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Victoria Gassner

Victoria's mother, Shannon, is my adopted daughter. She and her twin, Heather, are my husband's children from his first marriage. The girls have lived with us since they were six years old. When they were 13 they asked me to adopt them. Shannon became pregnant with Victoria when she was 14 years old, delivered her two months after she turned 15. We were so incredibly angry and devastated when she announced she was pregnant as we had taught her right from wrong, the risks of premarital sex, the diseases out there. From the start we discussed all the alternatives but Shannon was determined to carry out the pregnancy and keep her child. How thankful we are to God that she did! I remember the day that Shannon and I went to get an ultrasound done. In the waiting room she told me that she had chosen "Jesse James" if it was a boy and "Victoria" if it was a girl. It was determined she was carrying a girl and I nearly yelled "Yes!!!" I was so opposed to the boy's name and "Victoria" had quite the elegance to it. The ultrasound picture had a greeting "Hello, Grandma!" at the top and my knees buckled and my eyes filled with tears as I read that. We later gave to her "Lynn" as a middle name, a shortened version of my middle name. That was the first day of many to come when tears of any emotion associated with Victoria would occur. She wasn't even born yet and her little life was already creating in me emotions stronger than ANY I have ever experienced!!! From that day, EVERYTHING about this little girl touched me--made me laugh or cry with tears. I became a marshmallow with legs around her. She already had me, her "Gramma", wrapped around her finger.

Victoria was born on July 11, 1995 and from the moment she entered our lives, we were changed. I have never given birth to a child but I was Shannon's coach and witnessed a miracle that day. I didn't fully realize the maternal love for a child until that day. Victoria softened me. A week after she was home, I looked at my husband, David, "Papa" to Victoria, and said "Look Honey! Baby laundry" and tears flowed through my huge smile.

A week after she was home we took a trip to the coast, to Lincoln City. Victoria had her bright pink sunglasses on and a pacifier in her mouth that said "Spit Happens". We bought Victoria her first dolly -that was the doll's name "First Dolly", printed on the doll's chest. Just an 8", all-cloth, soft doll but the two were inseparable. (That doll is treated like the finest crystal now since she's gone--put up and away.)

From the beginning, Victoria had a struggle. She had a hip problem (I was convinced it was the way she was being examined for the Apgar scores--the nurse seemed too rough.) so she had to wear leg braces for six weeks. Those were the longest six weeks to us. Shannon HATED putting those on her as Victoria would scream. They were uncomfortable, I'm sure, but I stressed to Shannon that her hips would not grow correctly without them and six weeks was a relatively short time to deal with the inconvenience--I stressed to her that things could be much worse and to be thankful this was the only problem. They mended well, and before we knew it, she was crawling everywhere. She took her first step at 9 mos. old, on her "Papa's" (Grandpa) 36th birthday, May 1996.

I had the video camera out constantly on her, watching her crawl, walk, making her first sounds. She loved the phone! We got her a plastic purple phone and she would hold it up and say "Hu Row?" for "hello". OH, we laughed so hard and applauded that! I was like a first-time parent--and in a way, I was, since I'd never had a baby of my own, let alone ever been around babies. Shannon and I did so many fun, silly things with Victoria, and she just gobbled up that attention, of course. She was the light of our lives.

While I love the twins dearly, Victoria made my whole world shine. I have never felt the INTENSITY of the kind of love that I felt for her for anyone else in my life. That may sound terrible; it certainly isn’t meant to; but her life did indeed make a drastic change in mine; she IMPROVED my life by 100%. I know she did the same for Shannon. My husband noticed the changes immediately.

One of my favorite memories is of the parade she was in the week before she turned one year old. We all went camping at Detroit Lake. Campers were told to use anything they could think of to put in the 4th of July Parade they were putting on. My creative husband collapsed the walker that Victoria used and secured the ski biscuit with the bungie cords to the walker. Victoria was then placed in the ski biscuit and pulled with the ski biscuit rope in the parade. Everyone thought that was the greatest little “float” of sorts and we were pretty proud that we had the only “float” with the cutest little girl in the campground! She sat there very quietly, looking around at everyone, not once trying to climb out! We, of course, have this on video so it’s even more special.

Victoria’s walker was her first “vehicle of speed”! Of course most walkers have little wheels on them to help propel the child to move. This one was no exception. Her first taste of speed was sitting in the walker at the top of the driveway ( it really was a short driveway) with “Papa”,her grandpa, my husband ,holding it while I was at the bottom of the driveway waiting. After I said “Ready? One-two-three—GO”, Papa would let go, and she would move her feet to get momentum and come FLYING down that driveway into Gramma’s arms, accompanied by all kinds of laughing by all of us!!! Then Victoria would yell “Again!” and of course we’d do it all again.

