On 22 November 1997 on a Saturday afternoon, Ruby Deva Rose Gerrand-McKerrow was born at Kew Hospital in Invercargill. Tragically, Ruby passed away on 29 June 2013, aged 15, from an undiagnosed heart condition. Ruby’s family, Kim, Andrew, Crystal and Jesse, share their memories of a much-loved daughter and sister gone too soon.
It was Saturday morning, my husband Andrew was out and my son Jesse and daughter Crystal were up in the lounge. My youngest daughter, Ruby, was still asleep. I lay in bed thinking about the day ahead but soon nodded back off to sleep. The next thing I knew, Jesse was waking me to say that Ruby’s friend Sami was here to visit.
I asked Jesse if Ruby was up. He told me she wasn’t, which was unusual as Ruby never slept in. So I told Jesse that I would wake her. Jesse ran ahead of me, only to come running back down the hallway to say that Ruby ‘looked funny’ and was still asleep. My heart leapt as I ran down to her bedroom to wake her, but as soon as I looked at my daughter I knew she had died.
I sat next to her bed, crying and telling her to please wake up as I stroked her face. I told Jesse to wait in the lounge for me and yelled at Crystal to come. By now, I was shaking and trying to hold back the tears as I asked for the phone. I dialled 111, telling the lady on the end of the phone that my daughter was dead and I needed help.
Crystal heard me and yelled, ‘Mum, you are lying—she isn’t dead!’ I told the kids to stay out of Ruby’s room. I was just shaking, crying and trying to hold it all together. After what seemed a lifetime, the police and ambulance came. I just sat near my beautiful girl, telling her to open her eyes one more time.
Finally, the police got hold of Andrew and brought him home. As we sat next to Ruby’s bed before they took her away, I remember asking, ‘God, how you could take another of my children away from me? (My son Anton was killed in a road accident when he was seven.)
Why us? Why Ruby?
I was sitting in a conference with a bunch of other Christchurch Sallies when I noticed my officer (pastor) leave the room. He returned to tell me the police wanted to see me. A billion possibilities went racing through my mind at once. The policeman verified my name and said, ‘I don’t know how to tell you this, but your daughter has passed away.’
I remember my heart hitting the floor, my legs going wobbly and my head spinning. I remember feeling like throwing up, but thinking, ‘I can’t do that on a church floor!’ I remember looking at my pastor through blurry eyes and saying, ‘How am I going to do this?’ I remember feeling physical pain at the thought of my wife and kids finding our daughter dead in her bed at just 15 years old.
I remember pulling up the driveway in the police car and taking one really deep breath before I stepped inside. I remember stumbling in the door of our house, holding my wife tightly and making her promise that we wouldn’t let tragedy divide us like we’d seen it do to so many couples before, and I remember her promising me that it wouldn’t. I remember vividly the stunned disbelief and tears on our children’s faces.
I remember walking into our daughter’s bedroom, gripping her lifeless body and praying, ‘God, only you can carry us through from here, and you know that I trust you no matter what, but I am asking: “Bring her back home, don’t take her yet, it’s too soon. We’re not ready.”?’ And I remember a voice whispering into my heart saying, ‘Andrew, you could pray to raise her and I would hear your prayer, and I am able to do this, but you need to know that she is already home, already with me. I have her, she is safe and she is at peace. She is already home.’
I was visiting the family in Christchurch just before Ruby died. I felt like I hadn’t been the best sister—it was only after moving out of home that I’d stepped up my game.
The night before Ruby died, the two of us got into a little fight, as most sisters do. I didn’t apologise. I didn’t even say goodnight. Ruby went to bed feeling really tired. Around 3 am, I was getting ready to go to bed. I put my head into my little brother’s room and put his blankets back over him. Then I went into Ruby’s room. She was so still, but I thought nothing of it. I took a second glance and just shrugged it off.
The next morning I heard my mother screaming, ‘Crystal, take Jesse!’ She wouldn’t let me go into Ruby’s room but asked me to call my dad and my uncle. I froze. What was happening? And then, the words that today haunt me, the words that put me to the ground as mum talked into the phone: ‘Hurry, I think my daughter is dead.’
What? My baby sister isn’t dead. She’s not gone—she’s fine!
I remember the police coming through the doors trying to give their condolences, but I ran out the front door and I lost it. I couldn’t understand why nobody was trying to save Ruby. Next thing I know, I’m kicking wheelie bins into an officer, I’m punching the fence and kicking the garage door. I didn’t want to believe any of it. I couldn’t lose another sibling—I couldn’t lose Ruby.
I felt angry at everyone. Angry at the police, the ambulance officers. Angry at the God my parents believe in.
Five facts you probably didn’t know about Ruby:
The majority of Ruby’s childhood was lived in Christchurch, mainly in Belfast. From an early age, Ruby excelled in the art of mischief. Her face was mischief, her smile was mischief, her actions … mischief!
At two years old, Ruby would watch her brother and sisters walk out the gate and return carrying lollies. One morning, Kim couldn’t find Ruby anywhere, she eventually found her around the corner at the supermarket, sitting in the car park, grinning at everyone, probably hoping she would get lollies like her siblings did when they went out the gate.
