By Katie S. McIntyre
WOODWARD – A year ago, knowing her life was limited, 46-year-old Yale resident Kris Gerhard hosted her own celebration of life to say goodbye to nearly 250 friends and family members.
Today she’s busy making plans for another celebration to be held Saturday at 1 p.m. – her wedding. The ceremony will be held at Camp Mitigwa near Boone, where she lived as a child when her father was the camp’s ranger.
Gerhard, a patient of HCI Hospice Care Services, says she is committed to living life to the fullest.
“I want people to know that you can live right up to the moment before you go,” she says. “I am planning on walking down that aisle. We’re going to make it happen.”
Gerhard and her groom, Damien O’Brien, have an incredible love story. They met nearly 20 years ago when she was caring for a friend of O’Brien’s and reconnected last year at Gerhard’s celebration of life.
Helping others and throwing herself into her work and has helped Gerhard overcome a life filled with hardships, including the deaths of all of her immediate family members.
“I believe what I’m going through right now is just another part of the journey,” Gerhard says. “I try to stay positive, and I try to take this journey as a gift. My whole life – everything I’ve been through – it’s been crazy. To get through it all, I have to believe God has a job for everybody. Everything I’ve been through has helped me to help other people.”
She has fostered 12 young women, four of whom will be her bridesmaids. She was inspired to become a foster parent, which she says is “one of the best things I ever did,” after going through the system herself as a teenager.
“I vowed that someday I would love to give back and show what a foster parent should be,” Gerhard says.
Six months ago, despite knowing her life expectancy is limited, she adopted one of the young women, the second she has legally adopted so far.
“I told her, ‘Honey, I don’t know how long I’m going to be here, and you need to think about that,’” Gerhard recalls. “But she told me, ‘You’ve been more of a mother than my own mother has ever been. I don’t care how much longer I have you because you already are my mom.’”
In addition to being a foster parent and guardian, Gerhard is also well known within the local mental health system for her work the past decade as a judicial mental health advocate appointed by the courts to serve persons with mental health needs in Dallas, Greene, Guthrie and Webster Counties. Just this month she resigned but continues to support her predecessor as a volunteer assistant.
“It keeps me alive. It keeps me in the game,” Gerhard says. “There are days when I can’t do anything, and I feel horrible, and there are days I can help.”
Gerhard thanks HCI Hospice Care Services for its support during this part of her journey and for helping with wedding arrangements. Her hospice spiritual care counselor will officiate the ceremony. The Hotel Pattee has also donated a night of lodging for the couple to enjoy a honeymoon retreat.
HCI Hospice Care Services is dedicated to treating the whole patient at end-of-life. That approach goes far beyond treating pain and the other physical symptoms individuals experience. It means identifying the things that add quality to life and bring joy to the patient and those who love them. Support for this wedding, like dozens of other wishes provided each year to families in need, is made possible by generous community donations through HCI Foundation’s Quality of Life program.