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When a Child Dies #7 . . . Kristin

2012 February 15
by Mike

To continue the series, I’ve asked my friend Dane Altman to write about the grief journey he and Carole have faced since the death of their beloved daughter Kristin. I appeciate his willingness to share part of their story of loss ten years down the road.

– – – –

Our journey of grief began on January 16, 2002, when our oldest daughter, Kristin, died of injuries sustained 3 days earlier in a car accident. I had lost both my parents in the previous six months, so I guess grief was already a resident. I had just buried my mom a month before and was still processing that. But this was a different kind of grief. A darkening kind of grief. After a 3 day vigil of pleading and prayer to the Great Physician, we were told early on the morning of January 16th that Kristin was gone. I felt like I was in a dream, outside my body watching all this. My first and very naïve reaction was, “How do I fix this?” (Isn’t that what we do as men … as husbands and fathers? Fix things and make them right?) I wanted to fix this, not only for me but for the two most precious things I had left in my life: my wife, Carole, and my other daughter, Dana. I wanted to make it better for them. My hurt was deep and raw. But at that moment I hurt as well for them and wanted to stop the hurt.

Over the next several weeks we had so many people close by us. They knew we were hurting. I immediately went back to work because that’s what I was doing before Kristin’s accident. So to me, that was a way of trying to feel like things hadn’t changed. It kept me busy and preoccupied. But we also wanted to be with our friends, to have laughter, levity, anything to make it seem like things were normal. Little did we know then that we were starting another journey to find the “new normal.” We were told numerous times that we would now never be the same. At first I thought that was cruel, but as time passed I could see they were right. We will never be the same … the same Dane & Carole. A part of us has died as well. It doesn’t mean we’re different in a bad way. We’re just not the same. Part of us is now gone and we search for what is “normal” for us now.

Grieving is hard enough as it is, but doing it alone is even worse. I honestly don’t know how people make it through a tragedy like this without a good support group. We had a wonderful support group of friends and family that stood by us and comforted us, listened to us, cried with us and sometimes didn’t say anything—they just hugged us. And we could tell by the hug, by the look in their eyes that we were not alone. Sometimes that was all we needed—a good, sincere hug without any words spoken. A lot of times those loving hugs were the most emotional for me, even more than the words expressed.

Kristin was a beautiful young woman, full of life and energy. She had a contagious smile and an engaging personality. She loved little kids and adored the elderly. Over the years we continue to hear new stories or remembrances of Kristin from friends and acquaintances. From the parent of one of our college friends who said at her memorial at Harding that Kristin was so nice and friendly to their son when he was a freshman and she was an upperclassman. She made him feel special and it impacted him. Parents who have lost a child love to hear stories like this. We crave these stories, these snippets of memories of what she did, what she said. Many we’d never heard before. We need these memories even after 10 years. One of our favorites was from one of her close high school friends who during those years said she was not really a spiritual person. She said she watched Kristin and how she interacted with us and how she lived her Christian life. Today, this special friend is a devout Christian and a godly wife and mother. She told us it’s because of Kristin’s example during those high school years. She said she wanted what Kristin had. How cool is that?! This story absolutely warmed and thrilled our hearts.

We are forever grateful to those who to this day remember Kristin’s anniversary of going Home, and of her earthly birthday. These acts of kindness give us affirmation and give us encouragement … that we’re really not alone. Perhaps our biggest fear is that at some point people will forget. Not only that they’ll forget Kristin, but also the fact that we will continue to grieve until we see our Kristin again. I’ve probably been more emotional at this 10 year’s anniversary than ever before.

In the last 12 months we’ve had 3 friends lose a child. They’re now in the club. We wish they weren’t. We don’t even want to be in this club. We talk to them, listen to them, let them know they’re normal for feeling the range of emotions they’re feeling—the anger they feel. It’s normal we tell them. We hope and pray we’re helping in some way to prepare them for what’s ahead. They always ask, does it get better, will it always feel this way? We think it gets better. The hurt is still there, the sick feeling in the pit of your stomach comes at times, but it does get better. It really does. God sustains us and we trust Him. If I could wave a magic wand and get my daughter back, would I do it? In a heartbeat!! But we look forward to that day when we’ll be with her again. Until then, though, we will continue on the grief journey … heading Home.

26 Responses leave one →
  1. erin permalink
    February 15, 2012

    Thanks so much to both Dane and Rick for telling us about their daughters and about the sorrow that followed their deaths. This space is, indeed, holy ground. Wish I’d known Kristin and Jenny.

  2. Cindy permalink
    February 15, 2012

    Authentic feelings and words. Beautiful tribute, Dane. You and Carole bless us all with your response to this unwanted, awful journey of grief for Kristin.

  3. Cheryl permalink
    February 15, 2012

    Dane – Thanks so much for sharing your story! And Mike, thanks so much for this series that you have done!

  4. Sheila Shields permalink
    February 15, 2012

    We will always remember the blond beauty! She was precious the moment I met her and my feelings have never changed. So can’t wait to see her again!

