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Greg Dobbs Column

Ellie’s Legacy: Pay it Forward, or Pay it Back

Reprinted from the October 14, 2014 Canyon Courier

Greg Dobbs HeadshotOut of life’s worst moments can come life’s best lessons.

I’ve seen that at every natural disaster I’ve ever covered, where someone who just lost virtually every personal possession short of the shirt off his back still can manage to voice some variation of, “At least my family is safe, and that’s really all that matters.”

Well, I just saw that spirit in spades at the restaurant across from Evergreen Lake called Willow Creek. The couple who own it, Kristopher and Curtis Lincoln, lost their daughter more than a decade ago.

Ellie had been born just five days after 9/11. And while the nightmare of terrorism still was unraveling over every American, the nightmare of congenital defects crashed in a matter of moments on the Lincolns. After performing an urgent C-section on Kristopher, the delivery-room staff saw enough problems in her newborn girl that they warned her mom, “It doesn’t look good; your baby is going to die.” The family was told that Ellie would live just hours, maybe days at most.

Death is seldom welcome, but when it’s an infant with whom the family has formed a love bond even before she’s born? There can be little worse than losing a child, at any age. Kristopher, the mom, says that when the shock sank in, there was a brief blessing from the Bible, a stream of tears, a single kiss. Then Ellie was whisked away.

But Ellie didn’t die as fast as anyone thought. She lived long enough to give great big smiles when her daddy came into the hospital room; she lit up when her mommy navigated through all the wires and tubes to kiss her.

Kristopher says, “Our love for this little creature was beyond words.” But love alone was not a cure. During a brief life of punishing seizures in an ill-formed skull and a heart that beat at breakneck pace and the dysfunction of her kidneys, Ellie suffered more with every day she survived.

It is rare for someone to be in hospice care for virtually all of her life. Ellie was. There was always the hope of a miracle, but beyond the very miracle of this baby’s joy at life when all was so challenging, the only other miracle was the nursing, the affection, the love that Ellie and her family received from the hospice people who cared for them all.

But there were no medical miracles to alter the inevitable, and ultimately Ellie’s parents made what will always be the most agonizing decision of their lives. Told that there was no future without pain and suffering, they removed Ellie’s life support. She had not yet turned 2.

Which is where life’s worst moment turned into its best lesson. Ellie’s parents couldn’t pay it forward, but they decided to pay it back. By turning their restaurant every September for the past several years into a fund-raiser for Mount Evans Home Health Care & Hospice, which had seen them through their crisis. Kristopher calls it “Ellie’s Evening” and calls hospice “a cursed blessing.” Cursed because of the reason they needed it. But a blessing because, as she puts it, hospice “kept me sane,” and got her through the worst time of her life “with dignity and grace.”

Ellie’s death was her parents’ worst moment, but Ellie’s life was their best. The lesson they learned then is the lesson they teach now: “Tomorrow is never guaranteed.” That’s why they do what they can to help hospice, today. The lesson is for us all: Pay it forward or pay it back. But pay it somehow.

Greg Dobbs is a 28-year Evergreen resident. In the 1990s and early 2000s, he was a regular Courier columnist. He is a board member for Mount Evans Home Health Care & Hospice.