Monday, April 19, 2010

We are closing in on another difficult day. Everyone has dates on the calendar that they circle, and April 21 is a date that we will never forget.

To remind everyone of where our journey from despair started, I tracked down this post from the past:

One week ago today, Thursday 21 April 2005 our daughter Ashlyn Leigh Shoemaker collapsed and died at Ball High School.

We hope to answer some of your questions.

AT 12:15, Ashlyn was walking to class and fell in the hallway outside the classroom of Ball High swim coach Mr. Kapp. He was immediately at her side to assist her and assured her that he was there to help her and comfort her. She was semi-conscious, struggling to breathe and had a very faint pulse.

The R.N at Ball High happened to be walking down the hallway when it occurred. She and Mr. Kapp moved Ashlyn into his empty classroom where they called 911. It was at this point that Ashlyn stopped breathing and her heart stopped beating. They immediately performed CPR and called for the defibrillator that was on hand. The paramedics arrived within approximately five minutes of her collapse.

We received notification at 12:22PM that Ashlyn was being transported to UTMB-ER. Luckily, we were together in Houston and were able to support each other and pray for our daughter as we sped down to the island.

We were received at the ER by several close friends, Pearl, David Greene and Jason Bramlett as well as staff members from Ball High and UTMB staff.

The trauma team at UTMB did everything possible to revive Ashlyn but she was pronounced dead at 1:03PM.

Ashlyn had a genetic heart condition: hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which is associated with sudden death in a very small percentage of those with the condition. I was diagnosed with the condition while I was pregnant with Ashlyn. My cardiologist informed me that half of my children would have the condition and that it can be diagnosed at adolescence.

The heart condition is not curable and there is little in the way of treatment. Ashlyn had never shown any symptoms from the condition and it is believed that her condition was very mild.
It is recommended that people with this condition not participate in high exertion varsity sports which resulted in her exclusion from many activities such as soccer, Jr. Lifeguards, etc. The only sport that we allowed her to do was surfing, which is considered less strenuous.
We take great comfort in knowing that she left this world quickly and peacefully, with a very kind man at her side to reassure her that she was to get all of the help possible. Short of having this episode occur in an ER, there were few places as well equipped to handle this type of situation.

The outpouring of sympathy after her death was both immediate and overwhelming. The loss that we felt as parents was indescribable and the outpouring of support from the many communities in our life was humbling.

The telephone was ringing constantly as her death made the news, and a procession of dear friends came to offer their support in many ways as we wept in agonizing pain. We appreciate all who supported us through the most difficult day of our lives.

The following Saturday evening, fellow students arranged a candlelight vigil at 47th and several hundred turned out on a beautiful spring evening as the full moon rose in the south. We told stories and celebrated a young woman who saw the best in people and buoyed all those that she met.

Arranging her funeral was incredibly difficult. However, the staff at Forest Park Lawndale were incredibly compassionate in assisting us through this tragedy and provided a steadying hand as we worked to arrange our final tribute to our dear daughter. John Powell and Tom Steelhammer are two individuals drawn to a very difficult industry that treated us with great compassion, dignity and respect.

Her viewing was held Sunday evening and hundreds came by to pay their final respects. There were suits and aloha shirts, rich and poor, black and white, which reminds us of one of Ashlyn’s favorite quotes:

“At the end of the game, both the King and the pawn go back into the same box.”
The funeral on Monday was a very busy time. We were both scurrying around trying to arrange every detail so that she had a perfect send off. At some point I overheard someone comment about the crowd and peeked out into the chapel. What I saw was incredible. Estimates ranged from 600 to 1000 people, with over 300 vehicles parked all over the cemetery. Tropical arrangements lined the chapel. We must have had every orchid available in Texas.
We chose three songs to be played during the service.

The first was performed by This Mortal Coil, Song to the Siren, written by Tim Buckly.
The second was by Tangerine Dream and Jon Anderson, Loved by the Sun, from Legend soundtrack, one of Ashlyn’s favorite movies.
The third was the Beatles, Here Comes the Sun.

For the final viewing, we instructed the staff to play the entire Green Day CD, which we thought the old folks might have disagreed with, but it brought smiles to the kids faces.

The final procession went for over an hour and we hugged hundreds of dear friends.

As we prepared to move to the graveside, the rain stopped and hundreds made their way to the graveside, where Ashlyn, aka LuLu, aka Tootie, was laid to rest next to her dear grandmother who helped raise her until she was 10 years old.

Our caring, kind and compassionate little surfer girl was laid to rest with her favorite shades on her head, a Girl in the Curl t-shirt, Billabong hoodie, jeans and checkered Vans. We have no doubt that her grandmother made her change clothes as soon as she arrived at the pearly gates.
The wake was at her grandfather’s house, where we told funny stories and visited with people very dear to us. This time was priceless and something that will stay with us forever.