Disagreements caused Shannon to choose to move out before Victoria turned two years old. Actually, she made a couple of moves, I think. Although they would be only within a mile’s distance, this was very hard on all of us. Still, despite the differences we had, Shannon always managed to make sure we remained in Victoria’s life. Victoria would visit us a few times every week and I made time for our special times that only she and I shared. She loved coming to our house: over the phone she would say “Gramma, I want to come to YOURS house!” (This was so touching to me—her addition of the “s” on the “your” just made the whole statement even more special to me.) She loved spending the night with me; most often she would do so when Papa had to work (he works night shift) so she could sleep in the “big bed” with me and watch “my movies”. She did love cartoons; she greatly admired “Scooby-Do”, “Barney”, and “Blues Clues” but it was movies she squealed about!! She loved “E.T.”, “Casper”, “The Little Mermaid”, and “A Christmas Story”. Most often, I would put the movie in and fall asleep before it was over and only awaken when she’d yell: “Gramma, the movie is over! I want to watch it again!” She’d cry for an hour or more if not allowed to watch it again so I usually gave in. The nights right after she died were the worst for me because of the memories of the movie times we had. The mornings were bad because of the memories of the oatmeal she loved me to make for her—I put brown sugar in it and she would just gobble it up!

This tribute to Victoria would not be complete without mention of her ultimately favorite movie of all, “The Wizard of Oz.” It has always been one of my favorites too. Two weeks before she died, Victoria got to see that movie “on the big t.v.” (the theatre). She had the movie at her home but I was quite excited about taking her to see it at the theatre. It was an event we will never forget. On the way to the movie, we stopped and picked up “Papa” who had been visiting a friend of his. Victoria told our friend: “We’re going to see Wizard of Oz"!! And EVERYBODY’S going to be there!” She loved that movie SO MUCH that she dressed up like Dorothy in a homemade dress and red, sparkled shoes for Halloween, her last Halloween, the month before she died. We later laid her to rest in that favorite outfit and played one of her favorite songs at the funeral, “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”.

Victoria loved making cookies too—chocolate chip were her favorite. Making See’s Fudge was also fun; once she said to Papa as we were making it, “Papa, we’re making candy and it’s going to be good!” These statements may seem ordinary to many people but to me they were music to my ears! The many touching things that she’d say to us just tear my heart apart. They started out with “I uv ou” (for “I love you”), went to “I want to hode (for “hold”) you, Gramma!), to one time upon leaving the house with Shannon, just turned around and said: “Guess what Gramma? I love you!”. The most touching thing she ever said to me was: “I love you, Gramma, up to the sky!” How touching and unique! What a wonderful way to tell me how much she loved me!

We never realize how often we say things until we hear them back from the little ones. I was always telling Victoria to “be careful.” Usually, I was talking about her climbing the stairs in our house or climbing on the blocks outlining our bedding plants in the front yard. I recall following her out of the house one day to sit and talk outside while she played and I bumped my elbow on the door jam. Victoria pipes up with “You better be careful, Gramma!” She ALWAYS made me laugh. She ALWAYS touched my heart. “Uh-oh, I farted!”, “Let’s do twirlies” (these were spinning circles holding onto my hands. We did a LOT of twirlies together at her last Christmas with me while we decorated the Christmas tree together on Christmas Eve, December 1997), “Can I drive the boat, Papa? Ok, then, where’s the keys?”, “Let’s play sucker ball”(for soccer ball)—what innocent comments!

The Easter before she died (Easter, 1998), she and I were driving to church for the Easter service and I was telling her about God and Jesus, about how they lived in Heaven, in the sky. She was in the backseat in her car seat and I could see her crane her head trying to look out the window and up at the sky. She startled me when she said “Oh! I think I see Him! I think I see Him!” Now, upon reflection, I wonder if indeed she DID see Jesus even then? That was only 7-8 months before really getting to see Him.

