Last night, as my husband and I were driving home from Athens after celebrating our daughter’s 23rd birthday, I received an email from Colette Lewis (ZooTennis) letting me know that a fellow tennis family was mourning the loss of their son. Sean Karl, oldest son of Laurie and Mike, big brother to Steven and Justin, friend and teammate to so many, lost his fight with Ewings Sarcoma yesterday afternoon.
It has to be a parent’s worst nightmare. To hear the words, “Your child has cancer.” I can’t even bear to imagine what that feels like. Even more awful must be the realization that there is nothing more doctors or medicine can do to fix it. That you will have to find a way to survive this unfathomable loss.
Those of you who have been with me for a while may remember reading about Sean’s diagnosis just over 2 years ago (click here). It sent shockwaves through our section. Players, parents, coaches, tournament directors, and others rallied to show support of Sean and his amazing family by wearing specially-designed patches and shoelaces and temporary tattoos. Sean had just committed to play at his dream school, the University of Tennessee, when he got the news of his illness. His future teammates immediately
embraced him and his family as they prepared to do battle against a very strong enemy.
And they did put up quite a fight. Laurie created a CaringBridge page to keep friends and family updated on Sean’s progress. She would write about the kindnesses they were receiving from their community, near and far. She would write about the days Sean felt good enough to bat around some tennis balls with his dad or brother. She would write about the group head-shaving when the treatment took its toll on Sean’s beautiful hair. From time to time, Sean’s other family members would write a guest post, sharing funny stories about him. It was evident that this was a young man surrounded by love.
Through it all, the Karls hung onto their strong faith. When I would see Laurie or Mike at a tournament, there was never ever any sign of sadness or fear. Only unrelenting strength and joy. I don’t know the family well, but I do know they are something special.
Last Spring, Sean’s Tennessee Vols made it to the Final 16 of the NCAA Championships in Athens. Sean was undergoing treatment, but he found a way to be at the individual competition doubles final where teammates Hunter Reese and Mikelis Libietis won a very hard-fought title. And Sean, dressed head to toe in orange, was cheering louder than anyone from the stands above Court 3. I was sitting on the other side of the court, but I could see him. The smile on his face illuminated the entire stadium. This was a young man who loved tennis, who loved his teammates, who loved his family, and who loved his life, whatever it threw at him.
As Laurie wrote in her latest CaringBridge entry: “Live your life to the fullest as God intended remembering his most important commandment ‘to love one another’”.
Sean, you will be greatly missed.
NOTE: I am waiting to hear the details of how the Karls would like to celebrate Sean’s life and will share them here for those who would like to participate. In the meantime, please join me in sending prayers, love, positive thoughts, and support to Laurie, Mike, and their boys.
NOTE POSTED 11/17/14 2:16PM: A Celebration of Sean’s life will be held on Thursday, November 20, from 4 to 6 pm at the University of Tennessee, Goodfriend Tennis Center in Knoxville, TN. Additionally, there will be a Memorial Mass at Holy Family Catholic Church in Brentwood, TN on Saturday, November 22 from 2 to 3 pm with a reception to follow the service. Please wear UT orange to celebrate Sean’s happy place.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that you consider donations to: http://youngambassadors.vicc.org or mail to:
VICCtory Over Cancer
c/o Gift Processing
2301 Vanderbilt Place
Nashville, TN 37240-7727