The Other End of the Line

Did you ever have to make a hard phone call? Maybe you were going to let someone down, quit a job, or end a relationship and for whatever reason, the phone was your medium of choice. You likely picked up the receiver to practice a few times before you actually dialed the number – rehearsing lines and contemplating potential reactions. These things almost never go as planned.

I remember a difficult middle school conversation. I found myself in a frustrating relationship with Meg Sutter and decided to make the ultimatum call – him or me! Of course, you don’t do these things in person, this was middle school!

After memorizing what I planned to say, I steeled my nerves and dialed her number only to get a busy signal. This was before call-waiting and that annoying tone mocked me for hours. Just when I gave up, the phone rang. It was her! I was so glad to hear her voice that I forgot my plan – which didn’t matter anyway because she dashed my heart beneath her feet in two seconds flat. She chose the other side of the ultimatum without even knowing about my ultimatum… Ah, middle school love.

That wasn’t anywhere near the most difficult phone call I have made, but it seemed so at the time.

No, the most difficult phone calls I have ever made came two years ago as Kylie’s health descended. When she realized she was going to die, she asked me to call her closest friends and tell them before making the news public. Eight friends… eight calls.

I steeled my nerves. I thought about how hard these conversations would be from my side of the line. I wept a little before each one, but dialed every number in turn. I spoke to parents and gave them the terrible news, considering only how hard it was on my side. I never truly considered what would follow on the other end of the line.

One by one, eight parents had to digest the news and figure out the best way to tell their thirteen-year-old daughter that one of her closest friends was soon to die. I sometimes get so wrapped up in my own loss that I forget that besides her immediate family, there are grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, classmates, friends, and eight girls who lost someone special to them when Kylie died.


I am always delighted to flip the calendar to March. February contains the anniversary of her birth and death within 11 days of each other. This past Friday should have been her fifteenth birthday. Instead we huddled together and ended the day at her favorite hibachi place. Saturday held the third Smiley for Kylie Cabaret which raised over $10,000 for pediatric cancer research – the mission she gave us. You would think we would rest on Sunday. But instead, we did something very special.

We invited those eight girls – all now freshmen in high school – to dinner at a local restaurant without telling them why. We had a nice meal together before I finally drummed my fingers together and said, “I supposed you’re wondering why I’ve called you here tonight.” (I’ve always wanted to do that.)

I would like to introduce to you Smiley For Kylie’s Junior Board of Directors:


While our course is uncertain, we are dedicated to funding safer and more effective treatments for childhood cancer. These beautiful young ladies are vested, valued, and will have a great deal of say in what happens in the future.

They were chosen personally by Kylie on February 11, 2015 and will be engaged as long as they desire.

32 thoughts on “The Other End of the Line

      1. Yes I did get them. Thank you so much. I’m planning on doing a progress update on my site soonish. We are doing a toy delivery to the Oncology Ward in a couple of weeks and I was hoping to have things ready by then, but … I may not meet that date. Better a bit late than never 😃

  1. I will never forget that phone call and the tears burn as much today as I type these words as they did then. Then to experience Morgan as she comprehended the news the best she could through her shock and grief was a defining moment I wish everyday we could erase. We love you and your family!

    1. I wish we could erase it too. I hate that it had to be a defining point in their childhood. But maybe we all can redeem it somehow together. I don’t know, we shall see. But who better to steer the ship than these precious girls who loved Kylie?

  2. So special in so many ways! Kudos to you for working though your grief to makes changes.

    Lisa Willbrand

  3. Love this! So glad her friends rallied around her. When a child has to deal with isolation, on top of all the other things this terrible disease brings, it is just heart breaking!

  4. Mark, I can’t imagine making those phone calls. That must have been so hard. I’m so glad that some good has come out of such a tragic happening. Way to go! For you and your family, and for those 8 girls (board of directors). They (and you) are world changers.

    1. It was definitely hard, but the whole situation was and there was no way I was going to tell her no. I’m excited about these girls and what they can do!

  5. i cannot even imagine how difficult those original 8 calls were. excruciating and incredibly painful to say the least. i am so happy for the reason for your dinner with them –

    1. It was sweet and we told them that being on the junior board could be as much as they wanted. At the very least we get to take them to dinner once a year forever.

  6. Mark, Many times, I read your blog and think best one ever. Of course, there are a few best ones ever and some that I ponder for days. Let’s just say tonigh, reading this, I once again remember specialness of a new teen that had lots more living to do but when she fully realized, it was not to happen, she wanted her Dad to make the call! You have honored those 8 girls and entrusted them with an important mission. This blogs is in line with one of the best!!!

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