We were fortunate enough that during the last few months we made dramatic changes in our life to focus on our family.

We moved the TV out of the living room. We had dinner EVERY night at the dinner table as a family instead in front of the TV. Preparing and cleaning up after our meal was a family event.
We played many games, a favorite was Hello Kitty Uno, which Joel only won once!

She loved to cook so we designated every Wednesday night her cook night. She loved art, music, poetry and literature so we designated one night a week to share art where everyone would bring something to discuss: a work of art and the artist, a poem and the poet and so on.

We made our daughter Ashlyn a priority in our life because we knew that she would be going off to university in just three short years.

A piece of advice that motivated us was a comment attributed to Charlie Cooke:
“Your REAL job does not start until you walk in the door from work.”
We feel very blessed to have lived our lives together over the past few months as if the days were numbered.

Ashlyn’s last year was incredible, her last month was incredible, and her last full day was spent with friends and family. She skipped school with her Mom and a friend and they went to the salon. Then we all made a huge meal and laughed and carried on until late in the evening on a school night.

Some final thoughts for the families out there:

- School is not the most important thing in life. Travel with your kids often and teach them about life and the world.

- If your life is cluttered with distractions that take away from your family, whether that be TV, the internet, alcohol, or hobbies not shared by all, ditch them….Simplify your life, because family is THE only thing that matters.

- Praise your kids often and scold them as little as necessary, they will make mistakes and you are blessed with the responsibility of helping them understand what the mistake was.
We thank all of the friends and family that have supported us through the last week. Our family will persevere and adjust to this new chapter in our life. As the pastor stated on Monday, this will be a long season of grieving, but there is a guarantee of better days ahead.

Crissy and Joel Helmke

Monday, March 15, 2010

We are fast approaching one of those big days......4/21/2010.

It will be five years since that terrible day when our lives were turned inside out and we felt sadness that we did not know existed.

Our memories of Ashlyn are still bright and she is in our thoughts every day. She provides a great role model for her sister and brother even though she is not there to teach them valuable lessons herself, we teach them these lessons for her. We feel like our role as Ashlyn's parents are to act as an extension of her, investing time in things that she would find important and keeping her name on people's lips so she will never be lost to history.

Time is a healer, but it is also an enemy. Things change with time and the world today is much different than the world Ashlyn occupied, then left, five years ago. The places that she loved, such as the Carden Jackson School and the Balinese Room, are now gone. We will not be able to take her siblings to these places so they can be closer to the memory that we are trying to share with them. They will not run across the CJS gym, throwing confetti eggs at their father, or run down the Balinese Room pier on their way to see their friends as Ashlyn did. Those places are lost, as is the palm tree taken from us by the freeze that was once our final Christmas tree with Ashlyn. Every time you lose a place, or thing, it feels like you lose a brushstroke from a painting. You feel very motivated to try and replicate things, as if by doing so you are closer to that memory. As five years turns to ten, and changes continue that will become more and more challenging to do.

The past five years started off in darkness, but we now reside in a bright, happy light. Jacqueline and August have provided us with new opportunities to explore life and look forward to the future. Our life together as a family is incredible and we are now living a charmed existence. We look forward to the next five years and the many joys it will bring as Crissy and I grow a little older and grayer, watching our children learn the wonders of the world around them.

Like they say, Spring is the season of rebirth.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

RIP Ashlyn 5/20/1990 - 4/21/2005

She was a remarkable kid, special in a lot of ways, although I guess every parent sees treasure in their children.

She was good to people, especially old folks which she found fascinating, and the castoffs, in which she saw potential.

She had challenges in her life, which she worked hard to overcome and had a very bright future ahead of her.

I have always said that the unrealized potential saddened me the most because raising a child is such a huge investment and you always want the return to be a life bigger and better than your own.

We constantly ask ourselves where she would be today?.....Waikiki, San Francisco, NYC?.......where would she be going to college?........UCSB, NYU,GC?

It makes it a bit easier being able to imagine her in these settings because it at least pictures her in a place where she should be as opposed to Forest Park.

I can still pull her image to my mind, but the softness of her hand in mine and the tone of her voice are not quite as clear as the memory used to be.

We have worked pretty hard to keep her memory alive, because really that is the best we can do, but scholarships and grom roundups are poor substitutes for the real thing.

We'll never hear her speak our names, play with her new siblings, have children of her own or care for us when we are old.

All that JP and Gus will have are pictures and objects which will never mean to them what they mean to us.

The lesson to all of this is that your life can change forever in a second, and to appreciate the people in your life because they might not be there tomorrow.

We are guaranteed nothing, every day is a gift.

*** To support the Ashlyn Would Go! - Foundation for Futures, try the link in red below the last picture, in Program Designation select AWG!: ... Id=1000393


Friday, July 25, 2008

Well Boys and Girls, it has been a long time since our last post, which should be attributable to two things.

