- Associated Press - Sunday, April 19, 2015

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) - No one can prepare themselves for the type of tragedy that recently befell the Larimer family of Rapid City: the sudden accidental death of a teenage son.

Yet mingled with their grief at the loss of their son Nehemiah, Kayne and Emily Larimer are finding solace in the unexpected gifts of understanding and compassion from others that continue to surprise them.

A community of faith and love has sustained Nehemiah’s family since shortly after the Stevens High School senior’s scooter and a turning car collided in Rapid City on Friday, March 27. He never regained consciousness. He was wearing a helmet at the time of the crash.

Doctors told the Larimers the next morning that their 18-year-old son’s brain was unresponsive, making his official day of death March 28, Kayne Larimer said.

But as an organ donor, their beloved “Miah” was kept on life support until Monday, March 30, when a transplant team arrived to harvest organs that would give new life to others.

The Larimers have also given the 15-year-old driver of the car involved in the fatal collision the gift of forgiveness. They asked his family to attend the celebration of life funeral service held at Stevens High School on April 2. Near the conclusion, they brought the teen and his family forward to publicly forgive him, and to pray.

“They’re a family just like us. They love their kids. They have a close community supporting them. That was, for us, an important thing for that night,” Kayne Larimer told the Rapid City Journal (https://bit.ly/1HpaPSA ). Since that act, many people have reached out to the Larimers to say they are now reflecting on the need for forgiveness in their own lives.

To not offer forgiveness would be the same as giving someone else “free rent in your heart,” Kayne Larimer said.

The driver and his family met with the Larimers at the hospital that Saturday. The boy walked through a corridor filled with Nehemiah’s friends and straight into Emily Larimer’s arms.

“For him to come forward was an act of courage and bravery similar to Nehemiah’s love of climbing and high-lining,” Kayne Larimer said.

Sitting in a living room filled with photos of their son mugging comically for a camera, posing soberly against a granite wall and confidently crouching on a thin line of webbing suspend high in the sky with Mount Rushmore providing a backdrop, the Larimers spoke freely about the emotional journey their family is taking and the new discoveries that continue to renew their faith.

Nehemiah’s father put him in a climbing harness when he was just 3. Both of his parents are climbers. After pursuing the sport for a few years, the family moved on to other interests, but about three years ago, Nehemiah’s interest was rekindled, with his parents’ blessings.

Nehemiah and a friend, Brennan Lytle, discovered high-lining last year. Brennan’s mother brought in a professional last fall to work with the boys, Kayne Larimer said.

The boys were looking forward to taking a “gap year” after high school to pursue outdoor adventures in the United States and Europe. Nehemiah already had four outdoor sponsors in his corner.

In an essay written for his college application, Nehemiah described the satisfaction climbing gave him and the “abundant reward” that comes from taking a “boundless risk” when you achieve success, proving he could “accomplish anything I set out to do.

“The sport becomes an addition because I am able to feel a real connection with my surroundings,” Nehemiah wrote. “I am the most content I will ever be on top of these rocks.”

Others are now introducing the Larimers to facets of their son’s personality that had escaped them.

“Ninety-five percent of our kids’ lives are spent away from us,” Kayne Larimer said.

Parents rarely see their children at school, they don’t know how they interact with their friends away from home or their teachers, Kayne Larimer explained.

Nehemiah’s friends and the adults whose lives he touched keep coming forward to share stories about the child and teenager who took time to say hello or offer a hand in friendship.

“Now, we get such a gift because we’d never get these stories,” Kayne Larimer said. “We’ve been so lifted up. Kids loved Nehemiah and they love us.”

Their son wasn’t perfect, they’ll admit. His tendency to joke often created challenges for his teachers.

“We had to guide him to be respectful,” Emily said with a fond smile.

A brilliant blue star quilt now hangs from a railing in the Larimer’s home. The quilt was a memorial gift from a Native American family whose sons attended Canyon Lake Elementary with Nehemiah. They remember him fondly as someone who was always ready to play. He was also a good role model one of the boys told Emily Larimer.

“Nehemiah had a heart that’s so much bigger than we ever knew,” Kayne Larimer said.

It was their son’s strong heart that sustained him until a transplant team arrived. His heart stopped nine times the night of the accident. Each time, doctors managed to revive him. Once the grim confirmation was made that his brain was not responding, his heart continued beating and a respirator pumped oxygen into his lungs.

Although she’s a registered nurse, Emily Larimer is a mother first. She refused to give up on her son while her husband tackled the realities of organ donation. She was waiting for the miracle of the light returning to her son’s eyes.

“I was so fragile, yet I stood by and said we need 24 hours to pray,” Emily Larimer said. Time was also needed to make tissue matches before Nehemiah could become a donor. It takes about three days to make organ donation arrangements.

The donor process was eased somewhat for the family because Nehemiah had discussed it with his father earlier, Kayne Larimer said.

During that time, the Intensive Care Unit staff at Rapid City Regional Hospital continued to give Nehemiah the same loving care they had from the time he arrived. They also generously allowed his close friends to visit him in the ICU. Nehemiah’s heart would stop once more that Saturday afternoon, before it miraculously began to gain strength.

It fell to Kayne Larimer to break the news of their son’s death to dozens of “amazing teenagers” standing vigil in the waiting rooms outside ICU. Late Saturday, he had to ask them to pray that Nehemiah’s heart would stay strong until his wish to be an organ donor was fulfilled.

Doctors told the Larimers that their son was an incredibly healthy 18-year-old.

Nehemiah’s quest for outdoor adventure contributed to that strength the Larimer’s believe. Images of their son climbing and high-lining suggest he was a daredevil and a risk taker, but that was not so, his parents said.

Safety was a priority whenever he climbed or mounted a high-line, which is akin to wire walking. He stressed it with friends he introduced to both sports, his parents said.

Friends and teens from Young Life ministry, where Nehemiah was a senior leader, and those from Stevens High School, kept watch with the family from the first night. They gave the family, including Nehemiah’s older siblings, Sarah and Caleb, strength that was tinged with a certain amount of fear.

“You go out there to face them and you don’t know yourself what’s happening. All you have is hope and faith that you all are agreeing and praying,” Emily Larimer said. “I was encouraged, but at the same time to look in their eyes was hard, too.”

The Larimers never abandoned their hope for a miracle while the organ donor process continued. At one point, the ICU team allowed the couple to observe an echo cardiogram of Nehemiah’s heart.

“It was the same noise as when he was in my womb,” Emily Larimer said. “It was like a full circle.”

Nehemiah’s memory now lives on in the hugs the couple receives from his friends and through knowledge of the lives changed by his organ donation. His big, strong heart was too bruised to be transplanted, but his kidneys, liver and spleen gave four people a new chance at life. His eyes were donated to the Lions Eye Bank.

As they adjust to a new life without Nehemiah, the Larimers take strength from their faith and the countless people who have sustained them since the crash. They are also looking forward to the potential the Larimer Family Memorial Fund could give other young people to experience the outdoors as their son did. For more information, visit the website larimerfamilymemorialfund.org.

The Larimers are also maintaining a Facebook page which has information on T-shirts friends and family created shortly after his death. For more information visit facebook.com/CelebrateMiah.

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Information from: Rapid City Journal, https://www.rapidcityjournal.com

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