My Thoughts About One of My Favorite Places--Northeastern Indiana's Amish Country

Monday, January 30, 2023

Keeping Vigil for Katie

Saturday, January 28, 2023

As I write this, it’s 1:15 in the morning.

A few hours ago I returned from nine days with my sister in Los Angeles.  But I didn’t go home to husband and puppy—not yet anyway…  Because while I was gone, my dear young friend Kathy (“Katie” in previous posts, to protect her privacy) finally lost her nearly-three-year battle with cancer of the spine.

So here I sit, in a comfy chair in Kathy’s old bedroom…  But instead of singing by her bedside, her bed is empty—and she lies in a coffin beside me, finally at peace.  Her parents slumber in a bedroom nearby, and her nine siblings are upstairs—except for one brother, who fell asleep on a couch in the living room and was left there, undisturbed.

I’ve written before about how I got to know Kathy, here.  But how do I write about how much she—and her family—have come to mean to me?  I’ve lost one friend, but I hope (and expect) that the Miller family will be lifelong friends.  That’s part of the good that came from this tragedy.

But right now I am keeping vigil by lantern-light for my young friend as the night passes on, writing and remembering…


When this chapter in my life began, it was June of 2020 and I began to stop by the Miller farm to sing to Kathy every week.  She had been diagnosed with terminal cancer a couple months before and given three weeks to live.  But she was a fighter, and she was not only alive, but regaining the use of her upper body, which had been paralyzed by a blood clot.  Her lower body, however, was permanently paralyzed by the cancer, and at this point, she was still in a rented hospital bed, breathing oxygen through a tube.  She listened to me sing, tears in her eyes at times as she struggled to breathe.

So I sang to her… and as the months passed by, she grew stronger, and soon she was joining me on the choruses—she knew nearly every song in the books by heart.  She was back in her regular bed, and she had a wonderful new power wheelchair, and she was helping her family with chores and projects, and even teaching school that fall!

Before long it was summer, and I bought matching hymnbooks for us, and we were singing together—she on the soprano melody line, and I on the alto harmony line. 

Two years went by, as Kathy turned eighteen, and then nineteen.

Then late last summer, after a wonderful train trip to Montana with her family, her mind started to get more and more spotty.  Before long, as autumn progressed, her vision slowly disappeared, as did her strength and health.  She was moved back into a rented hospital bed and her mother’s heavy caregiving load became even heavier.  

As the cancer spread and got the upper hand, soon I was singing to her once again, as she joined in on the choruses, but less and less as the autumn wore on and the morphine doses increased.

Towards the end, it was difficult to know how much Kathy heard or understood—but who can know for sure?—so I kept on singing.

Then, not knowing how many more times she’d confound the doctors and stick around, I went to Los Angeles to see my sister… and now she’s gone, and I missed the two days’ visitation.  But tonight as I keep vigil by her side, I’m having my own visitation, as I try to write down even a tiny fraction of what she meant to me.

In a few hours the sun will come up, and the Amish community (along with a few like me) will gather for Kathy’s funeral—a service of worship and remembrance and thankfulness for a precious young lady and a life well lived. 

In the meantime, I’m going to pick up the hymnbook her mother left here for me, and I’m going to sing to Kathy—one last time.

I last saw Kathy alive a few days before I left for California.  My new friend “Wheelchair Mary” (I wrote about her here) was also visiting Kathy that morning.  She told me how wonderful it was that I sing to Kathy...  and that made me wonder if Mary’s days sometimes get long and lonely.

So now I know clearly what I am meant to do...  Next week I’m going to grab my hymnbook, hop in my Jeep, and head down to sing for Wheelchair Mary.

In loving memory

Kathy Miller
March 4, 2003 – January 25, 2023

O come, angel band, come and around me stand
O bear me away on your snowy wings
To my eternal home.

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