In April of this year, my Aunt Kayla was diagnosed with a rare form of stage IV colon cancer. She entered treatment and spent time with her husband, children, grandchildren, extended family, and friends in the months that followed her diagnosis. She LIVED life to the fullest, as she always has been known to do.
Yesterday, my Aunt Kayla and Uncle Brad celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary. I don’t remember much from the day of their wedding as I was only seven years old. I do remember I wore a pretty dress and was a gift bearer, talking gifts from guests as they walked in the door of the church and placing them on the gift table. I also remember my aunt was a lovely bride and I was in awe of her.
The party yesterday was at the same church where my aunt and uncle were married 40 years ago. Family and close friends gathered for a nice meal. It was good to be together and I am so glad Tom and I made the trip. My Uncle Brad surprised his bride of 40 years with a dance to “Through the Years” by Kenny Rogers. He held her tight and smiled down at her as he always does when they dance. I have many memories of them dancing at family weddings. They would always smile and laugh and enjoy twirling around the dance floor. After their dance their beautiful daughters, Megan and Shannon, surprised them with a slide show set to music that showed many cherished family moments of them with their parents and the four grandchildren my aunt adored. Soon after the slideshow finished, my aunt went home. She just wasn’t feeling well.
By the end of the day, Aunt Kayla had been taken by ambulance to the hospital. At 12:25 this afternoon, she passed away peacefully from cancer complications with her husband, daughters, and son-in-laws by her side. The loss to our family and all who called her friend is huge.
Many of my memories of my aunt are from my childhood and young adulthood when I still lived in Charles City. I remember when I found out she sang in choir and that she had a solo on a Christmas record my mom and dad owned. I thought she was so cool (and a bit famous) in my young eyes. I looked up to her because I was learning how much I loved to sing. I remember doing sleepovers at my aunt and uncle’s home and how she always made it fun. When my cousins came into the world, she and my uncle trusted me to be one of their babysitters. I spent a lot of time at their house on 7th Avenue. I know there are pictures of her and me from my childhood, but they are all tucked away somewhere at my parents’ house.
She supported me by showing up for choir concerts and marching band performances. Music was something we had in common. Later in life when I had the chance to sing in a backup choir for Josh Groban, I was excited to tell her. “You Raise Me Up” was one of her favorite songs, and shortly after she was diagnosed I sent her a video of the song where at one point you can see me on the jumbo screen singing away behind Josh. She thought it was awesome!
The other things I will always remember about Aunt Kayla: she had a huge smile and loved to laugh. She would always call my dad “Keithers.” She collected snow people, loved everything Iowa Hawkeyes, drank flavored coffee, and family meant the world to her. She loved greatly, and is greatly loved, even in death. I’m certain she was welcomed home by her dad Mike, her parents-in-law Roland and Pat, and a host of other angels who have gone before her. May she rest in everlasting peace.