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Friends gather to say goodbye to Katie

Linda Hiller

Hundreds of friends, family, teachers and students of Katherine Rose Margaret Helling came to celebrate her life and say goodbye last Saturday. The 9-year-old Carson Valley native died April 8 after a year-long battle with cancer.

The memorial service was held at Jacks Valley Elementary School, where Katie was a student for three years. The multipurpose room was decorated with photographs of Katie and her family and friends, her hat collection, her favorite books, the quilt that was raffled off to help with the family’s expenses, and some of the many gifts, cards and letters that Katie received during the last year.

Colorful, glittered paper stars decorated tables in the room, as well as on the refreshment tables, which overflowed with donated cookies. Members of both the Jacks Valley and Pinon Hills elementary school parent groups organized the refreshments and staffed the tables.

As the celebration began, Jackie Maye, JVES and PHES music teacher, played “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” on a xylophone as people quietly filed to their seats.

Eric Egan, JVES 3rd grade teacher, opened the service with some words of how to cope for all the children in attendance. He read a quote from Hans Christian Anderson:

“Whenever a child dies, an angel comes down from heaven, takes the child in its arms, and spreading out its large white wings, visits all the places that had been particularly dear to the child. From the best-loved place the angel gathers a handful of flowers, flying up again to heaven with them. There they bloom more beautifully than on earth. But that flower which is most loved receives a voice, so that it can join the song of the chorus of bliss.”

After vocal solos by children and hymn singing led by Maye, Steve Erven, shepherding pastor from the Carson Valley Community Church, invited audience members to recollect Katie.

Stories by teachers, librarians, friends and family members painted a picture of a bright, caring and “zany” Katie. Those in attendance were encouraged to “be zany, like Katie,” and “think of your glass as half full, not half empty.”

Members of the Dogs For Love group, who had visited Katie because of her affection for dogs, thanked the Helling family for allowing them to be a part of Katie’s life.

“It was an honor to be a part of your family,” said one club member, holding a friendly, squirmy white dog.

Katie’s grandmother, Trudie Van Allen, told of bringing home a souvenir for Katie, who was in the gifted and talented program in her school.

“I bought a replica of the guard for the tomb of Tutankhamen, and when I gave it to Katie, she said, ‘Oh, Gramma, I love it, but you mispronounced his name.'”

Carol Slavik, children’s librarian from the Douglas County library, said she remembered Katie coming to Storytime when she was as young as 4 years old.

“Storytime took a little longer when Katie was there,” Slavik said, smiling. “She asked a lot of questions.”

Charlie Ross, the Helling family physician who initially treated the lump on Katie’s leg that signaled the beginning of her cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment, said he started out as her doctor and became her student.

As he spoke from the heart, he was overcome with emotion. Max Helling, Katie’s 8-year-old brother, went to his side to comfort him, standing next to him at the podium.

“I learned about courage from Katie, and it taught me never to complain,” Ross said, struggling to speak. “Whatever is put in my life, I shall not complain, I shall accept it. Katie Helling never complained once. Every time I visited her, I never felt discouraged or sad when I left her room. She is an angel that will always be there.”

A card given to everyone who attended had a picture of Katie on the front, with stars over her head, and a passage from “The Little Prince,” by Antoine de Saint-Exupery inside. It read:

“In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing when you look at the sky at night.”