Erin Kramp's Legacy

When I heard that Oprah was talking to Peyton Kramp as a part of reliving her favorite shows, it took me back a few years. I remember talking with Erin Kramp, Peyton's mother, a few months before she died of breast cancer in 1998. One of my students at SMU was assisting her with her book and other writing chores at her home not far from the campus and had made an introduction for me. Erin and her husband Doug had already been featured on Oprah where Erin talked about the hours upon hours of video tapes she had made for Peyton. The tapes were filled with the kind of advice only a mother can give, but – more than that – they were filled with Erin and her amazing, light-filled personality. My desire to talk to Erin came from our shared experience of being young mothers with breast cancer, and the fact that she was living out my worst fear -- that I would die and not be here to raise my child. My daughter Kirtley was a year old when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1986, and Erin's daughter Peyton was 2 when Erin was diagnosed in 1994. I had spent many sleepless nights wondering how I could leave a legacy for my daughter should my cancer become terminal. Erin was doing just that. But how could she face it emotionally? I wanted to know this woman.Erin and I talked a few times, and I like to think that she thought of me as someone who understood not only her pain but also her determination to leave a legacy for Peyton. She told me that she had already outlived her prognosis by a year and was able to see Peyton reach many of the milestones that occur at 5 and 6. What I remember most is how her faith was evident in everything she did. She firmly believed that if this was to be her path, then she would do it with grace and wisdom. By openly talking about her death, she was living in that place called hopeful reality. She knew she was going to die and she had faced it and accepted it – but at the same time she was living every day to the fullest and working hard to find ways to extend her life as long as possible. It's a difficult place to live, but Erin had embraced it with the same kind of determination she had lived her life. During my time as a breast cancer survivor I have lost many friends to this disease. Each has been a different kind of loss but the most memorable were those who found the same peace Erin did in a resolved death. When you experience such a death it provides a clear picture of how we should all live and die. I liken it to moving into the valley of the shadow of death and getting comfortable, hanging curtains, seeing friends and knowing that the reality is that everyone lives here – they just don't know it. Erin didn't just leave a legacy for Peyton, she left one for all of us.