Archive for the ‘People’ Category

Xander Day

09 Aug

One year ago today, my son lost his best friend.  Xander‘s last act upon this earth was holding a 3-year-old girl above the water so that she could breathe, while he drowned.

Xander’s parents have been such an inspiration to us over the past year.  They have found the strength not only to move forward in the midst of a heart-wrenching tragedy, but also to use their son’s memory to make the world a better place.  They strive each day to emulate Xander’s compassionate nature, and have continually worked toward saving lives and making a difference in the lives of others.

In a similar vein, we wished to honor Xander’s memory today, and decided to implement what we have started calling “Xander Day.”  Jens and I both took off work today, so we had a full day at our disposal.  Every member of our family brainstormed to come up with acts of kindness we could carry out throughout the day.


We made and delivered teacher gifts.


We purchased school supplies for underprivileged kids.


The kids helped me bake cookies, which we put in these cans as gifts.


We delivered the cookies to neighbors.


The kids helped Jens make a donation to The Water Project

We also made donations to Goodwill.  We took a big box of shoes and clothes, Kaelin donated some books, and Koren picked out some toys to give. The kids even managed to do kind things for each other.  Koren took the initiative to go ask the hostess for a coloring page for Kaelin while we were at lunch, and Kaelin later volunteered to help Koren clean a mess he had made in the pantry.

It’s been a busy day, but one full of blessings.  Many of our neighbors weren’t home, so we branched out and met some people on our street that we don’t know.  We even discovered that one of our neighbors knew Xander as well.  And it warmed my heart so much to see the kids doing things for each other, and also making other people smile.  Today was an example to us that sometimes God can make blessings bloom in the midst of tragedy, and I hope that we are able to continue this tradition as we honor Xander’s memory in the future.  As always, we’re keeping Xander’s family in our thoughts and prayers, and look forward to spending some time with them soon.

And now I need to go put up the leftover cookies to keep my kids from raiding them.



10 Jun

Wilson Eckels

June 5, 1918 – June 10, 2013


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Posted in Family



25 Feb

My son’s personality is an intriguing dichotomy.  He is frequently a total, off-the-wall goofball who loves to make jokes and crack others (and himself) up with his silly antics and humor.  His laugh is infectious and when something really tickles him he wants to share it (again and again) with everyone around him. He is constantly coming up with ways to make me laugh.

But he can also be a serious scholar, who grasps intangible concepts far beyond his age level.  He can spend lengthy periods of time pouring over a puzzle or a book, and sometimes retreats from the social atmosphere because he just needs some “alone time.”

He misses Xander.  He has been remarkably resilient in the wake of losing his best friend in a drowning accident last summer, but Xander is frequently on his mind and he occasionally has days when he seems to struggle with the weight of permanent (at least, for the length of this lifetime) loss.  I think true grief is like that, coming in waves where sometimes the seas are calm and you can manage through life as usual, and other times it comes out of nowhere and knocks your boat over.

A couple of weeks ago, I was in my craft room when I started to hear a small, whimpering voice.  At first I thought maybe the kids were playing (they frequently role-play, where one is the parent and the other is the kid… and the kid role involves a LOT of whining).  But I soon realized that Kaelin was downstairs, so I followed the sound and found Koren sitting by himself in the media room.  The Apple TV’s slideshow was running and he was watching our family pictures scroll up the screen.

“You ok, bud?”
“Mama… I miss Xander.  I want things to be like they were in that picture.  With me and Xander at Chuck E Cheese.”
“Were you talking to Xander just now?”

I want so badly to make this better for him.  That’s my right after all, isn’t it?  The Sacred Superpower granted to all parents:  kisses and words to offer that make all the boo-boos feel better and all the monsters disappear.

But – surprise –  there are some wounds that can’t be healed with hugs and kisses.  These wounds continue to hurt the ones you try so hard to shield.

He had another wave yesterday.  We were at a restaurant with my family and Koren suddenly retreated.  I noticed him sitting in a corner instead of in his chair and asked him to come sit with me.  He climbed up in my lap and we chatted for a bit, and then I took him to the bathroom.  Once we were in there, between his goofy attempts to make himself invisible so he could jump out and surprise me, we had the following conversation:

“Mama, can I tell you something?”
“Of course.”
“Do you know why I was sitting in the corner?”
“No.  Why?”
“Because I was thinking of Xander.  And I wish we were playing together.”

His mood picked up after lunch and he seemed to really enjoy the rest of the day (especially T-Ball practice), but his friend remained on his mind.  He brought it up again at bedtime and told me that every time he sees a helicopter it makes him think of Xander (who was flown to the hospital in one).  He wanted to know if, whenever they are reunited in Heaven some day, Xander would still be four, or if they will be the same age.  He still prays for Xander’s family nearly every night.

