The walls of Sandra Larose’s living room are filled with the smiling face of her daughter – a photo on canvas of her with her cat, a tower of photos on the floor, and a large board covered with more than a dozen pictures that has yet to be hung up. They share the room with the urn holding the teenage girl’s ashes.
Kailynn Bursic-Panchuk was about a week away from her 17th birthday when she had her crash. Her car was hit by a train near Weyburn and police say it was a case of distracted driving.
Larose described Kailynn as smart, beautiful, she said the girl was always happy, and that she was everything anybody would want to be.
“She was my perfect… she just filled the room with her smile and her laugh, and her sparkling eyes – that’s the one thing I just always have in my mind.”
Larose said losing a child is indescribable. “It’s a punch to the stomach, a kick me when I’m down.”
Larose said a police officer told her the cause of the crash has been determined as distracted driving. She was told Kailynn’s phone was found open to Google Maps after the crash.
“Her one bad judgment call, I guess, cost her and everybody.”
Larose said she believes Kailynn had the phone open on the seat beside her, that she perhaps didn’t see the train moving, looked down to her phone, and was hit.
Now Larose is speaking out against distracted driving, saying there’s no phone call, text, Snapchat, or directions that are worth your life or someone else’s. She said there’s too much to lose.
“I don’t get to buy a grad dress, I got to choose an urn … I don’t get to go wedding dress shopping, I don’t get to plan a wedding. I don’t get to help her buy a house. I don’t get to see her convocate from university and see her become the teacher she wanted to become.”
On August 16 Larose got a message from one of Kailynn’s friends who had come upon the crash, telling her to call RCMP.
The police told Larose Kailynn was being airlifted to the hospital, so Larose made the necessary calls and headed to Regina. It wasn’t until she was on the road that she spoke to Kailynn’s friend and found out the crash involved a train.
“It was total dead silence on the phone and he said ‘she got hit by a train.’ and my world just imploded right there. I couldn’t speak, couldn’t cry, almost felt like I couldn’t breathe.”
Larose said when she got to the hospital she got to see Kailynn briefly before she was rushed into surgery.
“And next thing I know I was on my first plane ride to Saskatoon – with my daughter on life support in front of me.”
For the next week, Larose spent every day in the hospital with Kailynn. The girl was kept in a coma and despite several tests, she wasn’t responding.
“I wanted it to be like the movies where I would be talking to her and all of a sudden her eyes would flutter open and she’d smile,” said Larose with tears running down her cheeks.
“And I knew. The logical part of me knew that that wasn’t going to happen, but the mom in me wanted it so bad.”
Eventually, the doctors told her they could keep Kailynn on life support, but she wouldn’t have any kind of quality of life. So Larose decided what she thought Kailynn would want, and took her off of life support.
A LIFE-LONG HELPER
Her whole life, Larose said Kailynn helped people, even people she didn’t know. Larose said people have been reached out since Kailynn’s death to express their support and tell her about her daughter.
Larose tells a story about Kailynn, that she was part of a group on Facebook and would go through people’s posts about themselves, complimenting them and building them up.
Larose said, after Kailynn’s death, she heard from a mom who told her how Kailynn had stood up for her child when they were getting bullied.
“In her 16 years I think she’s probably done more good than I have in my – I’m not saying how many years,” she laughed. “So, now I just have to try and continue it for her.”
It was in that spirit Larose decided to honour Kailynn’s wishes and donate her organs. She was able to help three people with the donation.
“She’s going to continue on through them,” said Larose.
Kailynn seemed well-loved by her community. Larose said messages have poured in since her death, and last month a celebration of life was held for Kailynn and between 750 and 800 people showed up.
She said it was everything she wanted it to be, even though she didn’t want it to be happening.
“Sometimes I think I’m cried out. But at the same time, my heart is still broken and it always will be, but it’s also full. And how you can have a broken heart that’s full confuses the hell out of me but I’m not even going to try to wrap my head around it, I’m just going to go with the emotions and see where it takes me.”
Larose is trying to keep Kailynn’s legacy alive. She said she’s starting a scholarship at the Weyburn High School Kailynn attended. She said it won’t be based on marks – (but) based on character and will go to someone who’s planning on going to school to serve their community as Kailynn would have.
Her family has made yellow bracelets with the words “you are my sunshine” on them. They’re being sold at Aloha Beachcomber in Regina and the Weyburn Pharmasave, and the proceeds will go to the scholarship fund.