Last Friday evening we had an impromptu gathering with Erika to view her senior video (of which her Dad made). It was 30 minutes of TEARS, all happy tears of course, as we watched Erika’s precious little young life flash before our eyes. Each and every photo and video clip brought back so many WONDERFUL memories. Not to mention the fact that the images were accompanied by the perfect song selection, great job Dan! This little angel came into our lives 17&1/2 years ago, brightened it up and brought pure joy and happiness to all who met her. She forever changed the course of where our family is going and what our family stands for.
It seems like only yesterday (I was in 7th grade mind you) when we learned the news that my sister Keri was unexpectedly expecting a baby. It was the summer before her senior year in high school that her life would be derailed and changed forever. I truly believe that everything happens for a reason and while this specific news came as quite a shock to our family, you have to believe that we, as a family, were quick to accept that Keri was bringing a blessing into our lives. I still remember so vividly that night. This is how I (at that time a young, immature 12 year old) recalls that event. Keri had been experiencing severe back pain for quite some time. Finally, after no relief, my mom and dad took her in to get it checked out. It was late, well past midnight. Heather, Lisa and myself were growing concerned. Why was it taking so long for them to come home from what we thought was a simple visit to the doctor? We assumed they'd prescribe her some meds and she'd be home soon...much later, when they finally arrived home, we greeted them at the front door, us three girls sitting at the top of the stairs. Right then and there, in the middles of the night, we had an intense family pow-wow. My Dad, with a serious and endearing expression on his face immediately shared with us the news that Keri was having a baby. Whoa…did I hear this correctly? My sister, of whom everyone who knows her will agree, is a VERY good girl, she has a very nice boyfriend, she is VERY responsible, VERY smart, VERY athletic, she has EVERYTHING going for her. How is this possible? This sort of thing does not happen to girls like her. We were all in tears…At that very moment my dad (who most know is a man of few words and is not overly opinionated) shared with us as a family that Keri realistically has 3 options, but in this family, Keri has 2 options. I don’t think I need to spell them out for you. He said "We AS A FAMILY are going to stand behind her and support her with whichever decision SHE chooses to make. It is ultimately up to HER." I have never had more respect for anyone ever before in my whole life. Those words my dad managed to get out, holding back tears, spoke volumes to his and my mom’s core values. I firmly believe, at that very moment, a moment of darkness, confusion and a little bit of fear for the unknown, our family grew to be close. This is WHY we are as close as we are today. This is the first real challenge our family had faced. And from that moment on I truly believed that FAMILY is everything, with the support of family we can get through anything! We hugged, embraced and wept hard. I still do not and probably cannot really imagine what exactly was going on inside Keri’s heart that night. But I hope she knows that her baby sister still loved, respected and admired her very much. I had always looked up to her and hearing this news did not change anything! Bright and early that next morning we ventured out, as a family, to our Grandparent’s homes to share this news with them in person, as a family. I have deep respect with how this news was broken. It was presented with a “matter of fact” attitude. “Mom, Dad, our daughter Keri is having a baby”. I recall them, strategically, not using the phrase “pregnant”, because the term “pregnant” can come off as so clinical and insensitive. “Keri is having a baby” came off as much more personable, light hearted and endearing. I do believe I remember my Grandma and Grandpa Lee receiving the news very positively, while immediately providing words of comfort, support and productive encouragement. From what I remember, the news was a little more difficult for my Grandma and Grandpa Salisbury to take in. If you knew my G&G Salisbury, you would know that they are (or at least were) pretty strict, very Catholic and stuck in their ways. Growing up we were always careful as to not "dissapoint" them. I remember my Grandma asking in a judging tone “what are you going to do about it”? I remember my dad, responding promptly. We are not here to “ask” you for your acceptance or opinions, we are simply here to share with you this news and to let you know that we, as her parents are supporting her with whatever she needs". Period. Bottom line. That was that. I think that was difficult for my dad to do and say, but it NEEDED to be done. From that day on, we all went on with this new reality and embraced everything beautiful that came along with it.
Keri experienced several complications and was in and out of the hospital with life threatening issues for several months leading up to Erika's birth. Among other things, she had severe blood clots and even underwent blood & plasma transfusions after the delivery. I had mentioned previously that my G&G Salisbury were initially shocked, but once that wore off, they were 100% supportive. During all of these days spent in the hospital they were right there with Keri by her bedside. My Grandma was knitting and my Grandpa spent most of the time playing Tetris on the hand-held Nintendo Gameboy! :-)
The day Erika finally arrived is still a bit foggy to me, but I do recall being by my sisters side through it all. I also recall, vividly, having to leave the birthing room as her contractions increased. You see, due to her condition, she was not able to have an epidural, so as you can imagine, was in severe pain. There was loud screaming and a few not so nice words. I was and still kind of am scarred to tell you the truth. I decided to just go ahead and wait out in the lobby! Blessed be the Lord a beautiful baby girl was born perfect and healthy! September 28, 1992, weighing in at a little over 6pounds, she was the most adorable angel I had ever held in my arms, such tiny and perfect little features. She was truly a miracle. I was such a proud Aunt!!
Is this NOT one of the cutest little girl's ever...I especially loved watching her at her little baseball games in that big oversized hat :-)
Keri went on to, of course, finish high school. She and her boyfriend, Erika’s biological father, had, for good reason, gone their separate ways. I am so proud of my big sister. Against several odds, she went on to graduate from the College of St. Mary (with two majors & high honors) while holding down a full-time job with US Bank. She still works for and is very loyal to US Bank to this day. They continued to live at home those first few years after Erika was born. Erika was like a baby sister to me. I loved having her around. I loved that she came and cheered me on at all my ball games, she was my biggest fan! All of my friends just adored her. What a joy she brought to our lives. She was like a sister to me. I have many memories of watching Barney with her and reading the Sunday Comics to her very frequently. We also liked to watch the Little Mermaid together. :-) She was one of my best friends! She not only touched the lives of our family, close friends and neighbors, but the entire community of Waterloo embraced this little girl.
My quick note to Erika: Erika, you are so beautiful inside and out. I could not be more proud to say that I am lucky enough to be your aunt. Before you were born, I strongly believe that you had a choice. God asked you, “what do you want and who do you want, it's up to you, take a pick.” I believe that you hand-picked your mommy. You chose wisely as she certainly IS one of the best. You are the BEST thing that has ever happened to her. You made her who she is today…and for that…I know she in eternally grateful!
Let me rephrase that…you are one of the BEST things that ever happened to all of us. You made US who we are today…and for that…WE are eternally grateful.
We all know that you are going to go on and do great things. You have all the potential in the world to do so! Your mom and dad have instilled the finest of qualities, morals and ethics upon you. Please allow us to continue to share in your wonderful “adult life” journey!!!
So to conclude, I look forward to watching you receive your diploma on that big stage with the rest of your fellow Burke High classmates next Wednesday. My heart will be warm with pride.
Love, Aunt Sherri
I now leave you with a few sweet photos of my dear niece :-)
This photo was taken just before her Senior Prom a couple weeks ago.
Last Christmas! I do believe Erika is somewhat to blame for some of our family craziness :-) The leader of the Pack.
Erika swimming with McKenzie a couple summer's ago. She is so great to all of her little cousins! They adore her and are lucky & blessed to have her watching over and loving them :)