When The World Wept
A memorial to my beautiful sister.
On February 10th 2018 I somehow stumbled upon a Facebook friend suggestion. The fact that this person was openly Trans was appealing, I’m always interested in having more Trans friends; but what really caught my eye was where they were from — Erie Pennsylvania. I lived in NW Pennsylvania pretty much from birth till 2004, and the last place I lived before I moved away was Erie.
It can be such a small world.
I couldn’t help but reach out to this woman, after all, I knew we had at least two things in common. Of course I also had to reach out because we have the same name — spelled different, but pronounced the same — she was everyone’s friend — Keira Kristine. I hit her up on messenger and before long we’re chatting like besties.
Keira was 9 months into transition at that time which meant she began approximately 8 months after me. It was as though we were sisters close in age and really realizing what it means to find your family. We were both really engaged in our local Trans communities; I told her how it gave my life meaning where previously there was none — a sentiment she shared.
She worked for Hamot UPMC in Erie, and had apparently been “voted” into the LGBT and Transgender Task Force there. This blew me away. Here in Oklahoma we can’t get any of the local hospitals to provide any legitmate services for the LGBTQ community, but in Erie, Hamot UPMC was taking a proactive approach to our care. It made me so proud that I knew someone who was fighting to get medical services established for this community.
At the time, I was excited about being asked to help with the support groups at the Diversity Center of Oklahoma, as well as being asked to speak at the Transgender Day of Remembrance and the Annual Valentine’s Day Gala. We were both kindred in our desires to connect with others like us, and in spite of our own struggles, we still desired to help others through theirs. We hadn’t even finished our first chat when I realized I’d met someone that was extremely special.
That first day of communication was amazing. We talked about so many things relating to transition. Obviously the further along one gets, the less relevant such conversations seem, but since we were so close in our time lines, we had a lot of mutual thoughts regarding hormones, surgical transition and self-perceptions.
Before our friendship even really had time to flourish, I had already informed Keira that I would be in her area within three months to attend my Grandpa’s memorial. We began making plans to meet. Like, who does that, meet a random person online, and make plans to meet up after barely knowing them? Says the girl who met her wife online, and married her four days after meeting her in person. What can I say, I am either really stupid, or I can sense good people; Keira was definitely one of the good ones.
A few days after I first began talking with Keira, I decided to offer The Transition Transmission as a platform to discuss her personal experiences in transition. She jumped at the chance, and I couldn’t be more grateful. The stories she would eventually go on to share painted an interesting picture of who she once was and a clearer picture of the wonderful person she was becoming.
After only knowing her a couple weeks she published “My Feelings on being Transgender.” This story hit me hard, I couldn’t read it without crying, and just re-reading it now I am reminded of why we are kin. Many of the things Keira did to escape herself were the same things I would escape to (alcohol, video games, loud music). But it was the mental torment and physical abuse as a child that really resonated with me. I only knew her for those couple weeks, and all I knew of her was love-and-light. How she came through an abusive childhood to become this utterly amazing human is beyond me; Keira’s rebirth was nothing short of the mythical Phoenix.
In that same blog she spoke of a support group leader who took her under her wing, and saved her at a time in her life when she only had two options; transition or die. That group leader was Caitlyn Strohmeyer; a mirror for a group leader named Gianna who changed my life forever. I think both Keira and myself saw the bravery in these women as a beacon for the people we have always longed to be. It’s important to give them credit, because they helped us become better people; so too would we aspire to help others become better people. The drive to help others in transition is extremely fulfilling, Keira and I both realized that this is a part of who we were meant to be and we drew strength from each other’s journey.
Keira was not shy about writing about her journey. Actually, looking back, I didn’t even realize just how much she was writing. Though I read them all, I never really had to worry about editing her material, she was extremely intelligent and articulate; a quality that is often lacking in a society that communicates in short speak which sometimes confuses me (e.g. BRB, LOL, IDK, IKR, etc…) Occasionally she would just write a piece separate from The Transition Transmission because it might have been a bit of a downer, but they were all worthy reads; you can find all of her blogs HERE.
