Living for Isaiah
Living for Isaiah
A year after his passing, Melrose family copes with losing their beloved son and brother
BY BRYAN ZOLLMAN
When you love someone unconditionally, you would give your life for theirs. And there is nothing Cara Lewis would rather do than have traded places with her 12-year-old son Isaiah a year ago.
Isaiah was traveling to Virginia with his sister, Jasmine, and their dad, Raheim, to visit Raheim’s parents. Cara dropped the trio off at the airport that day, kissed her son and told her she loved him.
And that was the last time she ever saw him alive.
Shortly after arriving in Virginia, Isaiah began complaining about pain in his knee.
He was brought to the doctor who prescribed him Tylenol and Codeine.
Then early on Friday, Aug. 30, 2012, shortly after waking, Isaiah began hallucinating and had lost all control of his body. Cara, who was working at U.S. Bank in Melrose, received a text that he was rushed to the emergency room. At 3:45 p.m. he was intubated because he could no longer breathe on his own. Cara immediately headed to the airport with her sister. On the way she called Dr. Dante Berretta at CentraCare in Melrose. Dr. Beretta had been the family’s practitioner for several years and knew the family well. Cara explained what she knew and Dr. Beretta relayed that it could be serious.
“I prayed,” said Cara. “I tried to focus on the positive. My dad convinced me everything was going to be okay and I kind of relaxed. There was nothing I could do so I told myself to quit worrying.”
Meanwhile, Isaiah was diagnosed as having double pneumonia and a bacterial infection. He was given antibiotics, but he kept going downhill quickly. It was decided he would need to be transferred to a children’s hospital, but he couldn’t be stabilized enough to be put on a helicopter.
Cara’s mother, Voni, had packed a treat bag for Cara to give Isaiah when she got to Virginia. It contained his favorite – chocolate chips.
“He loved them,” said Cara. “He was always stealing them from mom.”
Cara then received pictures over her phone of Isaiah being airlifted. She was able to relax, knowing he could be transported. But then she got a text at 7:45 p.m. as they were traveling down I-94 near Augusta. The text said Isaiah was receiving CPR.
“What!,” Cara exclaimed. “How does that happen?”
It was then she had her first thoughts that she really could lose her son.
“From that point on we prayed so hard,” she said. “I was doing everything I could to let Isaiah know I was on my way, that I was going to get there.”
She would talk to God and then she would talk to Isaiah.
“Please be strong,” she said to Isaiah. “You need to fight!”
Dr. Beretta had offered to call the hospital in Virginia where Isaiah was being treated. Cara received a call from Raheim at about 8 p.m. seeking her permission to put Isaiah on life support.
At 8:27, Dr. Beretta called Cara and delivered the grim news.
“I’m sorry, Cara,” he said. “He’s gone.”
They pulled into the Caribou Coffee parking lot in Maple Grove.
“I was numb,” Cara said. “I didn’t know what to think.”
Her motherly instincts kicked in. her first thought was of her husband, Raheim and their daughter, Jasmine.
“Everything was so surreal,” she said.
The rush and the anxiety to see her son as he battled for his life was over. Isaiah Lewis, a bright-eyed 12 year-old boy who days before was making origami projects, turning pipe cleaners into stick men, stealing chocolate chips form his grandma, loving his mom, watching movies with his dad, and driving his sister crazy…was gone.
When Cara got on the plane to Virginia she immediately apologized to the woman seated next to her.
“I told her I wasn’t stable. And she said, God Bless you. God puts us in certain places for a reason.”
It turns out the woman was on her way to pick up her father’s body, who had committed suicide. Her sister had also committed suicide years before.
The hardest part, Cara said, was calling her parents and telling them Isaiah had died.
“My dad wailed like I had never heard a man cry before,” she said. “I will never forget that sound.”
When they got to Virginia, Cara put on Isaiah’s clothes and crawled in his suitcase. She still wears his clothes all the time.
“The worst feeling of my life was to head in there and see him,” she said.
“But when I saw him it was instant relief. I could have crawled in there with him.”
A beautiful wake and memorial service was held in Melrose upon returning to Minnesota. Isaiah’s favorite songs, “Hallelujah” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” were played as family members, loved ones, neighbors and fellow students gathered to mourn the loss of such a young and energetic person, but also to celebrate the life Isaiah had and the opportunity to have known him. Many of his classmates sat in the basement of the church, unable to control their emotions. Kleenex was in high demand as teachers and administrators comforted those who were struggling with the loss of their friend. Some boys just stared straight ahead, stone-faced and in disbelief, unable as 12 year olds themselves to comprehend what had unfolded.
Upon returning home, Jasmine and Cara went into Isaiah’s bedroom where little pieces of paper from his origami projects were scattered everywhere. There were also pipe cleaners all over his room. Cara used to yell at him often to pick up his room. This time, though, her and Jasmine picked up the pieces.
