Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Remembering Tay...

Last week was sad, exhausting, painful, emotional - at times joyful, but completely full of love.

Yesterday, I attended a funeral for a young girl whose life ended much too soon.

I was honored to be asked by my cousin Tommy and his wife Tammy to give the Eulogy at Taylor's funeral. I was also very nervous - public speaking is not what I do best. I had written a letter to Taylor on the night that she passed away (and posted it previously). I ended up taking that letter and making it part of my tribute to her.

In our conversation with Tommy and Tammy (my brother Mondo and his fiance Kelly were there too), we talked about what else they wanted to share at the service. Instead of incorporating it into the eulogy I had written, Mondo wrote and gave a whole separate tribute. I thought it was very beautiful and truly hope that sharing these memories offered some solace to all of the people who were there to celebrate Taylor's life. I was very thankful to have my brother up there with me, and his support made the difference in being able to speak the words that I know I would have stumbled and choked up on more than I did if he weren't there next to me.


A memorial fund has been established in the name of Taylor Morgan Rivera. If you find it in your heart to help, you can donate at any US BANK location.

In so many ways, Taylor was just a typical young teenage girl. She loved the things that so many teenage girls love.

She loved to watch baseball, and she got to meet her favorite player, Troy Tulowitzki a few times. She loved to play softball. She was a pitcher on a competitive team, and her coaches had faith in her as a player. Sometimes when we think of girl softball players we think of tomboys, but Taylor was no tomboy, she loved girlie things too. She loved to go shopping and to go get pedicures and manicures.

But she was also very adventurous and loved to do wild things, like go to theme parks and ride roller coasters.-But she always had to ride them with her cousin Kyle, because everyone else was too much of a chicken to ride them with her. She loved them so much that when she got to do her wish trip and could pick anywhere in the world to go, she picked Disney World. That’s what she wanted to do, live in adventure

I don’t know how much Taylor liked school, but she did really well. She loved being a big fifth grader, and being the oldest in school. She was very smart and loved all of her teachers.

As far as personality goes, Taylor was a firecracker. She had a personality that people were drawn to, and people just loved her. In school, her teachers liked her, and she had a way of getting them to open up to her-even those teachers that are pretty rough.

I think one of the many reasons that people loved Taylor, is because she wasn’t afraid to tell you what she was feeling. If she wanted something, she would tell you. If she didn’t like something, she would tell you. She said what was on her mind. She was outspoken, and not afraid to take control of the situation to get done whatever needed to be done.

But even as outspoken and bold as she was, she wasn’t a complainer or a whiner. She rarely, if ever complained about her cancer or her chemo, or the big things like that, but she kept a positive attitude, and unselfishly admitted that she knew she had something bad, but she knew there were others who had it worse.

Of course there were some things she didn’t like though-like getting up in the mornings and having to get ready. She may have complained about that. She didn’t like to be told what to do either. And the Yankees - she did not like the Yankees.

She also didn’t like needles. She HATED needles. She used to say that she would rather have surgeries than get poked by a needle. But Tay was always a good sport. One time her Papa, Frank, took her to get her flu shot. The Dr. asked Frank if he had his yet, and hating needles himself, Frank debated on whether to lie or not about having not had his yet. Since he was taking her in to get her shot and trying to convince her that it wasn’t that bad, he ended up having to get his shot too. In the end, Tay ended up comforting him, saying, “Papa, just hold my hand, it’ll be ok”

I guess it was things like that that made people just fall in love with Tay. She was sweet. When Tay would stay with other people Tommy and Tammy would get reports of how good of a kid she was, and how she wasn’t hyper and crazy like other teenage girls, and of how respectful she was. Of course when Tommy and Tammy heard this, they sometimes wondered if it was their Taylor that they were talking about.

As Taylor spent a lot of the last three years in and out of hospitals she got to meet lots of Dr’s and nurses. And lots of people worked really hard to take care of her. As they got to know her, Taylor became more than just a patient to many of her Dr’s and nurses, and they really grew to love her. A day didn’t go by that a nurse or Dr would stop by and tell Taylor that they loved her. Some of the nurses would even come in on their day off just to see her and how she was doing.