As I pour over my old messages with Keira I am overcome. The grief feels unbearable knowing she’s gone. The words on the screen are echos of a soul now inaccessible; I can see her words, and hear her voice, but the most valuable part is no longer with us. This is a shared pain among so many of you. Keira’s wife Sarah had recently commented that while going through Keira’s phone she became aware of just how many lives she touched. In this, I am well aware that I am not the only one feeling loss in this moment. We are all united in this grief, and in many aspects, we are coming to learn of each other because of that mutual grieving. The power of this woman is so amazing that even in death she’s pulling the strings of this community even tighter.
During our trip to Pennsylvania for the memorial we were able to meet up with Keira on May 24th 2018. She was just as amazing and genuine as the woman I’d been chatting with online and over the phone. Sometimes that physical connection solidifies a bond, and meeting her did just that.
The following day my wife and I met up with Keira once again to attend a Transgender support group, the same group Keira first met Caitlyn in; only now she helping to facilitate the groups. I’d been in this building before, under less than ideal circumstances many years ago — it’s a family crisis center (what more needs to be said). It was nice to replace the negative feelings I had there with something much more positive — an unexpected bit of healing that Keira didn’t even realize she was a part of.
Around the same time we had gone to visit with Keira she began talking about someone special in her life. Someone all the way on the other side of the state. I began to worry a little. Ironic right, coming from the woman who married their spouse when they didn’t even live in the same state at the time. I guess you could say I was feeling protective of my friend. Since transwomen are often the targets of assault, I was concerned about a “catfish” kind of scenario. But Keira was a grown woman and perfectly capable of making her own decisions; I pushed that thought away. Ultimately the person she was falling for would become the woman she would marry; Sarah Grace Morin.
Keira’s transition facilitated her in so many ways, but what seemed clearly evident is how it made her a better parent to her two children Ravyn and Marlei. Her desire to have full custody of her kids came out in our conversations…
Her kids would lovingly refer to Keira as “Maddy “(Mom+Daddy). She would often share photos of the times they enjoyed on her Facebook page; and it seemed evident that in spite of their parents no longer being together, they were more content with Maddy than the person they once called Daddy.
In 2018 Keira attended her first Keystone Conference, an event she’d later write about for this blog. This year was going to be extra special. Not only was she going to return to the conference and visit with many of her friends in the community, she would attend it with her fiance Sarah. But most exciting was that on March 25th — the day after the conference — Keira would undergo her Gender Confirmation Surgery (GCS, GRS, SRS). The day following that, she was scheduled to undergo Facial Feminization Surgery (FFS). The dream we spent so much time discussing privately was finally coming true.
On the evening of Tuesday March 26, following her facial feminization surgery — out of shear chance — Keira aspirated after vomiting. This led to difficulty breathing and then cardiac arrest. During this time the oxygen to her brain was cut off too long, which led to severe and irreversible brain damage.
A fund was set up to mitigate medical expenses and to allow for Sarah to stay by Keira’s side. The amount raised on her behalf is fairly unprecedented in my personal opinion. This stands as a testament to the number of lives Keira affected. Furthermore it stands as a reflection of how much good one person can do in such a short period of time when they feel free to live authentically. While Keira may have only lived as Keira for approximately two years, she managed to be a beacon to so many others. I have no doubt that her visibility and willingness to help has saved many lives.
The last few days consisted of Sarah and Keira’s family knowing she was gone. However, it was necessary to wait for brain death because if she’d been taken off life support she would only have been able to donate her liver and kidneys.
On March 31st, the Transgender Day of Visibility, Sarah and Keira were married in an ad-hoc ceremony. While not legally binding, everyone who knows this couple knows that Keira would not have objected. In my eyes they will forever be wed; they were destined to be together.
At 3pm Eastern Time on April 2nd 2019 Keira Kristine DeSantis passed away. In keeping with her desire to be a force for good Keira was an organ donor; even after her last breath left her, she will go on saving lives. Keira’s heart, liver, and kidneys have been donated. Sarah stayed by her side right up to the time when the donation team took her.
While Keira’s new life was tragically cut short, I am so happy to know that the last days of her life were lived in the presence of her friends, her wife Sarah, and in the process of becoming whole.
Keira, you are one of my best friends, and you are my hero. I miss you.