Spread Your Wings and Fly, Butterfly: Keyana & Granny
Born August 16, 1994, Keyana Mae Boone entered the world with what seemed to be all the odds stacked high and unfavorably against her. Born two and a half months before her presumed due date, her battle to live began the moment she took her first breath.
Like other premature babies, Keyana would spend the first few months of her life in the neonatal care unit, allowing her body the chance to mature and develop.
In November, Keyana's parents were given the green light to take their daughter home! What a joy! Her life could really begin. Everyone was excited about her hospital release -- she had parents, grandparents, great grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and a slew of new friends with whom she needed to meet and interact.
Keyana is described as being a very easy-going baby who rarely cried, a true joy and great addition to the family.
Over the years, my husband would share countless stories with me about his adventures with Baby Keyana. With six or seven other children in tow, he would also babysit Keyana. He would lay her on his chest and just listen to her breathe or watch her while she was sleeping. Keyana’s cousins would get a kick out of testing just how high they could push her infant swing. With her gummy smile, Keyana would seem to enjoy the ride as well. Whenever he speaks of her, my husband’s face lights up and he too begins to smile. In fact, every picture we own of Keyana, she is smiling or laughing, depicting a child full of hope, happiness and life.
Keyana's life changed drastically when she was around six months old. That is when water developed around her brain. Doctors determined that they would need to place a shunt in her head to assist in draining the fluid, hoping to reduce the swelling on her brain.
Soon after the placement of the shunt, an infection set in which lead to meningitis. In short, meningitis is inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord.
The meningitis left Keyana with a myriad of health challenges, including but not limited to, epileptic seizures and the inability to speak and walk.
The doctors looked at Keyana with their physical eyes and medical backgrounds and soon labeled her as a special needs child. They saw all her health challenges as fatal limitations, both physically and mentally. The only hope the doctors could give her two young parents was that they should cherish every second they had with their daughter because her life expectancy looked grim.
Unlike other infants who are verbally able to communicate when they are wet, hungry or in need of some type of attention, Keyana couldn’t. Therefore, her family quickly learned to recognize her different facial expressions to anticipate her needs.
God saw Keyana differently! He knew that He had special plans for this miracle child. He knew that she would make an everlasting impression on every person with whom she made contact. She was a literal gift from God.
“BEHOLD, CHILDREN ARE A HERITAGE FROM THE LORD…”
PSALMS 127:3 (NKJV)
On Saturday, May 25, 2013, before daybreak, we received the phone call that everyone dreads receiving. You know…that one. The one announcing that either someone is in the hospital or has passed away. The latter was true. Our eldest niece had passed away hours before and her father was calling to inform us.
Later that day, after the news settled and after other family members were contacted, my husband asked if I would be attending Keyana’s funeral with him. Without an ounce of hesitancy, my response was ’yes’. Now, keep in mind that I am not that person who attends every funeral, which is why my husband had to ask. They are just not “my cup of tea”. I prefer to remember the person the way they were the last time I saw them. Although I had only seen Keyana in her pictures and never had the pleasure of meeting her in person, I knew that attending her service was something I had to do.
By the end of the day, my husband set our schedules in motion for a trek to Nashville to celebrate the life of Keyana a few days later. It was also determined that we would be staying with Keyana’s paternal grandmother, Deborah Haynes.
Now let me tell you about Ms. Deborah. When my husband and I arrived at her house, she greeted us with open arms – literally. When she hugged me, I felt that I had known this woman for years, although this was the very first time we met. You know the feeling you get when you meet someone who is sincere and genuine and full of God’s love? That is the very feeling that I got from Ms. Deborah.
Once the pleasantries were completed, Ms. Deborah showed us to the room in which would stay – Keyana’s old bedroom. Maybe it was the fact that almost every corner of the room contained either one of Keyana’s many school projects (I especially enjoyed seeing the Thanksgiving turkey with the haphazardly glued, brown construction paper feathers); or framed pictures of our beloved niece with her trademark smile; or maybe it was the twenty or so African American Barbie® dolls (Brandy included) that sat neatly atop the shelf over the bed, still in their original packages, I felt a sense of calm and peacefulness. This bedroom was only a glimpse into the life of Keyana. Yet, it spoke massive volumes about the love and attention she received from her Granny.
After showering and getting ready for the service, I finally took a seat in the den, waiting to leave. Once again, Keyana’s mark was everywhere. In one corner sat a blue and yellow arts and crafts presentation board that displayed about fifteen to twenty pictures of Young Keyana. On the opposite side of the room was Ms. Deborah’s home computer and desk. There were about ten sticky notes and various business cards taped to the side of the computer and they all had something to do with Keyana’s care. Amongst the papers were reminders about doctor appointments, phone numbers for the health nurses and school reminders. I mention all this because even if you didn’t speak to Ms. Deborah at all, you could look around her house and see how much time and effort she devoted towards Keyana.
Before we were leaving for the services that morning, Ms. Deborah approached me and asked if I would mind wearing one of Keyana’s necklaces during the service. (Yes. I did say “one of”. She had a collection). This completely took me by surprise because 1) I had just met Ms. Deborah for the first time and 2) I had never met Keyana. Yet, I didn’t hesitate to wear the silver, chained necklace with the silver tiara pendent hanging from it that Ms. Deborah would later give to me as a token to remember Keyana. I was honored!
During her Celebration of Life service, I got another chance to witness God’s plan for Keyana Mae Boone. Keyana was placed in this world to bring happiness and joy to others. At first glance, one may see Keyana as the person who needed assistance and love. While that may have been true, I also see Keyana as the person who gave assistance and love.
