By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
It is hard to believe that ten years have passed since 15-year-old Jessica Elkins died suddenly from meningitis. Her death was a shock to her family, friends, and this community—literally one day this lovely and loving Athens High School cheerleader “who was friends with everybody” was fine, and within a few days she was gone. I spoke with Jessica’s mom, Michelle, and her older sister, Emilee Elkins Daws, at length about their ordeal, as well as what they have done since then to heal, to reach out to other bereaved families, and to raise awareness about meningitis.
“This community has helped us so much, and supported us through this,” Michelle said through tears. She continued, “There have been many events—Chick-fil-A sponsored runs, there have been beauty pageants, tea parties, luncheons, you name it, the support we have received has been unbelievable.” Michelle was candid about her grief, and said that for the first few years their family was simply in shock. Nothing can prepare anyone for the loss of a child, and anyone who has experienced it knows it’s not something you ever get over, you just do your best with God’s help to get through it. Michelle also spoke of the signs that she and others have received that Jessica is in heaven, as well as the fact that Jessica confided with youth group friends not long before she passed that she “could not wait to get to heaven.” Michelle said, “God prepared her, and God took her.” Perhaps the best way to express it is through the Celine Dion song, “Fly,” which is on the Meningitis Angels Jessica Elkins website:
Fly beyond imagining
The softest cloud, the whitest dove
Upon the wind of heaven’s love
Past the planets and the stars
Leave this lonely world of ours
Escape the sorrow and the pain
And fly again
Fly, fly precious one
Your endless journey has begun
Take your gentle happiness
Far too beautiful for this
Cross over to the other shore
There is peace forevermore
But hold this mem’ry bittersweet
Until we meet
Fly, fly do not fear
Don’t waste a breath, don’t shed a tear
Your heart is pure, your soul is free
Be on your way, don’t wait for me
Above the universe you’ll climb
On beyond the hands of time
The moon will rise, the sun will set
But I won’t forget
Fly, fly little wing
Fly where only angels sing
Fly away, the time is right
Go now, find the light
Part of Michelle’s beginning to “get through it” was to go to work at Athens-Limestone Hospital just a few months after Jessica’s death. It was there that the support of the whole hospital staff strengthened Michelle when her loss was fresh, and they have continued to provide support in the fight against meningitis. The Elkins’ church family at First Baptist has been right there, too, as well as Jessica’s former classmates, many of whom are still in touch with the Elkins family. The family has been very active in raising awareness about this mysterious disease that can be viral, bacterial or fungal, and takes about 80 lives per year in the United States. As a result of their work, the State of Alabama passed a law called the Jessica Elkins Act requiring schools to provide specific information about meningitis in the infectious disease packet given to students beginning in the sixth grade.
For several years there has been a scholarship in Jessica’s memory for students from Athens High School. They have given away thousands of dollars, and this year’s award was in the amount of $2500. There is also an organization known as the Limestone Area Community Foundation which has been of great help, and Michelle wanted to be sure to thank Martha Jo Leonard for all that she has done to help with the scholarship fund.
This year Jessica would have turned 25, and the 5K is going to be on her actual birthday, September 23, 2017. “We are going to have a balloon release, and are hoping to have the race serve as a kind of class reunion for the kids she went to school with,” Michelle told me. She has already heard from several of Jessica’s classmates, and they are getting the word out. The proceeds from the 5K will go to Athens High School, Athens State University, and Limestone County School scholarships, as well as continue to raise awareness and fight meningitis.
The 5K will start at 8 a.m. on the Athens Courthouse Square, and the race route is laid out on the ArcGIS Jessica Elkins Forever Fighting Meningitis 5K website. For more information, go to www.tinyurl.com/jessicaelkins5k. The Elkins family sincerely hopes you will come and join them, both in the fight as well as the celebration.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner