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.

Aloha,
Crissy and Joel Helmke

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