  5. annie permalink
    February 15, 2012

    Dane, Thank you for sharing with us yours & Carole’s journey through the valley & back up to a different, but nonetheless, a new height. Wish I could reach up & give you a big hug, & feel your bear-like squeeze, back. I think of Kristin every single time I see a real or manufactured dragonfly, & will never forget Carole’s face while telling that story…….it radiated a special light, & was a powerful moment. Please tell her I love her, & I love you, too.

  6. February 15, 2012

    Dane, thanks for sharing your tender story, your family is such a dear part of our friendships and fond memories of Harding days. We so loved Ted and Barbara, and your strong family, and I know we would have loved your daughter as well. We will continue to pray for God to use your witness and love to parents in grief. Love to you Dane! Jane and Cliff

  7. February 15, 2012

    Mike,
    Thank you so much for this series. It has been powerful. These stories and perspectives have reached deep down into my heart. I believe they are ministering to many who have struggled with this devastating loss.
    Chris

  8. Brad Cox permalink
    February 15, 2012

    Dane, I appreciate your willingness to let us into your world. I can’t imagine your loss. I too am glad that you had people of faith to walk with you through this incredible trial. Praise the Lord that you are using your unique story to bless so many others.
    Brad

  9. Kathy Bullard Sweeney permalink
    February 15, 2012

    Thank you SO MUCH, Dane for telling your story about your beautiful daughter, Kristin. The loss will always be there, but isn’t is great that you will see her again one day?!

    Kathy

  10. February 15, 2012

    To the parents of Kristen… Thank you for sharing your story, your grief, your faith, and the memories of your daughter. Your words are a comfort.

    Thank you Mike for such a great series.

  11. February 15, 2012

    On February 23, Rick Gibson and I will have an online conversation on this topic (“When a Child Dies”) in a Pepperdine Ministry Workshop Webinar (the first in a series from our Office of Church Relations). I’ll provide more information later in case you’d like to participate.

  12. Mona Daniel permalink
    February 15, 2012

    Dane, what a beautiful tribute to your beautiful Kristin! She was blessed to have such a wonderful daddy, mother, and sister. I can’t imagine that year for you, and I so regret not reaching out to you sooner. I dearly love you and your family. You are my heros! Mike, thank you for sharing. Dane’s words with us.

  13. Liz Howell permalink
    February 15, 2012

    Since I lost my mother about a month ago, I have encountered a new dimension of grief. Your story reminds of me of the importance of being there and always remembering. Please know that you are loved, and many share in your joy and sorrow.

  14. February 15, 2012

    Dane, Thank you for sharing your story, and thank you for being there for Chuck and I through our grief journey. I can so relate with wanting to hear the stories and remembrances of our loved ones, and fearing they will be forgotten. Yes, please talk about them, remember them and even miss them with us! They are worth it all! They’re lives are valuable and precious. Two of the most helpful comments came to me from Carole, and I’ve been so thankful that she spoke honestly with me. She told me to let myself be sad, and that I’m NOT going crazy! Really, I’m allowed to just be sad? I don’t have to cave into the christian peer pressure to “rejoice” or “celebrate” that my child is in heaven? And it’s so good to know that I’m not going crazy because that’s exactly what grief feels like sometimes. Thank you, Dane and Carole. I hope we will be a blessing to someone else in the future the same way you have been to us. And I hope these words will give insight to others walking this journey.

  15. Bonnie Barnes permalink
    February 15, 2012

    It’s tempting to say nothing when a friend loses a child because the ‘right’ words are so hard to find. Thanks for telling us about your journey and may God bless you and continue to help your hearts heal.

  16. Jan Osborn permalink
    February 15, 2012

    Thank you for sharing, Dane. When we all met over thirty years ago, I never imagined that we would be in this club together. Blessings to you and Carol.

  17. Summer Mills permalink
    February 15, 2012

    Dane, I remember well where I was the day I heard about Kristin’s death. I didn’t know her but I knew her wonderful parents that I shared so much time with while at Harding! I was hurting to the core because I felt helpless in being able to give you comfort or hope at that time! You have penned a great tribute to Kristin and one that so adequately expresses how you and Carole have traveled this most difficult journey! I thank you for sharing that and for letting us know that hugs are very acceptable when words are not enough! Frank and I love you both….we hurt for this tremendous loss and for all our friends that are in this “club”! You will both be in our prayers and thoughts as we look forward to our great reunion with many special children! Summer and Frank