Today, he’s in good spirits.  He bounded down the stairs this morning full of life and hoping for a boiled egg with breakfast.  While eating, he ruminated on whether he wants to be a teacher or a doctor when he grows up.  It appears yesterday’s funk has passed.

Even though his instinct is to retreat when he’s feeling down or needing to process, talking about it does seem to help him.  Despite my wishes (and futile attempts), I can’t calm the ocean for him.  I can only ride the waves with him, and hold him tight when swells get high.

Perhaps that’s all he needs from me.


Family Reunion

07 Sep

We flew to Denver and back in one day in order to attend a reunion on Jens’ side of the family.  It was a lot of fun and totally exhausting… especially for Koren, who – while we were sitting in the airport waiting for our delayed (!!!) flight home – kept moaning and whimpering about how the only thing he wanted in the whole world was his “comfy little bed.”  Poor kid was just beside himself after getting up at 4:30am, no nap, playing himself into exhaustion at the park, and not getting home until 11pm.

The reunion itself was tons of fun though.  We met at a park and the kids played and played and played, while the adults visited.  This is a side of the family we don’t get to see often, which is a shame, since they’re all pretty wonderful people and we really enjoy the times we DO get to spend with them.

Here are a few highlights…

Cousin fistbumps

My little hooligans

The kids adore their Auntie Choo.

Hanging out

Mr. Sunshine. At least, during this point of the day.

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Posted in Family, Kaelin, Koren, Photos, Travel


In Memory

13 Aug

Yesterday we attended Xander’s memorial.  It was a nice service, with a hopeful message and a lot of sweet memories shared between friends and family.  When they asked people who knew Xander to come forward and share, I really wanted to.  But each time I tried to stand up, my stomach lurched in such a way that I was pretty sure my attempt at speech would end with me running toward the nearest exit.  See, I have this unfortunate fate of possessing a digestive tract that is ever so closely linked with my emotional state, and sometimes when things aren’t easy, my body starts rejecting anything I eat.  It’s really annoying (though my trainer commented on Saturday that I look like I’ve lost weight… I guess that could be considered a benefit).  Anyway, had I been able, I would have said something like this…

Xander was my son’s best friend.  In fact, in the full version of the picture [on display at the memorial], his arm is around my son.  His arm was always around Koren.

Koren’s not a huge kid, so we were amused when he immediately picked the biggest kid in class to be his best buddy  – we figured if they grew up together we’d never have to worry about anybody picking on him.

When Koren started going to preschool with Xander, we had just moved back from Alaska.  He didn’t know anybody and was used to being in the same class as his older sister – so drop-offs in this new environment were hard.  Even on days he didn’t cling to my leg as I dropped him off, he would still walk slowly and timidly into the noisy cafeteria.  Until he saw Xander.  If Xander was there in the mornings, he and I both knew it was going to be alright.  He’d climb into a seat next to his newfound friend and start chatting.  His teachers picked up on this pretty quickly.  Pretty soon, we’d open the door to hear, “Xander, Koren’s here!” or “Koren, Xander’s over here!”

They were quite a pair, and brought out the silliness in each other.  Sometimes they would get in trouble together.  Jens or I would walk in to pick Koren up in the afternoon, to be told immediately that Koren had been reprimanded.

“I had to separate him and Xander,” his teacher would say.  “They were hugging too much.”
“They were… what?”
“They were hugging too much when they were supposed to be paying attention.”
“Oh.   … Ok.”

I’ll be honest, it’s kind of hard to make your kid apologize for being a distraction when you really just want to laugh at the fact that his crime was being affectionate.

I was always in a hurry to pick up Koren and get out of there (you know, us and our busy lives), but I frequently got roadblocked by a certain four-year-old with outstretched arms:

“Kowen’s Mom, gimme a hug!”

How can you say no to that?  Sometimes he wouldn’t even ask, he’d just plow into me when I wasn’t looking 🙂

When Xander got moved to a different preschool class, we saw that it affected Koren.  Not anything super dramatic, but I noticed that he was a little more subdued when I picked him up.  He told me several times how much he missed being in class with Xander.  He soon found a new little friend to hang out with in class, but always referred to her as “my best friend in Ms. Teresa’s class.”  Best Friend (without qualifications) was a title still reserved for Xander.

Tonight Koren wanted to look at pictures of his birthday party.  For every picture he flipped through that had Xander in it, he would say, “That’s my friend Xander who’s in Heaven,” or “There’s Xander.  He’s a hero.”

I want Koren to remember the special bond he shared with this remarkable boy.  I wish they had been able to grow up together, but I think that somehow Xander will continue to be with Koren in the years to come.  And every time we look at his pictures, read his story, or release ladybugs in his honor, I hope he feels the warmth of that friendship and remembers the loving boy he was so privileged to know.


