From Chicken Soup for the Preteen Soul


My little sister, Kelsey, was two years younger than me. I can actually remember the day she was born. It was beautiful outside. The sun was out and there was a nice cool breeze. I went into the hospital to see my new sister, but I was too young to hold her.

Four years later, my brother Dakota came along, and by then, I was big enough to hold my new little brother.

Since Kelsey and I were so close in age, we did a lot together growing up. We were typical kids and we sometimes fought like cats and dogs. But there were also days that we were really nice to one another. We used to play games on Nintendo once in a while, but most of all, we loved to play outside.

My sister was the most athletic person in our family. She was a lot faster than me. As we got older, we used to race all the time, but she would usually beat me. We especially loved to swim, so my dad got us a membership at the pool at our nearby church. We loved that pool, especially the lifeguards and the people who would often go there. We would race in the pool, too, and sometimes I would actually beat Kelsey.

My family life was going pretty good but when I was about eleven, I started to notice that my parents argued a lot. My dad was a hard worker and provided well for us, but he drank too much and my mom had no tolerance for alcohol abuse. The madness never did stop, so eventually they divorced.

I thought things would never be the same without my dad living with us and that it would be the hardest thing I’d ever have to go through. I realized that our lives would never be perfect due to the stress and strain that was created. But I tried to stay positive and remember the good times my father and I had. Mom and Dad seemed happier this way, and I knew we’d be okay.

My family and my mom’s family have always been a close-knit bunch. My Nana and Pops were the best! Nana is a really sweet lady and cares for us a bunch, but Pops was my favorite person in the world. He was funny and silly, and he loved me and my brother and sister a lot.

One day, my pops wanted me to come over to watch some John Wayne movies that were on TV. We made popcorn and root beer floats that night. We were up pretty late and had a great time together. I was spending the weekend with them, which I loved to do. The next morning, Pops and I were going to get up early and eat breakfast together. Pops usually woke up at around 6:30 A.M. My Nana was up but Pops still hadn’t gotten up, so Nana told me to go and wake him.

I went to get him, but I knew something was wrong as soon as I walked in. My Pops had died in his sleep early that morning of a massive stroke. I was totally devastated. My whole family was numb and in shock. For months we were all in a sad fog. Still, I tried to stay positive. My Pops was in a better place and although I’d miss him my whole life, I knew I’d see him again.

Things were going along all right, but we had our days when it was tough. We did our best to get through them. Then in November of that year, my mom was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. She ended up having a major operation on Christmas Eve. My mom spent her birthday, Christmas and New Year’s in the hospital. I was so worried about her. I didn’t know how I should deal with it. I guess I just dealt with it by trying to be as much help as I could around the house.

My mom went through several extensive surgeries and a massive amount of chemotherapy. She went away to Omaha for a few weeks to undergo treatment. I was so worried about her through those times. I was lucky to have such strong and supportive friends and family through it all.

Finally, Mom came home and was doing pretty well. We had several false alarms but nothing serious. By July, Mom was feeling good enough to get out with us and have a little fun.

One afternoon, my mom, Nana, brother and family friend Tracy went out to play miniature golf and then we went out to eat. We had a really good day. It was the most fun I’d had in a long time.

When we got home, there were tons of messages on the phone machine. My dad’s girlfriend left us an urgent message asking us to call her as soon as we got home. When we reached her, she gave us more horrible news. She told us that my dad had died earlier that day of a massive heart attack. My mind was going in all sorts of directions. I had no idea this could happen to my forty-five-year-old father. It was a total surprise to all of us. I did not know what to do or think.

There was a huge visitation for my dad. Then, as a final good-bye, we spread his ashes in Lake Okobji in Iowa where he always used to say he wanted to be put to rest.

After we got things back on track again and going well, I started back at karate, something that I had always loved doing. Kelsey was excited about starting her first year of middle school and I was going to be in eighth grade. By this time, I’d been through more than most kids had, but nothing would prepare me for what happened next.

On September 3, Kelsey and Dakota begged my mom to let them go to the pool. I didn’t go because I was mowing the backyard to earn some extra cash. My mom was not going to let them go, but finally they just broke her down. She was very sensitive to the sun from all of the chemotherapy, so she could not go with them. She said they could go for half an hour—just long enough to come back and get me so that I could go to karate.

My mom had just walked through the door and started to change clothes when the phone rang. It was someone from the church. They said there had been an accident at the pool. Mom came running down the stairs to tell our family friend, Tracy, and me. Tracy left with my mom and I stayed at home. I tried to call my nana and ask her if she knew what was wrong. I needed someone to talk to but apparently Mom called her and asked her to come to the pool. So I waited at home patiently for a phone call or someone to come and get me.

Finally, the phone rang and it was my nana saying she was on her way to pick me up. When she got to our house, she sat me down and told me what had happened.

My sister, Kelsey, had been caught in the pool drain. The paramedics came, but they could not pull her out. She was underwater for approximately twenty-five minutes. Finally, they were able to get her out and they rushed her to the closest hospital immediately. When she arrived, they worked on her and found a faint pulse after about thirty minutes. From there, she was rushed to Children’s Mercy Hospital and that is where she stayed on life support. I went in to see her. She was not the same at all; she was not my athletic little sister anymore. She lived for two days, but she passed away on September 5, 1998.

Knowing that I would never see her again, and having to say a final good-bye to Kelsey was the saddest thing that I’ve ever been through. We had been together through the toughest times our family had ever known and we had helped each other out. Now she was gone forever and I was on my own. I knew I had to learn how to help myself out, and to help Dakota, too. If it weren’t for my family and friends, I would never have made it through the experience of losing her.

I think my family and I might have a new start with our lives now. I know it will never be the same without Kelsey, but I think the tragedies in our lives have stopped. Mom is in remission and has gone back to teaching kids with special needs. I’m studying kick-boxing and karate and doing really well in school. As for Dakota, he’s following in my footsteps and taking karate, too. So far, so good.

One thing I learned from all this is to treat your family with love and kindness. Always give hugs and kisses to them because tomorrow is not promised to anyone. If you do this, then you won’t ever have to wonder if they knew that you loved them.

Shane Ruwe, fifteen

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