Friday, April 15, 2011


This was the message I shared at my sister Kathy's service on April 14, 2011. This is for you, Kathy. May you forever be at peace and full of joy.


Kathleen Elizabeth Altepeter: April 16, 1971 - April 8, 2011.


I loved Kathy’s smile. When left unhindered by her hand that often made its way to cover her mouth, her smile would slowly spread across her face, light up her eyes, and move its way out to our hearts. I loved Kathy’s smile. I think we all did. In fact, I know it.

Kathy seemed to hide that smile. She’d guard it and protect it, even to the point of seemingly being ashamed of it … even when there was nothing to be ashamed about. When she did, however, allow that happiness to infuse joy throughout her body, Kathy’s smile would erupt into a giggle and then a laugh that was unforgettable.

We owned a Vista Cruiser station wagon when we were younger. It featured that little third row seat that faced forward and added an additional tier of excitement for my brother, Jeff, me, and Kathy as we ventured both within and outside of our hometown in our stylish ride. Yes, a Vista Cruiser station wagon: An exceptional vehicle. Fortunate enough one day to be the first to gain access to this third row, My brother and I barked out some of our typical nonsense to our sister who was seated in front of us. It made her break a smile. The smile turned into a giggle, the giggle turned into a laugh, the laugh turned into a snort, and the snort turned into a thick, elongated stream of snot. This unexpected, and unwelcome, mucus made its way toward me in a painfully “slow motion” whip-like movement as I sat anxious about and then astonished with the final outcome: It had come to rest directly across my cheek. Disgusted as I was, Kathy and Jeff and I continued to laugh uncontrollably. I mean, seriously, it was snot, and if snot’s anything, it’s funny.

Yes, Kathy knew how to smile and she knew how to laugh, and she knew how to leave a mark. The mark was sometimes disgusting and sometimes disturbing, like the snot. But, it was also sometimes painful and sometimes sad. Yet, it was also sometimes absolutely joyful. And, it was always and distinctively, her mark.

We remember Kathy’s smile and Kathy’s laugh because it was uniquely hers. She was special in her own way. She loved for her own reasons. She felt loved for her own reasons. And, she was loved for her own reasons as well as our own. We also remember her smile and her laugh because we didn’t always see it much. As she grew older, it seemed we’d see it even less. But we all knew it was there. And, it would come out from time to time. Those moments were special. We all have them. Keep them with you.

“We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

We do. Kathy did. You do. We do. Kathy wasn’t simply born with this ability to love, and she didn’t just figure out how to do this by the example we attempt to set for one another. We were given this gift and example from a single source. Kathy wrestled with God like the rest of us do. However, she received His ultimate gift, and that gift is love. We may have felt her love in different ways for different reasons. We may not have always appreciated how we received that love. We may be wishing that we would have experienced that love in a different way or for a longer period of time. However, the good news is that the love we gave her and she gave us isn’t from us or from her. It’s from Him. And it’s always available, exactly the way we need it, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. It’s always there … always.

Dead and alive again … lost and found (Luke 15:32).

From the time our parents, Jim and Pat, brought Kathy home, to the time they adopted her permanently into our family, to the time she left us, now just less than a week ago, Kathy was lost. Kathy was searching for something she struggled to find. Kathy didn’t fully comprehend what was already hers. Kathy didn’t understand the gift she was waiting for would never come from her journeys, nor would it come from her return; rather, it was to come from what was directly in front of her the entire time. Kathy isn’t any different from me or from you. When she finally let go, Kathy was found, and Kathy received what was planned for her long before she came to be. Long before any of us came to be. Dismissing this truth doesn’t make it go away. Thank God. Yes. Thank God.

Sitting with us this evening are Kathy’s children: Matt and Kylie and Michael. They are their very own selves: Beautiful, unique, powerful, defiant, strong, resilient, loving. Those characteristics didn’t come from nowhere. They came from God. They came from their mother. They came from Kathy. Kathy brought her children to us, she shared them with us, and now she permanently leaves them for us. Entrusting their care to this body of people, let us not fail her. Let us not fail Him.

When Kathy was young, she would play a particular song on a record player in her room. Performed by Debbie Boone, it was titled, “You Light Up My Life.” I guess I should be clear here though that she didn’t just play the song on a record player in her room. No, Kathy would play the song over and over and over ... and over again, until nearly all of us in the house would plot ways of destroying that record, and forever giving ourselves an escape from its endlessness. Interestingly though, we never did. I think we never followed through because deep down inside we actually enjoyed listening to it. And, even if that’s a bit of a stretch, then we most certainly enjoyed the smile and the happiness it brought to Kathy. Her joy brought us joy.

I loved Kathy’s smile. I think we all did. And now, I believe, she will be smiling every single moment for eternity. In fact, I know it.

I love you, Kathy. We love you, Kathy. We always have, we still do, and we always will.


  1. I'm so sorry for your loss Tom. My deepest condolences for you and for your family, and hope you find a way to cope with the pain of her loss.

  2. I wish I could have been there to hear this. Just reading it makes me smile. Thanks for sharing this. God bless.

  3. This is amazing, Tom, and a glory to the God who made us and has taught us to love. This blessed me as I read it and I know it blessed those in attendance. Well done honoring your sister with love and truth.

  4. Very sorry for your loss Tom. May you find peace in shared memories.

  5. Tom, what an incredible and inspired tribute to your sister. I am deeply sorry for your loss.

  6. I am sitting here with tears in my eyes. What a tribute. Thank you for sharing this.

  7. Thank you, Tom, for sharing the gift of your words, the assurance of your faith (the one that, like Kathy, "we all struggle to find") and the depth of your love.

    In sharing with all of us, I'd like to share a story with you (borrowed from "Leading With Soul") that I read at my father's funeral:

    There is a story about a stream that flowed around many obstacles until it arrived at a desert. The stream tried to cross, but its waters disappeared into the sand.

    As the stream became increasingly frustrated with the situation, it heard a voice.

    The voice said, ‘The wind crosses the desert. So can the stream.’

    The stream protested, ‘The wind can fly but I cannot.’

    The voice responded, ‘Let yourself be absorbed by the wind.’

    The stream rebelled. ‘I want to remain the same stream I am today.’

    ‘Not possible,’ said the voice. ‘But your essence can be carried away and become a stream again. You’ve forgotten your essence.’ The stream remembered dimly that she had once been held in the wind. She let her vapor rise into the arms of the wind, which carried it across the desert and then let it fall in the mountains. There it again became a stream.

    Let us not fail Him and as we are in His image, let us not fail each other - we are all part of the eternal stream.

    Tom, my condolences and my prayers to you, your family and the children.

  8. Deep, sincere, honest, raw and full of love. Thank you for sharing your deepest emotions with all of us and allowing us to learn form your love.