For sisters, ‘family’ means a lot |

For sisters, ‘family’ means a lot

by Sheila Gardner

Sisters Stephanie Kirk and Cassandra Miller know more than most about the uncertainty of life.

On Dec. 12, their grandparents Marvin and Pauline Kirk were killed in a three-car accident on Highway 395 near the intersection of Highway 88.

That tragedy came five years after they lost their mother, Debra Rae Kirk, after her car plunged off Kingsbury Grade in November 2001.

“After everything, it’s almost unbelievable what happened,” said Kirk, 26. “They died in car accidents of blunt force.”

At first, officials speculated that Marvin Kirk, 75, may have died of a heart attack that led to the accident. Kirk, who was driving, was pronounced dead at the scene. Pauline Kirk, 82, died several hours later in a Reno hospital where she had been taken by helicopter.

Stephanie Kirk said a witness to the accident who was driving behind her grandparents, said the vehicle glided over the median into the southbound lane.

“He could have had a heart attack, but that’s not what killed him,” she said.

Miller was working at Sharkeys when she learned about the accident which tied up southbound traffic on Highway 395 for hours.

“One of my coworkers came in and said he get held up by an accident. I just had this gut feeling. When he told me it was a blue van, I flipped. I tried to call my grandpa and got no answer.

“So, I called my boyfriend and his dad who both work for the Department of Transportation,” she said.

Kirk, who shares a house with her sister, said she was at home when Miller called.

“I’m kind of in denial,” she said of the twin tragedies. “I just haven’t let myself deal with my grandparents’ deaths.”

Kirk and Miller were 20 and 14 when they lost their mother.

Miller spent 10 months in foster care before she moved in with her grandparents.

“He basically was my father,” she said. “He always had perfect advice about best friends, or school problems. He was like that with all my friends. They all called him ‘grandpa.'”

Pauline and Marvin Kirk moved to Carson Valley from Southern California in 1992.

“He had a roofing and contracting business and after he retired, they came here. He had driven through Carson Valley and just made up his mind that he wanted to retire here,” Stephanie Kirk said.

Pauline Kirk sold beauty supplies and was fastidious about her appearance.

“No matter what, she always put on her makeup and did her hair for grandpa,” Miller said.

In going through their grandparents’ belongings, the sisters have found several touching mementos.

“My grandmother loved the holidays. Every year since they were married, she had a black cat with a glittery necklace that she put on his package. We put that in with them,” Miller said.

“I found a napkin with the date they got married in 1965. She just saved everything,” she said.

As the sisters cope with their loss, they are looking forward to the birth of Miller’s son in April.

His name is Aidan Reed Hammond, sharing his grandfather’s middle name.

“Grandpa was so excited about the baby and looking forward to meeting his great-grandson,” Miller said. “He kept saying to me, ‘You’re making me feel older and older.'”

Kirk said she tries not to think about the important events in their lives that her mother and grandparents will miss.

“They’re supposed to be there when you get married, when you have children,” she said.

As difficult as it has been to lose their grandparents, the sisters say it’s a blessing that they died together.

“They were so in love and believed in ’til death do us part,'” Kirk said.

Miller said she doesn’t believe one would have survived without the other.

“I have a really strong belief that one would have died of heartbreak without the other,” Miller said.

The word that comes to mind when Miller and Kirk remember their mother and grandparents is “awesome.”

“They were beautiful and just cared so much for everybody,” Miller said. “My mom, too. She was a single parent and did the best she could. She was a good role model.”

The sisters say they have learned from these painful lessons.

“Treasure every moment,” Kirk said. “You never know what is going to happen.”