Rachel, You're My Hero!

With Keri Cannella-Moye

We met Keri and her family under very difficult circumstances. We reached out to her after a tragic loss, and we’ve kept in touch. Her service to others and faith have been so inspiring to us. We have learned more about her at our GriefShare group. Her positive spirit shines through while walking through such a difficult time. Thanks for sharing your story!
-Todd and Kristen
Keri, what is your loss story?

It was a sunny Sunday afternoon, on April 7th 2013. I was riding on the lawn mower in my backyard hoping to get my yard looking nice for spring. Both my 11-year-old son, Logan, and my 16-year-old daughter, Rachel, had a friend over for entertainment. Logan, not surprisingly, was inside showing his friend his new video games. Rachel, being much less keen on sitting still, was outdoors enjoying the sunshine. To escape the possibility of being delegated to do work, Rachel and her friend decided to walk down to the lake not far from our house. To get there, they had to walk through the woods in our backyard and down about 200 yards. I remember telling her over the roar of the lawn mower to have fun and don’t be gone too long. Little did I know, that was the last time I would see my daughter as a vibrant teenager as she smiled at me before disappearing into the woods.
Rachel and Keri
In the next couple of minutes, my lawn mower ran out of gas and I lovingly convinced my husband to run up to the gas station for me. While waiting for him to return, I began picking up some sticks and balls in the yard. I heard Rachel’s name being called by her friend in the woods down from my house. I couldn’t distinguish the shouts between frantic yelling or goofing around, but my gut told me to pick up my cell phone and call Rachel to make sure everything was okay. I called, but it went to voicemail after a few unanswered rings. I was just about to dial once more when I received an incoming call from my sister.

She called because she was stuck in her car just outside her neighborhood, which was blocked off due to an accident with a couple of teenage girls on four-wheelers. Her story was enough to take my mind off of the uneasiness I was feeling about my child in the woods. She continued to tell me that the girls were being taken away by ambulance, and I remember saying to my sister, “I hope they’re okay. I can’t imagine something like that happening to my child.”

As I ended that phone call, I looked up to see my daughter’s friend alone and walking into our backyard. As he made eye contact with me, his legs buckled and he fell to the ground. The only words I heard him say were, “She’s dead. She’s dead.” At that moment, my life was forever changed. At that moment, I began to live with the guilt of not trusting my instincts when I heard Rachel’s name being called in the woods.

I instantly sprinted into the woods, ducked under branches, and ran straight through sticker bushes to get to my child. The image is forever ingrained in my memory. Rachel, my beautiful, vibrant 16-year-old daughter was on her back, arms spread out beside her, and a large tree was lying across her neck. Her eyes were open but rolled into the back of her head. I instantly reached for the tree. Her friend and I lifted it just high enough to slide it off of her lifeless body.

Knowing that she was not breathing, I began CPR. Unfortunately, as I attempted to give the first breath of life back into my child, it was resisted by a rush of blood coming from her throat. Knowing that her heart needed to pump, I began chest compressions while her friend used my phone to call for help.

The next 5 minutes felt like 5 lifetimes rolling over again. We were deep in the woods and it was hard for the police and EMT’s to find us. When help eventually arrived, the only thing I had left to do was beg for them to not give up on my child. That, and pray! We prayed for God to please protect and heal my child. That He make His presence known and felt through a miracle. Just as we said, “AMEN,” the words, “We have a radial pulse!” filled the woods. Rachel was air-lifted to Atlanta Medical where she was placed on life support.

For four days, we sat vigilant at her bedside. The love and support from family, friends, and even strangers flooded the hospital waiting room. We prayed and cried and prayed some more. On the fourth day, Rachel’s doctor informed us that all of her test results showed no blood flow to her brain. Because of this, they had legally declared her brain dead and had labeled her time of death. At that moment I realized that my prayers were answered. God had healed my child, just not in the selfish way I had hoped.
What do you want everyone to remember about your beautiful daughter, Rachel?