1) Things are good

2) We have been busy

We have grown our family once again, with the birth of August Freeman Helmke in April of 2008. He is a handsome dude and his sister JP absolutely loves him. It looks like Ashlyn once again picked us a winner.

It is hard to believe how far we as a family have comes in the last three years.

- planning for college to searching for good elementary schools

- retiring in our 50's to figuring out how to finance two in college in our 60's

- being consumed by sadness over loss to savoring every special moment with our gifts

Life is bright again, with great optimism and blessings to count.

While we will always feel incomplete, and sad that these kids won't have Ashlyn as a direct and brilliant influence in her life, we are very grateful for the parents that Ashlyn made us and we appreciate the many lessons that she learned that kept her humble, grateful and grounded.
This blog has represented a journey through a difficult and long season and we hope that anyone that experiences this kind of loss can find comfort from it and realize that life will go on and happiness will return.

Monday, November 12, 2007

When Ashlyn died, a very wise man told us that this would be a sad season, but that better days lay ahead. When you are mired in that kind of grief, an all consuming grief, it is hard to imagine better days.

Well, he was right.

It is hard to count our blessings these days. A new, vibrant and healthy baby girl for all of us. Many of Ash's friends are growing into fine adults with big dreams. So many good things and the news of a little brother for Ashlyn and JP to join us in April to top everything off.

I talked to Ash this morning and thanked her for looking out for her family, all of her friends and the people that love her. I asked her to keep an eye on our friend Wes, as he rises to meet the significant challenges that he faces. She has grown into a source of strength for so many and that is the greatest compliment that I could make about her character.

We have someone missing every time we eat dinner, get ready in the morning, take a trip or have fun as a family. We take her with us, but we miss the personality that helped shape the culture of our family.

We have big plans to honor Ashlyn through her foundation and the first major scholarship that we will award to a Ball High grad this spring. Five thousand dollars, gathered from people that either loved Ash or were inspired by her story, will be awarded to a kid that we think will make a positive impact in the world. Most importantly, it may provide an opportunity that may not have otherwise been there for a kid to fulfill their potential, which is the thing that bothers me the most about Ash's passing.

I'm going to get back to work, sorry that the posts have become more and more infrequent, but it's because I have been so busy counting our blessings.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

A very tough day today.

It was on a Thursday two years ago that our old life ended. It was a rather innocent life, we had not really lost anyone close and the world was ours. One page at work from Ball High, one dreadful 45 minute drive to the UTMB ER and that was lost.

You cannot describe this kind of pain. Dark, dark, primitive pain.

We made noises, wails, that we had never made. We could not see due to the rivers of tears, our knees buckled and we shook.

Only through the support of people that we love did we survive that.

They fed us, they called us, they kept telling us that we would survive this and joy would again reenter our lives. To be honest, I did not believe them. Part of me wanted to leave everything behind because every reminder was just so painful.

But they were right. There is still a hole where a teenager should be, that will never go away. But there are new sources of light, new joys and challenges. Life is satisfying again, but we savor it like a fine meal. We treat it as if it could end at a moments notice and we want to squeeze every ounce out of it.

We are reminded of our girl constantly, and we cherish those moments. Every once in a while we get a gift, like the photo that I attached. I found it today.....a photo that we have not studied and tried to burn into our memory. This is from her school trip in 7th grade, which we ar so thankful that she took.

All of those kids are grown, driving, making adult decisions....sometimes living with adult consequences. We wonder aloud about what she would be into, what car she would be driving, where she would have gone to college.
We'll never know these things.
We will know that every day is a gift, we are not entitled to anything, and that the only thing that gives life value is the love that exists in it.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Well, our little angel turned two months this week and what a two months this has been.

You notice every little change in an infant, everything is a milestone; the smiles, the coos, the little looks. We are enjoying every moment.

Crissy goes back to work in a wee or so and I know that will be tough. She sends me phone photos every day to keep me in touch and lets me give a bottle when I get home. I have to admit, the traditional family roles are working in a very non-traditional family.

We are trying to get reramped up on Ashlyn's scholarship. We are trying to get a meeting together with the GISD folks to discuss the award and find out how that will be administered. We also have a new sticker design on the way, just to freshen things up.

Plenty going on, especially with the parents. Mom Mosier, who in reality is my step-Mom's (Kathy) Mom, passed away recently after spending the last few years being dutifully cared for by Mom Kathy and my Dad. They deserve a medal, I hope my kids care for me in my late years as she has done. An example to all of us.

My Mom proved once again what we all knew, she is cut from granite. Had a lumpectomy to remove a malignancy and you could not even tell the next day. She was picking up and rocking the baby, being Super Grammy.

Gotta run and host a party for one of my departing docs.

Love to all.