Written by Morgan Grantham
“God Loves You The Best”
Those were the words that 4-year-old Katie Grantham poured into the heart of another little girl sitting with her at lunch one day at school. My history as a witness for Christ has been lackluster on the best days and nonexistent on others. But Katie, that girl had it down. She didn’t get it from me either. Sure, I talked with her about God’s love for her and His love for others. But the Holy Spirit has done something inside that little girl that made it effortless for her to show others the love of Christ. It came as natural as breathing. I will never know who else she spread that love to. That was the only time she told me about it. But she told me with such confidence and ease that I could tell it was a conversation she had had before. I would give pretty much anything to hear her speak words of truth into another friend’s heart, into my heart. But I will not get that chance. The next time I see her, witnessing won’t be necessary.
November 19, 2017
Four-year-old birthday parties are the best. They consume hours on the weekends, sometimes multiple ones each day. They include water parties, unicorn parties, bounce houses, pony rides, NERF gun parties and everything in between. Each one has a theme and celebrating with kids is so much fun.
That’s exactly what we planned to do that Sunday afternoon. We got ready for a birthday party. Our Gavin was a brand new 2-year-old. He was loud, rough, and passionate about whatever he was doing. He also needed a nap. So, Kirk was going to stay with a sleeping boy and Katie and I were off to a birthday party: My Little Pony dress, check; ruffle leggings with dirty knees, check; mismatched shoes, check; perfect present picked out and wrapped, check; homemade card made by Katie Bug, check.
We didn’t make it a mile. A man driving an oil field truck ran a red light and T-boned us at 58 mph. Katie never stood a chance. She suffered a traumatic brain injury and other catastrophic injuries. People swarmed us, swarmed Katie. We knew some of them and others were strangers. But each one, according to the police report and witnesses, acted as if we were their very own. Katie was held and loved every moment of her life and these people, strangers, filled in that gap for precious minutes until her Daddy arrived on the scene. They pried open my door so first responders could get to me quickly. They sat next to me and held me so I wouldn’t move and further injure myself.
I drive that route multiple times a day. And even now, more than 18 months later, when I get all the way through that intersection, I think to myself “Wow, that’s how it’s supposed to happen. We made it. Seems so easy.” But I know it’s not that easy.
My Katie Bug never recovered. We removed life support on November 26, 2017 and her organs were matched for donation.
I don’t know that I will ever be able to find the words to describe what it’s like to watch your child, your first born, your baby girl, suffer in the PICU for a week before hearing that her injuries are too severe. Words will never convey what it was like watching the doctors and nurses remove life support in the OR. But not having the words is appropriate. Being able to explain it could, quite literally, break your heart. It could kill you. I know that feeling. I have felt that more times than I care to write about.
I clearly remember the hours, days, and weeks that followed. I remember the drive home from the hospital, the first night, looking into the baby monitor and seeing one baby in his bed and the other one…empty. I remember every detail of so much trauma. Maybe it’s the PTSD, the heightened senses, the overstimulation. But some of it is just me. It’s just how I operate…in the details.
A regular heart and soul would crumble under the weight, the heaviness, the grief. People aren’t made to withstand this type of grief, this type of trauma.
I knew I would die. I was absolutely convinced I would go to sleep and not wake up. I even fantasized about how it would happen. Nothing could be worse than what we had already been through, so there wasn’t much to lose.
Katie Bug Books
As time stretched on, it would be in fast forward motion through some details and slow motion through others. Days were moving, time was marching on, and I had no idea what was happening. And all the things… the “things”… that have to be thought of, done differently, memorialized (or not) just kept coming and coming:
It was all so much to deal with, so much to navigate, so much to process. Then… Katie’s birthday.
Birthdays are the best. Were the best. Will be the best again. Will never be celebrated again. Will be celebrated, but differently. Oh, the details.
Details, details, details.
We love(d) birthdays. What on earth would we do? Celebrate? Celebrate what?
I didn’t know what to do.
But I began to work in the details. A birthday party. Or at least an acknowledgement of birth. But that wasn’t enough. We love (present tense) our Katie big. We always have and we always will. But celebrating seemed wrong. So, if you can’t celebrate yourself, you celebrate others.
I bought a few copies of Max Lucado’s book, “Just In Case You Ever Wonder,” to give away to people we would have normally invited to Katie’s birthday party. We could celebrate Katie by loving on others.
Then we bought more… and I wasn’t exactly sure how I was going to do all this through Amazon Prime… so I began asking around. I connected with a person who connected me with a person who connected me with THE person who could help me, a representative for Harper Collins Christian Publishing. I told her what I was trying to do and she allowed me to purchase bulk order books (250 the first time I ordered).
I began to ask the families we would have normally invited to Katie’s birthday if they wanted to help me celebrate by distributing books to their Sunday school classes.