As a parent who has lost a child, one of my biggest fears is that the memory of my child and her legacy will be forgotten by those who once knew and loved her. Rachel started life so full of enthusiasm and delight. She was extremely animated and always eager to put a smile on your face. She excelled in everything she did. From academics to soccer to even playing the flute. Most memorably, she excelled at making us laugh.
But, by the age of 13, it was obvious that Rachel was going through some changes. What some would consider typical teenage behavior, I saw a bit disturbing. By the age of 14, Rachel was diagnosed with Bipolar, and we were also informed of the benefits of learning all we could about Borderline Personality Disorder. Even though she was too young to be diagnosed, she showed many of the traits of this mental illness.

From the get go, I did everything I could to educate myself on both of these illnesses. Just as if she was diagnosed with diabetes or some other disease, it was my job as mom to make sure she received the best treatment to ensure the most promising future that she could have. With the support of my husband, I quit my job and made being mommy to my children my number one, and really, almost my only priority. I knew that Rachel was facing an uphill battle, but that battle could be won if we did it together. Together, we were a team, and over the next two years we sat through hours and hours of counseling. There were a couple of hospital stays and numerous medication changes until we found the proper concoction that would benefit her the most.
Over the next couple of years, many people would tell me how patient and strong I was. However, through all of this, I had the privilege to witness what true strength and endurance was. Not by anything I was doing, but by intimately observing a young person suffer and be tormented from within her head and personal thoughts. By seeing the pain in her eyes as she got out of bed each morning, yet being astonished that she could face another day at all. Most significantly, I saw a young soul aching while at the very same time, praising the Lord for loving her and never leaving her side. Over those years I went from finding her dark and disheartening journal writings to finding her favorite Bible passages and lyrics from her preferred Christians songs. The team that I thought Rachel and I had created was being piloted by God the entire time, and it took my teenage daughter to teach me that. So, when asked the question, “What do you want everyone to remember about your beautiful daughter, Rachel?”, my answer is this — Rachel was, is and always will be my Hero!
What impact do you want to leave on the world and what lessons could people learn from your life?

If we had a dollar for every time we heard someone say that “life is short, enjoy it while you can”, we’d all be filthy rich. I can’t count how many times I had heard this statement before that fateful day in April of 2013. I can, however, tell you how many times it truly inspired and motivated me to relish the wonderful times and accept the unpleasant days that we call life — Zero!

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t feel that I took everything for granted. I enjoyed my times with friends and family and I appreciated the love that filled my life. I even told myself that everything happens for a reason and that God would never give me more than I can handle. This helped get me through the dark days after Rachel’s diagnosis. I thought I knew how short and truly fragile life was, but I was hugely mistaken.

Life is a blink of the eye. It needs to be captured in every single heartbeat because we are never guaranteed a continued rhythm. Words must never go unspoken and thoughts never left unshared. The significance of this very moment can be the most essential of all of your days. On that sunny Sunday afternoon, as I rode that lawn mower attempting to clean up my yard for spring, I never thought that Rachel’s beautiful smile would be the last smile she’d ever give me. If I had known, don’t you think I would have cherished and treasured that simple gesture so much beyond what I did?

Nowadays, I don’t blink before truly finding pleasure in that moment. Through my delight, enjoyment and love, and even through my tears, heartache and pain, I find pleasure. Why? Because my hero taught me how. She taught me how short and fragile life is and that with God by my side, I can appreciate every second of it. If there is one lesson I would want people to learn from my life and experience, it’s that life is a simple heartbeat away from death. Nothing but this very moment is guaranteed and I genuinely pray that this is a lesson that each person can learn before it has to be discovered.
What is Rachel’s Ray of Hope?

Like others who have lost a child, we had the desire to give back to the community and continue the legacy that Rachel began. Rachel’s Ray of Hope is a non-profit organization with very simple intentions. Show love, give hope, and inspire those in need. To do this, we don’t have one specific idea or service that we provide. We include a vast array of services and support that range from collecting food for our local food banks to providing Christmas presents for many children of struggling families in our community. We have also provided over 100 “comfort bags” to local children who are removed from their homes for various reasons with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Our goal is to bring a community together by truly setting the example of “loving thy neighbor”.

For more information about Rachel’s Ray of Hope, please visit our website at www.rachelsrayofhope.com.
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