Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Boy Named Keith

Once upon a time there was a boy named Keith. He was born just a few months before me, in July 1981. When he was still young he was diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy & his parents were told that he wouldn't have a long life-expectancy. But that didn't stop Keith. He started using a wheelchair, got an electric chair, went to grade school, went to Jr High, & then went on to high school.

It was in high school that I became friends with this boy named Keith. There were actually 2 kids in our class who were in wheelchairs, Keith being one of them. Of course I had seen him around a lot in Jr High but high school is when we started being friends. What a time in my life that I'm thankful for...I'm thankful that we became friends.

I was fortunate enough to have a last name very close to Keith's in the alphabet. His: Bursheim; Mine: Cauffman. So at graduation we got to sit next to each other. I remember the roar of cheers as they said his name. He wheeled himself across the stage to get his diploma & have his tassle moved from one side to the other. And the smile he had!!! You could tell that everyone was so proud of him. But that's another thing amazing about Keith. He always had such a good attitude. He was down to earth, funny, & kind...simply kind. So it came the time to throw our hats but because of Keith's DMD he couldn't take his off his head & throw it. I threw mine & then looked at him, when he demanded that I take his off his head & throw it in the air! So that I did.

Keith & his sister, Holly

That summer after graduation I worked for Home Health as a PCA (personal care attendant) & they assigned me to help Keith out. Oh boy was I excited about that. Seriously...I couldn't have been happier. Nothing against the elderly, but I was super excited about helping Keith, a peer, a friend, someone MY AGE, instead of helping an old lady who would never remember my name.

It was that summer that we became great friends. I wasn't a person taking care of Keith. I was a friend coming to his house to hang out with him. On the occasional day that I was assigned to take care of Eric, the other boy in our class in a wheelchair, I'd pack Eric up in my car (not an easy task, mind you) & we'd still go over to Keith's house to hang out.

Keith was SO into movies that I can't even begin to describe. We watched tons of movies that summer of 2000. Keith was home-bound, pretty much, but that was fine with me. We were able to get to know each other more because of that. We talked, laughed, played games, & watched movies. could mention ANY movie & Keith had seen it. It was pretty amazing.

Keith & I shared a slightly twisted fascination of Christina Aguilera. Ironically enough, she was coming to Billings, MT that summer so Keith was trying to score some tickets. He wrote her a letter & her assistant ended up calling Keith's mom shortly after they got it!!! They offered Keith 2 tickets to her upcoming concert! He asked his sister to go with him but she couldn't make it so I was the runner up!!! :o)  So Keith's parents, Keith, & I packed in their van & drove down to Billings for the concert. Not only did we get to go to the concert but we were able to see Christina for a meet-&-greet before the concert started...AND we had a free lunch with her backup dancers.

So the cool thing about meeting Christina Aguilera....she's shorter than me. Yup. Seriously. We got a picture of us & I know I have it somewhere around here...I just have no idea where to look for it. It's times like these I wish I was more picture-organized.

Keith & I kept in contact after I went to college & then moved to MT. I'd go visit him occasionally, but not nearly as much as I should have. Keith's health started taking a toll on him & he started losing weight, got put on a vent, & was completely home-bound. When I was in nursing school I was lucky enough to get to take care of him in my clinicals. He would occasionally go in the nursing home on respite care & I would ALWAYS beg my teacher to let me have Keith. She knew that we were good friends so thankfully she'd always say yes. Probably a bad idea on her part though cause I hardly ever left his room....

These past couple years I knew his health wasn't the best, but he was still fighting. He was always on Facebook, writing emails, watching movies, & of course being interviewed by local news crews! He was even writing an autobiography.

To go along with Keith's love of music & movies, he planned "Keithstock"...a 30th birthday party in July of this year. Everyone went dressed up as their favorite movie character & we had a potluck & drinks at his house. It was awesome. Of course I wasn't there as long as I'd like but I'm so glad I was able to go...because unbeknownst to was the last time I got to see Keith alive.

Keith passed away on November 19, 2011, at 30 years old.

So many emotions went through my head when I found out he died. I was sad because I'd lost a great friend; mad at myself for not seeing him more; happy & blessed for knowing him; excited that we had such a great relationship; devistated for his wonderful family; & empty because there was no more Keith.

His funeral was a week later & of course it wasn't something I looked forward to, but it was good to get to celebrate the life of someone so awesome. I was able to catch up with 3 amazingly wonderful ladies, who were also super close with Keith over the years, so that was nice.

Me, Jamie Gill Cataraha, Sonja Gates Durr, & Bethany Smith Davies --- all dressed as the colors of a rainbow

Simply were amazing. You were a great friend, a funny character, a warm heart, a gentle spirit, a movie buff, & have outlived your life expectancy by years & years. This world was a better place because you were in it & I'm so blessed to have known you & even more blessed that I could call you my friend.
I love you, dear friend, & miss the heck out of you!!!

Keith & his nephew


  1. Keithstock was the last time I saw him too. It was so fun. Thank you for writing this. I can't think of a more inspiring person than Keith. It was so nice to catch up with you, Jamie, and Bethany, while saying goodbye to a dear friend.


  2. What a great story and thanks for sharing that. I also had the pleasure of taking care of Keith (or hanging out), and WOW what an inspiration he was. He will be missed by so many. Thanks
    Tiffany Perry