Kate Svitek Memorial Foundation
Kate Svitek Memorial Foundation

From Loved Ones & Friends

Letter from the Rhodes Family

Dear Ellen, Frank and Michael,

There is a saying that you can’t choose your own family, but that you can choose your own friends. Somehow I have always felt a blurring of these two, since as time goes by and we share many of life’s experiences with our friends, they begin to feel like family. And so when tragedy strikes, as it has for your family, it is hard to separate the depth of emotions and the memories from the feeling of loss of a family member.

We grieve with you over the loss of Katie – but we also celebrate the unique individual that she was and that made her so special. And unique she was. Katie always carried an air of self-assurance in our presence – whether she felt that way or not. What young girl does not struggle with the coming of age and all that it brings. I believe that Katie found peace with herself, whether she knew it or not. She knew what made her happy, she knew what was important to her, and she knew what she needed to do to begin the journey toward fulfilling her dreams. How unique at such a young age.

Memories have a secret life. They metamorphasize over time and create new realities. Sometimes memories are not remembered in words, but in feelings, but there are a few of Katie that hold a special place in our hearts that we would like to share with you.

Shortly after you moved to "Here to Stay Farm", Gates, Jaron and I came to visit and enjoy your new home. Jaron says that he can still remember the litter of little black kittens that you had. He loved cats and so it was too irresistible to not play with them as though they were there just for Katie and Jaron’s pleasure. Because it is something that the kids themselves would enjoy, he recalls the excitement of taking them for a ride in the little plastic buggy. Back and forth the helpless kittens slid across the front porch, much to the unsuspecting dismay of their mother. After all, what did our kids know of maternal instinct. Of course, Lucky (I think that was her name) found the first opportunity to hide those abused kittens and protect them from the squealing children. Jaron believes that he can still hear Katie’s laughter!

Katie had a certain "joi du vivre" about her, even as a little girl. During a weekend visit to Bull Run, I can still recall the smile on Katie’s face when she woke up and realized where she was and anticipated the day of fun ahead. She could not even take time to put on clothes, but bolted barefooted in her flannel nightgown from the cabin, with Jaron following behind. Frank was already beginning to gather the tools for fishing as the kids scampered over the lawn and onto the bridge by the pond. How lucky we were to have had the camera with us just then to freeze that moment in time. The morning sunlight on the young faces created a flow of innocence that I will never forget! Although Jaron cannot recall this moment, he does remember, most vividly, spending time together that weekend. He remembers the tractor and taking rides with Frank. He remembers having so much fun with Katie and Michael. He also remembers that as they were saying their happy goodbyes Katie slammed her finger in the door of the car. He felt so sorry for his friend that he says that he can still remember how sad she was, and that he felt bad saying goodbye like that.

Katie had a way of bringing out the best in Jaron, and although they did not see each other regularly he remembers her, in his words, as someone who "always brought out the lighter side of me." There are not a lot of people who can do that.

Remember the sledding hill bonfire. A real toboggan run! Jaron shared that during that evening you felt like family – a happy and loving family – laughing as we focused on creating the most amazing hill. The laughter echoed through the forest – louder and louder as darkness fell. Only to be eclipsed by the unorthodox bonfire. Jaron says he remembers feeling like we were doing something a little dangerous and a little crazy, as only the Sviteks could do. And he loved it. The laughter and the amazing excitement of doing it together! And oh, how could we ever forget the shower cap!

Jaron is not one who easily shows his emotions, but initially upon hearing about Katie’s loss he impulsively shared his thoughts aloud. "On a scale of one to ten, Katie she was a ten. She was such a giver, she didn’t try to take the attention for herself. When I was with her I felt like she wanted me to be happy. To me she was fun loving and exciting – I admired that she could live for the moment and was excepting of who she was. Her cheerful attitude and confidence made me enjoy being with her. Growing up, I feel that she was one of the most special friends."

Katie (I could never get used to calling her Kate) touched the lives of those that knew her in a way that will never be forgotten. There will always be a part of her that will live – forever young – in all of us. Try to find strength in that and in knowing how much she is loved. Many years ago, after the loss of our son, I found comfort in the story of The Little Prince and I often revisit the simple but poignant story. I share these words with you today in hope that in time you will find your "star":

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.

Please know that we love you guys and that we are here for you,

Gail, Gates & Jaron


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