Her original Dr., Dr. Keri did conventional therapy with Taylor, and when conventional therapy was no longer working had her go work with Dr. Gore to do more experimental therapy. But, Dr. Keri insisted to be kept in the loop as to what was happening with Taylor. Dr. Kerri moved, and a few weeks later Taylor had one of her first bad scans. Even though Dr. Keri was no longer Taylor’s Dr., she still called every day for the last few weeks, just because she needed to know how Tay was doing. People have just been drawn to Taylor.

It’s good that so many people were drawn to Taylor, because she loved people. She loved being around people, whether she was sick, or was it a birthday party, or just a family gathering. And she felt the love of the people who spent time with her.

She loved her family and friends. Over and over, Tommy has told me how much all of her aunts and uncles and cousins and family meant to her, and how much she loves all of you.

There’s one friend in particular that I want to talk about, her friend Kennedy Bougher. Kennedy was Taylor’s best friend. They were diagnosed with cancer about week and a half apart from each other, and I guess through that, they formed a special bond. In their own way, they could relate to one another like no one else could. But in spite of being two young kids with cancer-they didn’t sit around and complain about having cancer and how bad things were. They talked about typical girl things, and they shared secrets like typical girls. I praise God that Kennedy’s cancer is now in remission, and I thank you Kennedy for being such a dear friend to my cousin.

Taylor loved her Nino Frank and her Nina Lisa. She knew they were always there for her and that they would do anything and everything for her. They’ve been a constant for Taylor since day one.

And even though she loved all of her aunts and uncles and family, she had a special bond with her grandparents. She loved spending time with her grandparents.

One of her favorite things to do was to get together with her nana Arlene and make biscochitos. The time that she got with her Nana to cook meant a lot to her, and she didn’t take those times for granted.

And she loved spending time with her papa Frank. So much that when she got two tickets to the world series to see the Rockies, at the risk of dissappointing her parents, she told them, “no offense to either of you, but I’m going to take my papa to the game”.

She loved her Grandma Gloria’s home cooking, no matter how simple the meal was. Her grandma Gloria could have made potatoes and weenies, and to Tay it would have been a gourmet meal. She just loved those homecooked heartwarming meals her grandma made.

And her Grandpa Paul spoiled her. Of course, he loves all of his grandkids, but Taylor was his little girl. If she wanted to go out to eat, she would tell her grandpa and they were gone. When Tommy and Tammy moved, Uncle Paul would say to Tammy, “Jita, when are you going to sign over the papers for Tay?” She’s always carried a special place in his heart.

And then there was her relationship with her brothers. She was close with both of her brothers, but to be honest, the two of them together drove her nuts. She could only be with one of them at a time, or they were just too much for her.

She called Landon “Choch”, or “Chawtee”. Every morning, Landon would go into her room, tell her he loved her, and ask to sleep in her room or watch tv. Taylor’s response depended on her mood. It could be anything from, “I don’t care” to “just don’t bug me” to “Get out!” Taylor just wasn’t a morning person.

Recently they found a note that Taylor wrote to her brother Matthew. It was white writing on black paper and said, “always remember, I love you.” And dated November 7, 2009.
As much as Taylor was a daddy’s girl, she LOVED her mom. She would say that she got her strength from her mom. As much as she loved her mom though, she was still very ornery with her, and she knew it. She once told her Nana, “I love my mom. I really love my mom. You know why I treat my mom like I do? Cause I gotta keep her strong.” When her Nana was going to tell Tammy what Taylor had said, Taylor said, “Nana, don’t tell her. How embarrassing.”

I want to wrap up with a conversation that Taylor had with her dad. When she found out that this cancer could take her, Tommy sat and talked with her. They talked about what she’s done for the hospital and the all the doctor’s. They talked about how what they learned from the experimental drugs she took might help the next kid live longer, or even save their life. And Taylor said to Tommy, something that I think she may have wanted us all to hear-she said, “I just don’t want people to start doing drugs. I don’t them want to start drinking more, and I don’t want them to hurt themselves. It’s ok to be sad, but try to move on. You can be sad, but try to move on.”

So, for everyone here, please listen to Taylor's words, and know that it's ok to be sad, but try to move on.

A letter to Taylor…
Dear Taylor,

Do you remember, during your first time at The Children’s Hospital - when it was still in downtown Denver, we went to visit you and asked you if you wanted anything. You just wanted three things:
• a burrito from Chubby's
• a drink from Starbucks
• and a pair of scissors to cut your hair off!
You said you wanted to do it yourself, and not give it a chance to fall out from the chemo. I knew from that second you would not let cancer take control of you if you could do anything about it. You wouldn't just be a survivor, but a FIGHTER!