The first year, we gave away more than 1,700 books to 27 churches. The coolest part was that some churches needed 2 and some needed 500. We sent them anywhere anyone wanted to take them.
This year, year 2, we had to decide if it was going to be something we continued. The first year could be isolated, but once you follow through with year 2, it’s a “thing.”
So we did it again with a different book.
My husband, Kirk, and I are readers. We love to read to our kids. We read in the car, at the breakfast table, in the bathtub, outside on a blanket in the yard, at bedtime, and all the places in between. We can do voices, have many of the stories memorized, and consistently tire of a book long before our kids do. But we read anyways. When Gavin was born, Katie would read her favorites books to him from memory. She would look at picture books with him and identify the animals/items his chubby toddler finger pointed to long after she lost interest in doing so. But continue she did, until Gavin tired of it and moved on.
Reading with Katie gave me an opportunity to talk with her, to ask her questions about characters, choices, foreshadowing. Reading to Katie gave me the opportunity to just love her…with no schedule or expectations. So read we did….a lot. I could think of no better gift to help love on others than a fresh, crisp, brand new book given to you with no expectation. Just to love you. Because we love Katie.
Katie Bug’s Law
The man who made that terrible decision on a beautiful Sunday afternoon has a history of poor decisions. He has a criminal record that includes possession of methamphetamines, drag racing, DUI, and others. At the crash site, his oil company supervisor arrived to take him in for a drug test (required if you are involved in an accident in a company vehicle). He refused and told his supervisor he would fail the drug test because he had drugs in his system.
He was given a field sobriety test at the crash site and passed. So he was allowed to go home.
Katie and I were transported via ambulance to a Level 1 trauma center and he was allowed to get a ride home.
He was issued a citation for running the red light.
When his company truck was searched a few days later, they found meth, pills, and alcohol in the back seat.
In May 2018, we were in court for his red-light violation. We weren’t expecting his sentence to be handed out, but a deal was made and he was sentenced to 10 days in jail to be served on the weekend. The judge said he didn’t want to risk the driver losing his current job.
Because this red-light citation was all he was held accountable for.
Our community was outraged and rightfully so. The District Attorney was quoted in several interviews as stating that Katie “wasn’t dead yet” (or a similar sentiment) so the officers were not required to drug test.
Katie wasn’t dead yet.
Katie wasn’t dead…yet.
I began researching the statutes and found that if officers don’t have suspicions that someone is under the influence, a crash has to include a fatality at the scene to mandate a drug test.
It had to change. And I had to change it.
I had no idea what I was doing. I’m a math teacher, not a lawyer….and surely not a politician. But I began asking questions. I asked questions to anyone who I thought would answer them. I logged a lot of hours on the phone and computer doing research and communicating. I encountered some of the kindest, most intelligent, genuine people throughout this process. This was difficult. There were moments I didn’t think I could do it. Speaking over and over again on how many pieces of the system failed us… failed Katie… is hard. It is seeing your beautiful girl’s face in the middle of a diagram with arrows pointing to all the systemic failures around her. She was failed by so many people. Somedays, it’s difficult not to insert myself into the failure list, too.
Rep. Raymond Crews and Sen. Ryan Gatti provided the resources and effort to get this bill through the process and I will forever be grateful to them for their willingness to help.
I was terribly embarrassed by how our accident was treated. Embarrassed about those involved who are supposed to provide “justice.” Justice was certainly not served in our case.
I’ve never laid the blame on any one person’s shoulders. There are many people who share in a piece of the blame. I could be angry. I could be bitter. And honestly, sometimes, I am.
But when the anger begins to rise and bitterness and resentment well up, I try and remember:
If what you want to say or do does not:
- Honor Christ
- Honor Katie and our family
Don’t do it. Don’t say it. It will never be worth it.
I wrote that on an index card many moons ago and place it where I need it the most at any given time. Sometimes, it’s the first thing I see in the mornings, sometimes it’s by my computer, sometimes in my car, and sometimes (more often than not) it’s in my back pocket.
I could make more copies of it. But when I touch that wrinkled, worn index card, I remember not only the words, but how I felt when I wrote them. I can feel those words being put on my heart at a time I needed them the most.
Katie Bug’s Law will ensure that any driver who is ticketed in a crash where someone is badly injured will be drug tested. Never again will “she wasn’t dead yet” be an excuse to not hold someone accountable to the carnage they have caused.
It won’t prevent any deaths… not a single one. It will only ensure that impaired drivers don’t get to leave the scene of an accident they caused while a little girl suffers and dies days later. That’s a tough reality… that what you’ve worked so hard for is not going to save any lives… but it isn’t about me and what I’ve worked for.
