Posted on Mon, Dec. 22, 2003

Pets help us hold on for dear life

By Linda Goldston

There are times when words fail even writers, when mere scribblings on a page cannot quite convey what needs to be said.

Those times come up quite suddenly and weigh on the mind as much as the heart.

A little girl I wrote about for more than a year for the Mercury News died last week, and we ran my story about it Friday on the front page. As I sat down to write this column, I realized there was more to say.

Kaitlyn Langstaff struggled for nearly two years with a debilitating disease that was apparently caused by an extreme adverse reaction to Children's Motrin. It left her unable to see, speak or eat.

It did not, it could not, touch her heart.

Kaitlyn, who was 9, loved her family and friends. She loved her school and her teachers. But mainly, she loved her life and fought so hard to regain it after she got sick.

She wanted to go back to school. She wanted to get a puppy and a new kitten. She wanted to be a regular kid for as long as she could.

Kaitlyn made it to class, even when it meant she needed a health aide and a nurse -- and sometimes her father -- to help make that happen. She needed a ventilator to breathe and the portable one sat snugly on the back of her chair.

And even though her family already had a dog and a cat, Kaitlyn got her new pup and her kitten. She needed something more her size to hold, and Phoebe, the kitten, and Tessie, the dog, were perfect for sinking her fingers into their soft fur.

I remember that feeling as a child. In some of my darkest hours, my dog, Pinto, and my cat, Lady Jane, were always there for me.

They heard my childish complaints, freely let my childhood tears fall on their fur. No matter how much or how deeply we are loved by our family and friends, there are times when only our special friends, our animal friends, will do.

Our Phoebes and Tessies and Lucys and Maxes make no judgments about what we say or cry into their shoulders. They wag their tails and wiggle closer.

When you weigh a short life, you have to measure the love. It helps make up for the loss in years somehow, eases the pain of all that might have been.

Kaitlyn could not have been loved or cared for more completely than she was by her mother, Kerry, her father, Bradshaw, and her sister, Kelly. All of her friends, her classmates, her teachers and the many hundreds of people who sent her cards and letters added to that bond.

They will miss her for a long, long time to come. Memories of a little girl who had it all and then fought so hard to just be a regular kid do not die.

Part of the legacy of Kaitlyn Sierra Langstaff is that there is always love to give, life to share, even when life as we know it changes so dramatically.

She never stopped loving or living life as fully as she could, even as she struggled simply to breathe.

The family Christmas card included ``The Langstaff Times,'' a recapping in newspaper style of the events in their lives over the past year.

There is a photo of Kaitlyn with a big smile as she reaches for her dog, Tessie, and one of her kitten, Phoebe, wearing a straw hat. The family photos include one from Yosemite taken in the spring, when the Langstaffs finally made it where they were headed when Kaitlyn got sick the year before.

In that photo, Kaitlyn is beaming with accomplishment.

Not all children get the opportunities Kaitlyn had, feel the love of so many people.

But if I ran this world, I would make sure that each child had a dog or a kitten, a Tessie or a Phoebe, to be there when no one else was. Everybody needs a special friend of their own.