“We cried, we talked and we laughed,” said Cara.
Jasmine said, “Mom, you always used to yell at him for having all this paper on the floor. But now don’t you love it!”
Cara relished in the comfort she received from her daughter as they grieved together in his bedroom.
“I try not to break down in front of her,” she said. “But sometimes your 11-year-old daughter becomes the caretaker.”
One of Isaiah’s favorite things to do was pop popcorn and watch movies with his dad. They did so almost every night. They had more than a father-son relationship. Raheim often referred to Isaiah as his best friend.
One of Isaiah’s favorite places to go was Birch Lake. He also had a fondness for music. On the eve of his death, Cara attended the open house at school and decided to buy him a saxophone.
“It was going to be a surprise,” she said. “But I never got to tell him about it.”
Living for Isaiah
An autopsy revealed the bacterial infection that ultimately caused Isaiah’s death was Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, a report showed that MRSA infections reached 127,000 in 1999, with as many as 11,000 people dying from the deadly Superbug. Cara said she was told it affects about one in 10,000 children.
Aug. 30 came and went last week, and although it seems like yesterday, a year had already gone by since Isaiah’s passing. Scattered about on their dining room table are pamphlets from Isaiah’s funeral. There is an unfinished scrapbook also on the table, something Cara has been working on for the past year.
“I don’t want to put all this stuff away because I feel it will just be forgotten,” she said.
Since losing Isaiah, her and Raheim have become members of a special club — a club nobody wants to be members of. Others who have lost a child have reached out to Cara and Raheim.
“People say to us, it’s unfortunate, but welcome to the club,” Cara said.
A 74-year-old neighbor told Cara how she lost her baby at seven months old. All these years later it still brought tears to the old woman’s eyes. She told Cara she will never forget it.
And that is what the Lewis family will do. They will never forget, and they don’t want others to ever forget their beloved son.
“People say you learn to live with it, but I’m scared of that,” she said.
Sometimes she dreams that he never existed, that she only imagined him.
“But I can picture him so vividly in my mind, and that makes me miss even more.”
To this day, she doesn’t know where she is as far as the grieving process goes. Every day is a challenge. There are good days and bad ones.
“You get to a point where you feel you are on a level playing field with everyone else, and then you get punched in the stomach,” she said. People always asked how I was doing and I always tell them I don’t know.”
On the outside she seems strong, seems to be handling a parent’s worst nightmare well. But she, like any other parent who has ever lost a child, is hurting. She is plugging along, living the life she knows Isaiah would want her to live by smiling, laughing, hugging, and sometimes crying.
“I just miss him,” she said. “He was really good at loving me. Nobody could love me like Isaiah.”
At the funeral home she asked for a scissors and cut off a lock of Isaiah’s hair. Whenever Isaiah had his haircut he would tell his mom, “They are cutting off my personality!”
His mom would reply: “They can never cut that off, Isaiah!”
These days she urges parents to never go to bed mad at their child, to cherish every day they have with them.
“Don’t ever let them go to bed mad or feeling they are a failure,” she said. “Discipline them, but do it because you love them.”
These days the hardest part of her day is falling asleep, and then it is waking up and realizing nothing has changed. He still isn’t here.
But she knows where he is and that brings her strength and comfort. She grieves that he’s gone, but not where he’s gone.
“I know where he’s at,” she said. “He’s in heaven.”
There are still certain songs she isn’t able to listen to and there are certain places, such as Birch Lake, she hasn’t been able to go to yet. There are still things to conquer as her and her family continue to live for Isaiah. She does find comfort in one song, by Regina Spektor called “How.” The lyrics are as follows:
How can I forget you love?
How can I never see you again?
There is a time and place
For one more sweet embrace
I guess you know by now
That we will meet again somehow
Time can come and take away the pain;
But I just want my memories to remain:
To hear your voice;
To see your face;
There’s not one moment
So baby how
Can I forget you love
How can I never see you again?
Since Isaiah’s passing, the Lewis Family has set up a scholarship fund for one of his classmates when they graduate. They are selling t-shirts that read “Living for Isaiah” on the front. The back of the shirt has a picture of Isaiah, the dates of his life on earth from 12/6/99 to 8/30/12, and the inscription: “Time may ease the pain, but our memories will always remain.”
Cara knows the day of his high school graduation will be tough. But every day is tough for a parent who loses a child. When she feels down she wishes she could have traded places with Isaiah.
“I would want people to remember me and enjoy the things we did together,” she said.
So that is what Cara, Raheim and Jasmine will do. He is now their angel in heaven, but will always be Jasmine’s big brother, momma’s baby and daddy’s best friend.
“When people say I am strong, I tell them I am not strong,” said Cara. “I’m just focused.”
Focused on Living for Isaiah.
One day at a time.