I wrote earlier that a regular heart and soul would crumble under the weight, the heaviness, the grief. A regular heart does crumble. People aren’t made to withstand this type of grief, this type of trauma. People aren’t. But…
We aren’t regular people with regular hearts. We are Christians. We are filled with the Holy Spirit. We have Christ living inside us. Our hearts are filled with His love and only His love can keep us from crumbling. We are not made to withstand this, but He is.
We have another little boy now, Ethan. It’s unthinkable to me that this little baby will grow up without Katie. He will never know her this side of heaven and that devastates me.
Gavin, who was only 2 when Katie died, has had to learn and grow like no one should have to. He has learned more in the short months since we came home from hospital without our beloved baby girl than I learned in the 34 years before our wreck. And I pray that will serve him well later in life. It is a path no baby should have to walk, but then again, we don’t get to choose our circumstances, only our response. Kirk and I have chosen to love him enough to help him through his grief rather than thinking that loving him is helping him avoid it. We will have to answer his “why” questions for a long time. I want his grief to evolve with him, just like it does with us. We won’t remove Katie from his life, but we also have to be careful not to place our grief at the forefront of every situation.
There have been two occasions where my momma heart has heard his healing. The first was Summer 2018 at swim lessons. He was talking to his swim instructor, Jordan, about getting an ICEE after his lesson. He was telling her all about the snacks he loves…candy, ICEEs, fruits snacks. I was sitting on the side of the pool just watching and listening. He turned to this young woman, a sweet graduate student just working at the pool during her summers, and said, “I have a sister. Her name is Katie Bug. She died because her body quit working. She’s in heaven with Jesus and she used to give me fruit snacks. I’ll see her again, but she won’t be in our house anymore. I miss her.”
I was breathless. I remember looking at Jordan and panicking because I didn’t know how she was going to react to that coming from a 2.5-year-old Gavin, who sounded so innocent yet the words he spoke hurt so bad. She was a college student, not a counselor. Jordan looked him square in the eyes and said, “I know you had a sister named Katie and I know you miss her very much. And you’re right Gavin, you will see her again. Now, let’s practice those kicks.”
I was stunned. She handled it. With grace and confidence and ease. That was the first time (and only time so far) Gavin has brought up Katie to a stranger. I am forever grateful to her for allowing him to feel safe and told her so. For this grieving momma heart, to hear him say those words made me both proud and heartbroken.
The second occasion was when Gavin and I had an encounter with a little boy in the Spring of 2019. This little boy told us that he “felt sorry for Katie because she died.” Gavin knows that Katie is not his guardian angel, she’s not watching him, that she is with Jesus and we will see her again, but I wasn’t sure how he would respond to this…feeling sorry for someone is an emotion. I have always conveyed facts to him: Jesus died on a cross to save us and rose again so that those of us who believe and trust in Him will rise again after we die. But the feelings of being sad or worried or whatever the word is for a desperate longing to see Katie here again, are not as easily put into words. We talk about them for sure, but it’s not as concrete. He sees me cry and asks me if I miss Katie. He sees me watch old videos on my phone on occasion and sometimes he wants to see them and sometimes not. Gavin will go weeks without acknowledging her person, her room, or her things, then spend a few days off and on playing in her room, asking questions, or playing with her toys. It’s a constant evolution of conversations and emotions. It’s exhausting.
But this day, when that little boy voiced his concern, Gavin looked at him, looked up at me, and then said to the boy, “Why do you feel sorry for her? She’s fine!”
She sure is, sweet boy. And we are, too. You never quite know what your kids hear when you speak. I have always asked myself “Is this too much?” “Have I said too little?” “Do I need to avoid this conversation a few more years?” and many, many other questions that will wear you down. In a little over 18 months, I have heard my sweet boy twice reassure to me that we are on the right road. It doesn’t seem like a lot, but it’s what keeps me going. It’s not the quantity of the words, it’s the quality. Gavin told both his swim instructor and that little boy exactly what God has poured into his heart through Kirk and me. We are merely the vessels.
It will be difficult and sad, and we will have moments of devastation again and again. There is no expectation that the suddenness, the tragedy, the impact of what was taken from us, or the grief will ever go away. I wouldn’t even want it to. But we will evolve with it. It’s a choice we have to make in the details…our conversations, our books, our lives have to pour truth into those around us. The truth that Katie is fine… better than fine… she’s perfect and will be for eternity. It’s just going to take the rest of us a little more time to catch up.
We have chosen to continue loving our Katie as much after her death as we did during her life. We have chosen to focus on the details and the big picture will come. We will keep our eyes on eternity and do our best with our time. Every day is one more day behind us and one more day closer to being reunited. It’s also another opportunity… an opportunity to use the small things, the details, to spread the love our Katie so freely gave. We love because He loves us… and you.
I write what God puts on my heart on a Facebook page called Team Katie Bug.