The words of Kat Schilling of Eau Claire, WI, pierce the heart: “As much as I don’t like the fact that I lost a child, it is exactly that … a fact. I cannot change it, no matter how hard I wish I could.”
Five years since the death of her son, Zach Hartsell, at age 16, to ewing sarcoma, a rare cancer, Kat said every day is a struggle. “I cry at the drop of a hat sometimes, and over the silliest things.”
But she said she has made a choice to heal from something she will never get over.
“I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy. But I can’t spend the rest of my life being sad, especially not outwardly,” Kat said. “That’s not good for my other two kids, Carson and Mila. And it’s not what Zach would have wanted.”
Kat said in her son’s honor, she forces herself to find the good in bad. Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s not.
“I just try to do nice things wherever I can,” she said. “I realize that some people have it much worse, and that you just don’t know what others might be going through.”
On the fourth anniversary of Zachary’s death, Kat took the day off work and drove around Wisconsin doing kind things for strangers. She used her income tax refund to pay for coffee and meals and gas for people she had never met.
She left behind messages printed on orange paper, Zach’s favorite color.
The message said: “Four years ago today, my son, Zach, went to heaven. He was 16. In an effort to find joy in this day, I am performing random acts of kindness in his honor. Zach’s mantra was, ‘Keep praying.’ Please do.”
Kat said the gesture was intended to remind people not to take for granted what they have … to look for the good. “If I could do that on the anniversary of my son’s death, surely they could do that as well,” she said.
As she recalls, Kat spent the whole day smiling: “Any time you can see someone’s reaction when you do something they’re not expecting, it’s a whole different type of happiness.”
Zach’s “keep praying” mantra brought about many different types of happiness. Kat said her son loved hearing about visitors to his CaringBridge website who were inspired by his story to turn to God and to hug their own kids a little harder.
Zachary told her, “You know, Mom, if people are turning to God more, and caring about what they actually have, then all of this isn’t for nothing.”
Kat said she thinks about that all the time. “Some days I don’t think I can help myself, never mind others,” she said. “But it’s just something you have got to do. I just keep putting one foot in front of the other.”