Also see About Keri for scholastic records and achievements!
KERI BROWN STILL – 2004 – a Graphite Portrait by her mom.
It usually goes something like this: I heard your daughter, (“your wife” , “Kellyn’s mommy…”) I heard she died! How very sad and horrible ! I know you are devastated. What a terrible loss. I heard she was sick, but had no idea…. How did she die?
She had ALS.
How do I talk about my daughter in anything less than a book? First off – only a few people even know what ALS is. Even if they’re heard of it, its “well, what IS that exactly?” Unless you have had the experience with someone you know developing this horrific disease, you don’t know. We didn’t know near enough.
It is unbelievable how many do not even KNOW what ALS is.
If it had been cancer, we could at least have had something to fight. If it had been heart disease, brain tumor, MS… there would have been a direction. Even an accident – something we could blame. I know how that sounds, but I NEED something to blame.
But, not with this one. Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. They call it Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Its a fatal diagnosis.
Part 1 – Growing Up
Keri was all the things you expect a mother to say; she was beautiful. You can see that yourself, from this website. You can read ABOUT KERI, and see her advanced scholastic achievements. She raced through life, trying to cram as much as she could into a short time; sometimes too fast, then wishing she’d not done so. It was as if something told her to hurry. She had a very large thirst for learning. ALWAYS taking a class, a course; joining this, leading that… something to grow herself into, because she was afraid she’d miss something, and not know what she wanted TO DO in life. She signed up for every project or event.
From a Methodist and Baptist background, we finally settled in as Presbyterians. When she was about 10, Keri asked to be baptized at the church we had joined 4 years earlier. Dr. Robert Kopp officiated.
She sang in Christmas plays, she put on puppet shows, she dressed up. She sold Lemonade, but thought Mint Tea was a better idea. She rode her bike to the local neighbor’s weekly yard sale (we live in the country), and bought something for me; “Momma, this is genuine bone china!” I can see her coming down the driveway, a very tiny person, having left her bike to carry a box she could barely reach around, for half a mile. She was so excited. I never stopped serving her something, even after she was grown, in the slightly chipped cups and saucers of GENUINE bone china. A smile we shared and treasured often!
Keri’s best friend was Gamma Brown. She kept Keri while we went to our jobs. She taught her things that helped shape her in to the young woman she was. She spanked her when she ran into the road, but that was about all the spankings she ever got from any of us. (Teaching her that hitting was the way an adult got the point across, just didn’t seem right.) Gamma spend that quality time with all her grandchildren, teaching and shaping them. She also would tell them the truth about anything they asked; whenever they asked, like where do babies come from. What is sex. We have rolled our eyes many times at Gamma’s honesty. Keri adored her.
Keri loved every visit to family. Kellyn’s middle name is my family name. The Redding Christmas Dinner, started before she was born. She never missed but 2, in 29 Christmases; the 1st was when she was helping put on the the Allegacy Christmas Party (where she worked); and again, Christmas 2007, a month before she died. She asked her dad to take Kellyn for her, so Kellyn would know her family.
READING – well she got that one honest… both her dad and myself are book addicted, so naturally she was too. When she was 6 months old, her first Christmas, she got a huge book. Every trip to any store, gained a book. Every pitstop on a vacation, gained a book. Didn’t have to be a big one, just a book. We used to go to Waldenbooks at the mall, and sit in the children’s section looking at books. As an artist, I always went for the illustrated children’s books, so this naturally fell into place. She’d say “look at the illustratons!” She was only 3. She was reading the week before she died, with help of a unique bookstand that hung over the bed, from Catfish Chapter’s loan closet. We turned the pages. She was reading the last Harry Potter. She never finished it.
Keri’s cousins Kristen and Liza, (Zack came along later) lived next door. Another distant cousin Brandy, lived down the road. They were all like sisters, being so close in age. Liza, the youngest, was like her little sister and she guided her thru life, feeling the need to teach her everything. They all remained close forever and always will.
Forever is such a short time.
Harold, Keri’s daddy, was what she always measured every guy she met by, and finding them all lacking. She loved her dad. He was the smartest human being ever in her eyes, until he said no.
He took her to Karate with him and she achieved a blue belt level in that style. (This was harder than average style to accomplish, compared to what is required of children now.) It did teach her self-defense, and boosted her confidence in her petite little self. She was never a bully, but you did not PICK ON Keri.
Keri was such a great kid. She had asthma and dermatitis, but other than that, she was healthy; one small ear infection, but couldn’t keep the water out of her ears in the summer. She was allergic to cats, as am I. Her complexion worried her to no end, as it does all kids, and her goal at 3 yrs old, was to “be big like my mommy”. (I am 4’11”). More on KERI – HEALTH in PART 2.
I have to say (and most of her friends would agree) that Keri always befriended the person that was not so popular. She hated when someone was picked on or singled out for any reason. Sometimes it was their physical health that made them different; sometimes their mental health. Sometimes just an unusual personality, that didn’t fit in. Keri was right there, taking on their problems with them. Some of her many friends, just didn’t know how to take what happened to Keri. She understood why, but that didn’t mean it didn’t hurt. She talked on the phone as long as she could, and so many people thought she sounded so NORMAL, that they thought she was getting better. She just went on as if any day, her legs would start to move again. Until her arms wouldn’t either.
In middle school, high school, and college, Keri played the trumpet. She was in marching band and concert band. The high school marching band won a trip to London, England, to march in the New Year’s Day Parade. This is the trip where she and Gwen Farmer (Sellers) got to know each other better. They remained close, even though times of distance separated them. Last year, Gwen started staying overnight on the weekend, sleeping in Keri’s room, with Keri and me. She was there with us when she died.
While in college (Appalachian State U.), Keri started so many friendships that have never gone away. One of those was her first husband, Brian. They helped each other a lot thru those college years, and even though they both knew the relationship had changed, they couldn’t get past wanting it to be the way it was. So they got married. The marriage lasted 3 years, and they parted as friends. A lot of hurt there for both, but she told me she never regretted marrying him, because the relationship, helped make her who she was. I said we should have tried harder to talk them out of marrying, but she said “Mom, we had to make our own way, and our own mistakes.”
College was a blast; she had fun. She was sick a lot, but she loved college, always making the Dean’s List, while being an active member in everything, from Honor Societies, to the Marching Mountaineers, to SAI. Her sisters were everything. Her friendship with one, Jennifer Lail (Lassiter), became one that grew with each day. Jennifer is the one that started the original website, helpkeri.com, in July, 2007. Jennifer and I started the Keri B. Still Organization.
While working on her first Masters, and working fulltime, Keri met Copeland Still. Totally an outdoors sports loving country boy, she took to him right away. She loved all the same things, and they had a ball; riding, 4wheeling, racing, boating, hunting. They sure had the rough spots too. Somehow, they always came through it, more assured they were meant to be together.
When Keri got pregnant in June of 2006, they started planning on building a new home. By this time, she had been limping in/out of doctors offices for 6 months. Their marriage was getting rocky, due to Copeland’s abuse of drugs. He admits this; readily told the reporter about it in 2007 when the front page article was printed on Keri, so I’m not telling something private here.
When Keri received her diagnosis of ALS, Copeland was by her side, from then on. They went to counseling and waited til the baby was born, so she could get about the business of healing her legs. She would not try any of the suggested treatments, due to the possibility of harming baby Kellyn.
The rest is a history I wish could be rewritten.
(Part 2 to come.)