Despite having a mischievous streak, Ruby was a quiet kid a lot of the time. She loved being around home and quietly pottered along, just doing her own thing usually.
Until school age, a lot of Ruby’s days were spent at the Ark Childcare Centre in Kaiapoi, a place she loved, and again a place where her mischievousness found plenty of opportunity for expression. The Ark was a Christian-based centre and Ruby heard the staff talking about how important the Bible was. Somehow, we still don’t know how, Ruby got her hands on a tiny New Testament Bible and turned up at crèche with it. One of the teachers noticed a line of kids around Ruby. When she got closer she saw Ruby tearing pages from this Bible and handing pages to the kids around her. Ruby explained that she was ‘giving a Bible to everyone’.
Amongst the mischief and fun, there was hard stuff, too. Ruby lost her brother Anton in a road accident when he was seven and she was nearly four. Once she turned five, Ruby started at Belfast Primary School, which she loved. Most of her days were spent sitting on the mat, grinning from ear to ear at the teacher from the start of the day to the finish.
Around this time, Ruby experienced some big life changes. The man her mother had been dating proposed, and soon her mum was married and she had a new brother, Jesse, on the way. Again her inquisitive and mischievous mind often shone through. Jesse had only just come home from the hospital and Ruby was having her first hold of him. Her first question? ‘Mum, would it be alright if I poked him in the eye?’ We were just grateful she asked first!
About age six, we embarked on a journey to Upper Hutt to train for full-time service with The Salvation Army. Booth College of Mission was a pretty amazing place for a six-year-old. Plenty of time to play, explore and go door to door asking for lollies. Ruby’s mischief radar remained on full signal as she teamed up with her friend Amelia for many trouble-making missions. After two years, we moved to Foxton, where some of Ruby’s best friendships were formed.
Ruby was one of those kids who seemed to attract accidents. At four, she was dancing in the lounge and somehow ended up with a sewing needle imbedded in her foot. At five, she nearly sliced her finger off in a door. At six, she nearly sliced the top of her ear off after colliding with a boy on a bike. And, in Foxton, Ruby was riding a scooter, put her foot on the brake and somehow got her big toe trapped between the wheel and the metal mudguard, pretty much slicing the toe right off. As Salvation Army ministers, we had funded medical insurance. Looking back, I don’t think we could have survived financially without it, with Ruby as our child!
After two years in Foxton, Ruby shifted to Whanganui. Again, new place, new faces, new friendships … and more mischief. After five years in Whanganui, we shifted back home to Christchurch.
But there was another side of Ruby’s life, too. Ruby was a fighter and an overcomer. Her teenage years were not easy, as they’re not for a lot of teenagers. Teenage life brings with it some hard blows and big battles. Some of those blows lead teenagers to find ways to cope with the hurts that come within those blows, and Ruby attempted to ease some of her pain by self-harming. This was an outward way of trying to release inside hurts.
Ruby made some brave choices in deciding to face her battles, working through her struggles to find better and different ways of coping with hard stuff. We were incredibly proud and honoured as we watched Ruby show us, show herself and show others that down is not out and that struggles can be overcome. It made us so proud of her!
Ruby’s passing shocked and broke us and left us wondering how we were meant to adjust to not seeing her face, hearing her laugh and sharing her life. The coroner’s report revealed that Ruby was living with a rare and undetected heart disease known as ARVD. Over time, the disease slowly erodes one of the walls of the heart. Once that wall erodes completely, the heart floods and stops instantly. It’s not really detectable and, short of a heart transplant, it’s not curable.
We still don’t understand how this could happen to someone whose heart was so amazing, so big.
When Ruby was about 10, her uncle was baptised. Straight after that, Ruby grabbed me and said, ‘Dad, you need to baptise me!’ I asked her why to check if she was doing that to please us or to copy those around her. She told me in no uncertain terms that this was for her. As she came up from under that water, I heard that quiet voice of God say, ‘Ruby, just like you did now, you will go through some deep waters in your life, but you will come through them and I will have a hold of you.’
Rubes, you have had your share of deep waters, you have come through them and now God has hold of you. We love you. We will miss you every day. And we will see you again.
It is five months today since we woke up and you were gone. If we stop long enough and think long enough, the pain comes belting back like it was yesterday, and yet it also feels like a lifetime since we’ve heard that laugh, seen that face of yours.
It’s strange. Lots of well-meaning people say things like, ‘give it time, you’ll move on’, but for me the reality is that there are just too many things in our world that you have shared with us for us to ever ‘move on’. So many things that we will always wish you were still part of.
We smile and feel sad at the same time whenever we remember you. So, we won’t ‘move on’, Rubes. We don’t plan to—we love you too much for that. But we will move through, one day at a time, one step at a time. We will keep journeying. And we will take you with us.
You have forever coloured our lives, and we will use the colours you have given us to keep painting new days with. Your flavour will always be present in our family recipe. We love you, we cherish you, we will carry you with us always.