  18. Karen Zadina permalink
    February 16, 2012

    Although I try my best to always focus on Kristin’s life and the joy she brought to all those around her, on those ‘anniversary moments’ I can’t help but remember those three days you mentioned in your first sentence… those three awful days as we waited and wept and prayed in the hospital waiting room. I just ‘knew’ we had prayed Kristin through this… and I was so ‘confident’ that she would have quite the story to tell. I remember my confusion and hurt when it didn’t go the way I had planned… when you had to come out and tell all of us that it was not to be… and I remember the helpless feeling of wanting to make it all better for you and I couldn’t.
    But this one thing I can do ~ you know you can count on me to always speak of Kristin because I know you love hearing her name and that we will never forget. These days, it hurts most when all our girls are having showers and weddings and babies, and they gather to take pictures together, and Kristin’s not there. There is always a place missing that no one ever fills. We are left to wonder how her life would be these ten years later, and we are left to grieve once again.
    You are an amazing man, and as I wrote you recently, I admire you for holding everyone together. You have written a beautiful story honoring your daughter, and I hope these comments from friends give you comfort. You and Carole and Dana aren’t the same without Kristin, but you’re still my wonderful friends and when I see you, I see her. I love you all dearly…

  19. February 16, 2012

    Thank you, Mike for this forum of comforting and inspiring stories of the deepest grief known. I especially feel close to Dane’s story of losing Kristin. She and my son were friends at Harding. So close to my own child. So close in age and likes and life. Her death was so close to us and our lives. We were also very close to the entire Altman family in Searcy. Dane’s dad, Ted, conducted our wedding and gave us our small bit of pre-marriage counseling. Dane’s mom fed us wonderful home-cooked meals much-cherished by college kids away from their own homes. I loved Dane (even had a fun date once) and Jana (sweetest sis of all) and little Brad (the cutest little brother ever). And have been blessed by this family’s evidence of strong faith through the multiple tragedies they have had. Carole and Dane have been soldiers for Christ keeping joyful and committed to their faith in God through the worst of days. So grateful for Dane’s courageous testimony and the blessing of encouragement it gives. Thank you Mike and Dane.
    Blessings, Joneal S Kirby

  20. Pam permalink
    February 17, 2012

    Heading Home is a beautiful way to look forward to seeing our precious kids again! Thank you!

  21. Justin Phillips permalink
    February 17, 2012

    Dane,
    My wife and I ran in the same circle of friends shared by Kristen at Harding. We have fond memories of having Kristen and all our mutual friends out on my family’s boat during early fall weekends on Greers Ferry Lake. She loved to ‘tube behind the boat and she was so strong, I could never find a manuever to knock her off it! As others have mentioned, she had an infectious laugh and you couldn’t help but smile when she smiled at you. She was always so kind, and a great example to all of us who knew her. We had graduated when Kristen passed, and were so very hurt when we learned what had happened. We think of her ever so often and cherish the times that we did get to spend with her. Rest assured, Kristen is not forgotten.

    Justin and Shauri Phillips Little Rock, AR

  22. Carole Altman permalink
    February 18, 2012

    Thank you all, Justin so sweet I love that! Any new story is so important to our recovery of memories!

  23. Cindy Oldham permalink
    March 15, 2012

    Dane, my heart hurts and the tears still flow. Your strength for Carole and Dana is and has always been the ultimate protection of love and comfort. God has Blessed you with so much – one of which is the ability to extend that same strength to your friends. Time spent in the hospital has changed each of us forever. The loss of Kristin has touched our hearts beyond what words will explain… I thank God knowing we will see her smile once again. My truest of friendship, love and joy extends to you, Carole and Dana for always, love you so!!!!

  24. Tinia permalink
    March 15, 2012

    From my experience of loosing my son I wanted to share a few things. It’s been 15 years March 19. The pain has lessened. There is not a day that goes by that I dont thing of my son’s smile, caring , and lovingn personality. But we know God is our heavenly father taking care our loved ones and we will reunite soon with once again. You and Carole have been an inspiration to me and I know Kristen is sitting on your shoulder protecting you each day. Thank you for sharing your pain and feelings . He does helps to know that I!m not alone.

  25. Ricky Box permalink
    June 25, 2012

    I knew Kristin basically my whole life, we grew up together at Preston Crest. She was one of the nicest, most caring people I had ever met. I still find it VERY hard to come to terms with the fact she is no longer with us. I have vivid memories of us extremely young (6-8 yrs old) playing in Joel Hoggards backyard. I can remember PC camps and work camps were Kristin was always first to help, and provided a incredible example for others. Always seems as if we had so much in common. We both were in the same grade, she had a younger sister and I had a younger brother. We both were the oldest of two kids. Fate somehow guided me to play football for Harding University, the same school Dane had been a star at all those years ago. I was surprised to hear Kristin would be attending the same college in the fall. I would see her basically every day my first year at school. She was friends with my girlfriend at the time, and I often found we would attend similar events (Searcy isn’t exactly the entertainment capital). After the fall semester of my sophomore year I decided to leave Harding to pursue football at a higher level. I was in Dallas when I heard she had been in a accident locally. To this day I don’t understand why God allowed her to pass, but I am grateful for the 21 years I knew her. She will never be forgotten, and in my many travels across this wide world I have yet to meet her equal in humility and beauty.

  26. Melissa Hofmann permalink
    October 29, 2017

    I knew Kristin briefly in middle school right before high school. We were both trying out to be a cheerleader. Some mean kids had made fun of me. But Kristin was kind and told me not to worry about them and ignore what they said. She was a really nice girl. I only wish I had gotten to know her better.

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