One day about a month or so before Victoria died, we were in the kitchen and I was cleaning up the stove and she asked to clean something. I told her she could wash some of the windows in the French doors leading out onto the deck and gave her some Windex. She always had great fun helping me clean or throw the laundry into the drier (they’re always so eager to help at that age)! So, she’s wiping the windows and it starts to hail outside! She immediately gets excited, stops and steps outside to pick up some of the hail. I join her and we started making little balls and throwing it onto the deck. I went back to cleaning the stove and in a few minutes I hear her say: “It looks like a little piece of crap.” I could NOT believe my ears! Smiling and trying to hide the smile at the same time, I turned and asked her: “WHAT did you say?” Victoria turns to me and says, with MUCH EMPHASIS: “I SAID ‘It looks like a little piece of crap’!” This struck me as SO FUNNY but in as serious a tone as I could muster, I asked, “Where did you hear that word ‘crap’?” And in her meek, sweet voice, she says, “I don’t know…” I’ve NEVER been able to look at hail since then without “hearing” that sweetest little voice saying those words…what an odd thing for her to say…and what a wonderfully sweet memory to have.

Our main games consisted of “Sucker Ball”, “1-2-3”, and “Playing House”. We got her this 101 Dalmatians soccer ball and she loved to run with me and kick it, playing ‘keep away’ from each other. She usually would kick it a few times then fall on it, covering it with her stomach to keep it from me as I gently tapped it with my foot to dislodge it from under her stomach, all the while she’d be laughing. Her Grandpa (“Papa” to her) would often be watching us from the upstairs’ window, I later learned. Our game of “1-2-3” was one of her favorites too. I’d threaten her “I’m going to do 1-2-3 to you!” and sweep her up into my arms. I’d rock her back and forth on #1, back and forth on #2, and then toss her onto the “big bed” amongst the pillows! She’d be laughing the whole time and yell: “Again” and we’d do it again and again until my arms got too tired. “Playing House” consisted of her being named Mrs. Jones and my name of Mrs. Smith. We bought her a portable kitchen set for her Christmas (in 1997, I think) gift and we’d knock on the door to the room that the kitchen was in, pretending the room was her “house”; she’d invite me in and proceed to “make” me things to eat, we’d do dishes, etc.

At her sister Magen’s birth in June, 1998 (5 mos. before Victoria died), Victoria called Magen “My Magen” and “My Magen wants to watch t.v.!” (this was said only an hour or so after Magen’s birth!). Victoria was extremely loving and very protective of her sister, Magen, in the short time that she knew her.

Our life since losing Victoria has been very different. How could it NOT be different? Victoria’s birth into this world changed me, changed my husband forever. Her death did the same. She lived a short life: 3 years, 4 months. Her impact on our lives was tremendous. I’ve thought of her every day these past 23 months; I cried every day over her for the first year. Our daughter, Shannon, suffers more than anyone can know. I don’t believe she has fully come to terms with this devastating loss.

In the last 23 months, I have been in contact with the Meningitis Foundation of America, received and distributed brochures alerting daycare centers and the alternative high school where Shannon attended (and took Victoria) of the signs/symptoms of meningitis. Right after Victoria was born, we’d planted a tree for her. Then we moved when she was about one and one-half years’ old. After she died, my husband went to the house, explained the situation, and asked if we could transplant it in the next spring. Those people were more than glad to allow us to do that. We then built another deck extension around that tree.

We also put a special “garden” in place to honor her, equipped with a pond, a cement bench with etched angels on it, and a tree planted nearby. A plaque, made for her by our friend, Kevin Bauer, elegantly states: “Victoria’s Secret Garden”. It’s on the fence, which stands right behind the “garden”. I plant purple petunias in the area each year and other purple flowers as that was her favorite color. We do have trees for all our other grandchildren with plaques that contain their names and birth dates just like Victoria’s. The special garden, however, was something to specifically honor her. It’s my hope that the other grandchildren will come to understand that. We hope to make donations to MFA (Meningitis Foundation of America) in her name at some point to further the education and prevention of this terrible disease. Throughout our ordeal, Victoria’s grandpa, “Papa”, and I have amazingly enough, grown closer to God. Oh, we had our lengthy periods of the intense anger at Him. We’ve experienced the constant questioning of His purpose of taking such a young life, etc. It has been through our association with the Christian Motorcyclists Association and its absolutely wonderful members that we have come to a deeper understanding of God and his purposes and EVEN MORE FULLY appreciated the gift from Him that Victoria truly was. Now, our mission is to bring our daughter, Shannon, to the Lord so that she may not only know Jesus but through knowing Him, be assured of being reunited with Victoria when that time comes.

May God bless you for taking the time to read my story of this incredibly wonderful little girl, Victoria. Please read her story on the MFA web site, using the banner below, and familiarize yourself with the facts and symptoms of meningitis. I’d hate for this disease to strike any more children, thereby devastating any more families’ lives.