Protected: A Lesson in Humanity

10 Aug

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09 Aug

Xander Kahle Vento

1/24/2008 – 8/9/2012





Fly to Heaven, sweet boy.  Your life was too short, but your suffering is over.  We will miss your hugs, your smile, and the joy you brought to those around you.



09 Aug

Last night we said goodbye to Koren’s favorite little friend.  For anyone who hasn’t been keeping up with Xander on Facebook (ah facebook, the modern telephone), he’s the four-year-old boy you may have seen on the news, who came to the aid of a 3-year-old girl struggling in the water.

He did save her and she is fine.  However, he apparently did so by keeping himself submerged to lift her above the water, or perhaps was hanging on to the side of the pool and lost his grip and went under – there are several versions of the story out there right now and I’m not entirely sure on the details.  Regardless, by the time he was discovered and pulled from the water, he was unconscious and without a pulse.  An off-duty nurse performed CPR until an ambulance arrived.  The paramedics were eventually able to get a pulse started just before he was flown to Cook Children’s, but were not able to bring him back to consciousness.

There was some hope Tuesday, as he started trying to take breaths over the ventilator, but his body temperature was too low so the doctors sedated him to let him warm up before he started to fight.

Unfortunately, when they took him off the ventilator the next day, there was no fight in him.  His temperature had normalized but he made no attempts to breathe and his brain activity had diminished further.

Yesterday afternoon, I started getting this sinking feeling.  I was hoping it was just the weather.  We had received an outpouring of love and encouragement from friends/family, and were in the process of making an audio CD collection of greetings for Xander from people all over the world.  I should have been in a relatively hopeful frame of mind, and actually was until mid-afternoon.  But as the day progressed, I found myself unable to shake this heaviness/anxiety.  I was pretty much useless at work, waiting for the time we could go to the hospital.

On the way there, we received a message from Xander’s mother: he wasn’t going to make it.

We arrived at the hospital just after the family had been told that there was no hope for recovery.  The atmosphere was heavy and thick with emotion and it seemed absurd for us to be waiting in the family suite, reading stories to our healthy, vibrant children to keep them quiet and entertained while everyone around us was grieving over the loss of their own.

Koren was admitted into the ICU room to see him.  It seems to have meant a lot to Xander’s parents that their son could be with his best friend one last time.

They had a counselor available, whose job it is to prepare children for seeing their loved ones in the hospital.  Before he went in, she showed Koren a picture book and explained what all the tubes and wires were that he would see attached to Xander.  I think it helped.

Koren blew Xander lots of kisses while he was in the room, but didn’t feel very talkative.  He took in the scene, and answered when spoken to.  He asked questions about some of the patches or pieces of equipment that weren’t in the picture book.  Fortunately, Xander’s parents do have several recordings of Koren talking to his sweet friend.

We didn’t allow Kaelin to go in.  This upset her, but Kaelin has grasped the concept of “never” (in this lifetime), and Xander’s loss was already hitting her hard.  For an intensely emotional child with the tendency to get “stuck” on certain issues, we thought it would be in her best interest not to have a somewhat disturbing visual of him burned into her mind.  Regardless, she cried herself into exhaustion on the way home.

Both kids had questions on the way home, which we did our best to answer.  The counselor warned us that we would probably get a lot of repeated questions, and to be prepared to supply the same answers over and over again.  Death is a hard concept, and every kid grapples with it a bit differently.

Fortunately, the kids both slept well last night and woke up in a good frame of mind.  They’re in school/camp today in an attempt to provide them with the structure and normalcy they are used to, but I will be picking them up early if either of them starts to struggle with the day.

The family will keep Xander on the life support through today, but sometime in the next few days will have to make the difficult decision to disconnect it.

Xander’s dad seems to be strong in his faith, and even though this is heart-wrenching for him, I believe he’s getting some degree of peace from that.  The family tells me Xander’s mom is not religious.  Seeing her lying in the bed next to him, talking to her baby and stroking his arm … I don’t have words for that.  It cuts too deep.

I am grieving today for this precious boy who always had a smile and a hug for everyone, and for his family that is going through so much hurt right now.

Xander’s rescue was shown on the news, both here and nation-wide.  CNN, the New York Times, and local news in other states all picked up the story of the 4-year-old hero. The mother of the girl he saved came to the suite last night to express her gratitude and regret and empathy to the family.  It was clearly an extremely difficult thing for her do.

Last night as we were leaving the hospital, Koren said, “Xander was good to save that girl.  But I wish he had just called for help.”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

A fund was set up a few days ago by some friends of the family in order to help with medical bills, missed-work and other expenses – and soon, it appears, for funeral/memorial costs.  If you are inclined to provide this sweet family with assistance, please do so here: