERE.
In the early-morning hours of Good Friday, April 14, 2017, the girls were killed in a wrong-way crash. Please check out the first news story HERE. There are more links to come.
Photos, videos, condolences, tributes and a GoFundMe fundraiser immediately flooded social media on behalf of Cathy and her girls. News stories from North Carolina and Arizona went viral. Check them out HERE and HERE.
Three days later, April 17, 2017, Cathy posted:
“The past 72 hours have been more than I can bear and my sorrow and broken heart I can’t even share. So much I want to say but I still just can’t. My tears are many and my soul and body know no rest.”
The morning of the viewing:
“Tomorrow starts the worst 36 hours of my life. I’m afraid to even go to bed because it means I have to wake up. I still struggle to breathe and function. I ask for much prayer as I truly physically and mentally hurt more than I ever thought possible. Smarli and Smelsey, Mommy is here and will love you forever. My heart belongs to you both forever and my life will forever be unhappy because your smiles and laughter will not be seen or heard anymore on this earth. I’m jealous of those in heaven as they get to be near and with you: which is where I want to be. Mommy”
The day of the funeral:
“Today I bury my children, something a mother should never have to do. I ask for prayers every minute as I do the final task for my children today, the one last thing I can do for them as mommy. I will lift them up to the Lord and I will speak on their behalf.”
That afternoon, with the church packed to the gills, Cathy stood on stage for more than an hour, at times reading from notes, but more often speaking freely and telling stories about her girls. She spoke haunting words to the audience, asking “Are You Listening?,” wanting others to heed the call of her girls’ tragic and undeserved deaths. You can actually watch the Youtube video HERE.
Fundraisers all across Arizona and North Carolina popped up. Richard Petty’s iconic #43 race car drove in honor of the girls. Dutch Brothers Coffee in Arizona raised money. A GoFund Me page was set up and more money poured in than expected. Vigils were held. Benches were dedicated. Pictures were painted. Videos were made. Trees were planted. Letters of support came from across the globe.
Only 10 days later, Cathy flew to Arizona and walked in Karli’s place at the Grand Canyon University graduation ceremony to receive her daughter’s diploma. Check out this article and the following very touching interview.
In the painful weeks to follow, Cathy spent time with family, friends, Cathy’s kids (a group of several young adults who call her “Mom” and spent Mother’s Day with her) and her cats, found a plot of land to build K2 Ranch, a home she wants to invite others into in honor of the girls, and went to vigils and fundraisers. She grieved often and openly, finding some purpose in their deaths. Read more HERE.
Kelsey’s birthday, July 15, was marked by great grief and incredible joy as friends gathered to celebrate her:
“July 15, 1998. Kelsey Mae Richardson was born. Intense labor and you entered the world screaming. Full head of hair, the famous eyebrows and the beautiful pouty lips: from day one you had it all. You grew into a incredibly smart, beautiful, full of life, talented loving young woman: only to have it all taken away in the blink of an eye. From the moment I heard you to the moment I first held you, I loved you! As you grew and got mouthy, then extra sweet, then clingy, then adventurous and even more beautiful than ever, I loved you more. Your incredible mind made you uniquely different and as that developed I became your best friend: the one who really understood you and “got you”. Kelsey, I still “got you”! You now have a future with the Lord God Almighty, and “He got you” way more than I do. HE is your protector now and your guide: watching you love and laugh as you run around heaven carrying Karli. I know where you are today on your birthday, you are with Jesus, you are celebrating with the Most High. Tonight look down about dusk, I’m sending presents up to heaven to you tonight. You’ll love it and you’ll think to yourself: “aw, mom still has my back”. I gotcha Smelsey, I love you and miss you and I gotcha! Happy Birthday Kelsey, mommy loves you forever and always”
In late August, I had the chance to spend the day with this incredible woman. We drove around with the top down in her fancy sports car and enjoyed the gentle breeze and the beautiful day. She showed me her land and her plans to build K2 Ranch. She shared endless stories about her amazing girls. She took me to see Memorials that have been made and we even stopped in to visit local veterans at Richards Coffee Shop which houses Welcome Home Veterans Living Military Museum where she and the girls spent so much time and energy honoring those who have served and continue to. We even stopped to see one of her clients that she “gave a talking to” about how his choices were bad for his health and his family, but that she was still going to try to get whatever money she could for him from the insurance company. We ended our time with a wonderful dinner on a lake at her favorite local eatery and she still had time to drive me home and have a quick visit with my parents. I was enamored by her. Her grief was open. Her spunk was not destroyed. Her joy was unhindered. Her love for others was evident. Her heart was the same, filled with adventure and kindness. She was all of those things at the same time and in the same moments.
More grief as her cat Ollie dies on September 12:
“I woke up to find the cancer had finally won the battle with my precious little Ollie. A year ago Ollie walked into my yard and rescued me. I didn’t rescue him, he rescued me. God knew this would be the year of my life that would forever change me, and He gave me this little guy to sit on me when I’d cry, sleep with me at night so I wouldn’t be alone, be silly and cause laughter and smiles. To be loved completely and greeted immediately: that’s my Ollie. What he gave was what humans just can’t give me this year. He helped me to be calm when I was restless and lost. I love you Ollie and I’m so grateful for you saving me this year. Give kisses to Karli and Kelsey and tell them I miss them and love them.”
September 14, 2017
“Five months ago, God took you both home. I still don’t understand why but I’m trying. I struggle daily and some days are good and others unbearable. My heart is heavy but when I close my eyes I can feel your soft skin and smell your hair and feel it run through my fingers as I hug you tight and you hug me back. So brokenhearted today…”
September 17, 2017 Cathy spoke:
“I had the honor to speak at Western Carolina University on behalf of my beautiful daughter about the tragedies of drunk driving. It was a emotional night but I know God is using my beautiful girls for His glory and knowing this I will make it through life until one glorious day I have them both in my arms again.”
Cathy spent Christmas with her elderly mom, but it was an unimaginably hard day:
“1 year ago. Laughing and smiling and loving my life 100%!!! All I love around me. Never again will smiles be the same or a fully happy heart. God let’s me know they are happier than I can imagine but my heart is broken beyond imagination. Thank you for texts calls and emails. Knowing I’m prayed for and my children are not forgotten is one thing that warms my heart and makes me smile. May they never be forgotten. My soul will one day be full again when the Lord takes me home and I will feel them in my arms and hear their laughs and smell their hair and know that my babies are with me and we are together.”
On New Years’ Eve, the reality of the night ahead pierced Cathy’s heart. Too much drinking and possible driving tonight. Other families will grieve as a result. She warned:
“I pray you all READ and remember: SHARE this especially tonight.
This should never have happened. My incredibly smart, funny, loving and beautiful daughters should be ALIVE today! DRUNK DRIVING caused this, killed them and killed the drunk too! DO NOT DRIVE DRUNK TONIGHT!!! For EVERYONES sake DO NOT DRIVE DRUNK TONIGHT! No mother should get the knock on the door tomorrow morning like I did. If you think it can’t happen to you, it happens. DO NOT DRIVE DRUNK!!!!!!!!!!!”
Cathy’s birthday, January 7, is marked by another day of horror and beauty, brokenness and redemption:
“There was a plan that the girls devised, of how our older years would be and how the girls would take care of me. Kelsey would work and make all the money. Karli would watch all the children and clean Kelsey’s house and mine. I was the cook and financial planner. We would all live on 15 acres which Kelsey would buy with her “doctor’s” income. Today, they are taking care of me but in a way that I wish I could change. I’d rather live in a tent than live without them! But today, they are building me a ranch house in the country to live and retire in. It will be handicap accessible and will protect and care for me. Beautiful acreage and everything I could possibly ever need and want. They are providing for me and caring for me from above in a way I never thought of. It’s hard and emotional to build this. I cry almost every time I go out to see it. People ask if I’m angry at God, and the answer is sometimes I am. I cry and I yell and I wonder why everyday. Yet, through all this He made sure I would still be cared for as I was left here on earth: they are caring for me and keeping their word and will forever provide for me till I see them again. My precious babies mommy loves you so much and I can’t wait till the Lord brings us back together again in heaven…”
In February, we had lunch together as I was back in Charlotte to care for my mom. She spoke of how she was doing, what was happening with the ranch, and listened to my stories with a kind heart. Again, she was authentic and vulnerable, not sugar-coating her grief, but also filled with laughter, the same girl I had known my whole life. It marked a wonderful three hours as we tried to eat healthy, but ended up having some treats, just like two 50-somethings would do when they went out to lunch. So normal, yet so “not normal.” It’s never normal to talk about your children’s deaths and all the after effects.
March 26, 2018, Karli’s 21st birthday, another speaking engagement and a cake made by a friend. Another day of grief and beauty.
Good Friday, March 30, 2018:
“A few weeks ago I got permission from the new owners of our old home to remove a 10 year old Pin Oak tree that Karli and I planted when she was in 3rd grade. It was a sprig in a paper cup she brought home from school and insisted we plant. She watched over and watered and protected that sprig, and it actually began to grow. I will be able to look out my back porch and see the tree that my little big girl and I planted years ago, and as it grows I will remember my little big girl who never gave up and believed that she could do anything she put her mind to.”
Same day, right before bed:
“Many of you have texted, called, messaged and done very kind things for me today: and I truly appreciate it all. It is Good Friday and last year the girls died on this day. I struggle daily with so much. I remember day one, minute one, second one when each were born. How I long to go back. April 14 will be the toughest, the actual day when 1 year will have passed without us laughing, hugging, talking, giggling, watching Scooby Doo, going to DQ and Pomodoros, watching movies with Gma, shopping and sharing in the life we had put together and loved so much. Karli I can’t stand it that I don’t get your constant Facetime calls, and Kelsey it’s almost unbearable to sit on the couch on Fridays now and know you aren’t going to walk through the door and surprise me with a weekend visit. God needed you and I don’t know why, but knowing how safe and loved you are up in heaven gives me the comfort I need to know I will see you again: I WILL SEE YOU AGAIN! Good Friday is a important day and when I think about it you both are so special and important it makes sense He would take you home on that day: you had to go and you both were so good and how honored to go home on the day the Lord did too. He will rise on Sunday, and because of that you rose out of your grave and are with Him: and someday I will be up there also and again we will laugh and hug and be together again, only this time forever. Nothing will ever again separate us once God brings us back together again. Pain and suffering, forever down here I will have, but Praise God for Easter as one day all suffering will end.”
April 7, 2018 “In one week it’s been a year. Breakdown today. I can’t take it.”
Sunday night, April 8, I sent her a message.
“Oh thank you Esther. How kind. I’d be honored and humbled.”
April 9, 2018 “Karli’s tree is doing beautifully if you look closely there are full buds on every branch of the tree is living just like Karli and Kelsey are living in heaven above mommy loves and misses you both so much.”
April 14, 2018 Cathy is currently in Arizona heading on a hike and a luncheon to honor the girls on the anniversary of their deaths. A “Come Light a Candle Event” is taking place in North Carolina. These girls were so loved and they are very missed. This morning, her heart poured out again.