"…(S)HE WILL BE A VESSEL OF HONOR, SANCTIFIED AND USEFUL FOR THE MASTER, PREPARED FOR EVERY GOOD WORK."
2 TIMOTHY 2:21 (NKJV)
Keyana is the vessel God uses to show people that you don’t have to utter any coherent words to spread true love. Armed with “only” a belly laugh and a toothy smile, Keyana could change the atmosphere and motivate those in need. As evident by the masses of people who attended her service, Keyana also had the ability to bring crowds together to recognize and stand in awe of God’s miracles, love and power.
Later that night, my husband and I got the opportunity to spend some one-on-one, quality time with Ms. Deborah back at her house. During that time, she shared stories about her relationship with Keyana and answered some of our questions about Keyana’s life.
When Keyana was almost four years old, she moved to Nashville, Tennessee to live with Ms. Deborah, who confessed that when Keyana first came to live her with her, she had no formal education of how to care for a child with special needs. She just knew that God had placed His child in her care and that it was her duty to raise her. She said that every time she did something for Keyana, she only hoped that she was ‘doing right by God and Keyana’.
“TRAIN UP A CHILD IN THE WAY HE SHOULD GO: AND WHEN HE IS OLD, HE WILL NOT DEPART FROM IT.”
PROVERBS 22:6 (KJV)
One of the first things Ms. Deborah did was enrolled Keyana into the Harris-Hillman Special Education School. Almost immediately, Granny and Keyana began receiving God’s special favor from the staff at the school. Doors opened for them to receive knowledge and access to all the resources that Keyana would need in the years to come. Attending the school also allowed Keyana to forge lifelong friendships and special relationships.
During her life, Granny treated Keyana to things that most children and some adults don’t have the opportunity to experience. For instance, Granny made sure that although bound to her wheelchair, her granddaughter was well-traveled. Every summer, Granny and Keyana traveled to such places as Atlanta, Florida (Disneyworld), waterparks and countless other destinations.
Granny made sure that Keyana was always dressed to impress. In every picture I have seen, including the yearly ones that were sent to us, Keyana’s hair was always neatly combed, complete with big, beautiful ribbons and barrettes and she always had on beautiful frilly dresses and, of course, a piece of jewelry.
As Ms. Deborah put it, ‘I would sometimes go without, just so Keyana would have the best of everything.’
Every time I commended Ms. Deborah on a job well done, she would reply that it was only by the grace of God. She also said something that confirmed what I believed was God’s plan for Keyana.
Ms. Deborah said, “Most people looked at the things I did for Keyana as me helping her. But they may not see that Keyana helped me. She made me look beyond myself and rely and trust solely on God. Only God could give me the strength and resources and all I can say when people ask me how I did it, was that I didn’t. It’s totally Him”.
“I CAN DO ALL THINGS THROUGH CHRIST WHO STRENGTHENS ME.”
PHILIPPIANS 4:13 (NKJV)
With tears streaming down my face for what seemed like the infintieth time that day, I got it. Granny was Keyana’s guardian angel. Keyana was Granny’s guardian angel. They were meant to be together. Granny took care of Keyana. Keyana took care of Granny.
Ms. Deborah spoke of a child who enjoyed simple things in life. She enjoyed the company of her relatives. She enjoyed laughing. She also enjoyed collecting butterflies. I can imagine Keyana’s beautiful, wide smile whenever she spotted one. The fact that she loved butterflies is also a testament of how God works and I believe it is no coincidence.
You see, butterflies are universal symbols of transformation, hope and new life. During its lifespan a butterfly goes from being an old caterpillar to a brand new, beautiful creation. Keyana is no longer bound to a wheelchair. She no longer needs a feeding tube. Nor is she experiencing any health challenges. Instead, she is a beautiful, new creation!
"...OLD THINGS ARE PASSED AWAY AND BEHOLD ALL THINGS ARE MADE NEW."
2 CORINTHIANS 5:17 (NKJV)
That night, Ms. Deborah told us that towards the end of Keyana’s life, the doctors, knowing Keyana’s health was rapidly deteriorating, asked Ms. Deborah if she had any final wishes for her granddaughter.
She said that she thought about it and at first she said there was nothing else that she could have asked for because Keyana lived a full, good life. She knew that every year that Keyana lived, she was already beating the odds she was dealt from birth.
Yet, Ms. Deborah did have another desire for her granddaughter. She wanted to see Keyana graduate from high school and receive her diploma.
"...THEREFORE I SAY TO YOU, WHATEVER THINGS YOU ASK WHEN YOU PRAY, BELIEVE THAT YOU RECEIVE THEM, AND YOU WILL HAVE THEM."
MARK 11:24 (NKJV)
God granted Ms. Deborah’s request!
On Friday, May 18, 2012, Keyana graduated and received her high school diploma from Harris-Hillman School!
On August 16, 2012, Keyana turned eighteen! What a miracle!
While life may be a big adjustment for Ms. Deborah without the physical presence of Keyana, she can rest easier knowing that Keyana is no longer suffering and that she is present with the Lord. Ms. Deborah can also continue the course that God has set for her life.
Ms. Deborah told us that night that the one place she always wanted to travel with Keyana was California. Although Keyana didn’t have the opportunity to make the trip, I am looking forward to the time when Ms. Deborah comes to visit us. I will welcome her with open arms, the same way she welcomed me into Keyana’s life.