Unconditional love

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Barbara Omstead
  • 81st Range Control Squadron Commander
As Thanksgiving approaches, we reflect on the blessings we have received over the past year. We can learn so much from the unconditional love of a child. I know I have been blessed with three wonderful children, and their selflessness never ceases to amaze me. I would like to share with you a brief example of two hearts that loved unconditionally: A woman named Keri Haberstroh and a little girl named Katharine Eva Omstead.

It has been almost a year now since we faced the loss of a Tyndall servicemember, Mrs. Haberstroh. The time was very emotional for me as a commander, for my family and for my entire squadron. Keri was the wife of one of my flight commanders, Capt. Doug Haberstroh. Keri and Doug were married June 12, 2004. She planned to work in the office of St. John Catholic School. She was active in the squadron and in the spouse-support organization. In April 2005, Keri was diagnosed with breast cancer. She underwent extensive, exhausting treatment. For about 3.5 months she was in remission, but the cancer returned with a vengeance. She had a tumor in her hip attacking her spine, more tumors in her mouth and under her tongue, and one at the base of her skull that was attacking her brain. Her lungs were lacerated and one was completely full of fluid; the other had only about 10 percent functionality. Through all of this, she held onto a solid faith that is an example for all of us.

Keri and Doug were told in October 2006 that she had an estimate of two weeks to live, and she was placed under hospice care. She stated that her one wish was to spend Thanksgiving with her family. God granted her desire -- on Thanksgiving, Keri ate solid food and drank water. By the Sunday following Thanksgiving, she was no longer responsive.

Seven-year-old Katharine always had a very special connection with Keri. She, Cecilia and their little brother Andrew prayed for her daily. On Monday evening, following Thanksgiving, Katharine changed her prayer routine and said a prayer for the repose of the soul of a person who has died instead of her usual prayers for Keri. God wrapped His arms around Keri and took her home six hours later, at 1:18 a.m. on Tuesday. She passed in peace, with her family around her.

Approximately 50 Air Force members, in full dress blues, attended Keri's funeral on Thursday. She would have been 27 years old on Friday. Katharine tied a balloon to a hand-made birthday card for Keri and let it go from the church steps after the funeral so it would "float up to her in heaven." Afterwards, we all went over to Doug's house, and everyone brought food. We spent a few hours celebrating her life. Her parents and Doug's parents were there, as well as several other family members from both sides. It was a very healing event for all of us. She was buried back home in Oklahoma on Saturday.

Over the following year, Katharine, now 8 years old, grew her hair long. In an incredible display of selfless love, she grew it especially to donate to "Locks of Love" to be made into wigs for cancer patients, in honor of Keri. She made this choice on her own after reading an article about it.

Katharine was scared as she sat in the chair at the beauty parlor to have her hair cut off. I told her that she did not have to follow through if it was too difficult; Keri would understand. Katharine looked me in the eyes and said, "Mommy, Keri lost all of her hair. I want to do this for the other people who lost their hair because of cancer. Mine can grow back." She sat there and did not flinch as her beautiful blond hair was cut off -- her ponytail was overĀ 10 inches long. She was very proud to donate the hair in honor of her dear friend.

This Thanksgiving, let's give thanks for children who can see beyond themselves and love with their whole hearts, in spite of fears and uncertainty. Perhaps we can all reflect this charity, this belief in greater good, in our own lives this holiday season and throughout the New Year. God bless America and her future leaders, our children!