Do you remember, The Relay for Life here in Denver? Your family got lost on the way there, and when you finally made it - your dad said you would probably only stay a couple of hours because he was worried that you would get tired.

That night we walked together in the rain and found the luminarias your family had decorated. I still have the one you made for me.

You had told us about the camp you went to for kids with cancer, and how you played a game called "Mafia" and it was soooo fun, but you didn't have enough people to play it with at home. So you taught us, and we laughed and played. You didn't go home after a couple of hours, because you played games all night. I know I got tired and had to go and rest in the tent, but you stayed up til 7:30 in the morning.

Do you remember hanging out with me and Darren and Mondo last year? We went and had pizza at my favorite place, Pizzicatos and then went for dessert at DBar. The FoodNetwork guy (Keegan Gerhard) wasn't there, but we had cakes and shakes... mmmmm. We didn't have a chance to go back when Keegan was there like we planned to, but I'll make sure to go for you sometime soon okay *wink*

Do you remember your Relay for Life last summer? When we were in line to do the Survivor Lap and each person was going up one at a time to say their name and how long they had been fighting and you clutched my arm tightly and said, "let's go together". And we did.

Do you remember? I do. I always will.

I will always remember, how you were just a baby girl when you started your battle (okay, almost a teenager, but still, that's just a baby!). It was unbelievable to me - and even after three years, it's unbelievable that a kid would ever have to go through what you did. But you went in full fight. If this was that "Deadliest Warrior" show, you would be the winner hands down!

Most of us would collapse under the weight of these challenges. But, you were so much more than your fragile body conveyed. You accepted the challenge of cancer in the same way you accepted everything: with remarkable strength, tremendous courage and with an indomitable spirit.

I will always remember, how when I got my own diagnosis just over half a year after yours, there was no question of how I would respond. You - beautiful, brave and spunky cancer warrior - had taught me a lesson. Your aura was courage-and believe me, you will never know how much I fed off of it and still do.

I will always remember, visiting you just in the last weeks when you were in the PICU and you were trying to communicate with us through the ventilator. Your mom and dad were guessing what you were trying to say and you finally just lifted your hand and in a firm gesture, made a signal that clearly said "STOP"! And they did. Sedated as you were, you were still in control.

Taylor, I don't understand why you were that one in a zillion who this nasty disease put it's grips on. You fought a great fight and you are hands down, the most courageous person I ever knew.

Three years ago, when I found out Tay had cancer, she immediately took root deep in my heart. It was unbearable to think what this family was going through and especially, this child. These kinds of things just don’t happen. But here we were. If it weren’t for Taylor’s diagnosis, I wouldn’t have these memories to share with you. Life would have went on, just like it does with so many other members of my family who I know are there, but don’t get a chance to- or maybe just don’t take the time to get to know.

Part of my bond with Taylor was cancer. I can understand PICC lines and ports, CAT Scans and PET Scans, nausea and neuropathy. I can talk about blood counts and neupogin and all that other chemo-talk... but as Taylor would say "That's boring. No one wants to hear about that!" And she doesn't need any of that stuff where she's at now anyway.
So what would Tay talk about? She'd probably talk about things like the Colorado Rockies and how they were her favorite team ever. About playing games like Mafia, Apples to Apples and Skip-Bo. About dancing and ditties and manicures and music. She'd talk about riding Rollercoasters - but only with her cousin Kyle.

That’s all just the surface. My little pocket of memories that I am lucky enough to know and have with and of Taylor. She, especially these last three years, has touched every one of us. I didn’t know her best, but what I know is precious. And in this room, is a lifetime of memories with this amazing girl.

I feel honored to have the opportunity to be able to share some of my memories with you here today, but I realize that in this room are a lot of people who know and love Talyor. A lot of people who have beautiful memories of Tay. As we come together to celebrate her life, I think it’s important that we remember that this celebration can’t stop today. The celebration has to go on. With that in mind, I ask you to think about Tay and the memories that you have of her and with her, and never stop sharing those memories. Make it a point to tell Tommy and Tammy your stories, and not just now, but for as long as Tay holds a special place in your heart.

And may we all learn from Taylor and live lives full of hope, courage, and love.

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