Just at a week ago today I received an early morning text from a friend. Because to this point we hadn’t really had a TXTing sort of relationship I thought it odd almost immediately. I wiped the haze from my eyes and touched the ‘Messages’ icon on my phone. The message was from Suzannah Kolbeck, founder of HoneyFern School and mother of 12-year old Sicily. The message read:
Dane and Sicily will not make it today. Dane was in an accident and did not survive. I am headed home. Sorry to text so early.
I sat there – half awake and half asleep – staring at my phone. In just a few hours I was to meet up with Dane and Sicily in Sandy Springs, GA to see the Tennessee Tiny Homes tour on its Atlanta stop. I was going to donate some materials to Sicily’s tiny house build and meet Dane for the first time.
I laid there trying to go back to sleep or trying to at least make sense of what I just read. The darkness outside and the sound of my own wife and child asleep just feet from me gave me an odd sense of comfort; a gluttonous moment wherein I was actually happy it didn’t happen to me in my life.
Just a few months earlier I stood in my parents driveway just in front of where we were finishing up the tiny house build. A nondescript grey car rolled up and from the passenger seat popped out an energetic, smiling, ambitious, 12-year old girl. From the drivers seat emerged her mother. She wore an easy smile and a bright eyed awareness I could tell had been passed on to her daughter. They had come to meet with Crystal and I and talk about tiny houses. The 12-year old – who had become known across the Interwebs as La Petite – was building her own tiny home based on the popular Fencl design and had more questions and ideas than many of us did when we started. I was excited to share with her everything from the recently placed VIN number on the trailer hitch to the caulking around our window trim. She absorbed it all. And as our few hours together came to a close I remember her telling her mom, “I have a lot to go back and tell dad. We have a lot of work to do.” And as hoppy as she came, she was gone.
We kept in touch and our friendship grew. She was a guest on the podcast, her mother friended me on Facebook, La Petite even started posting videos. I shared in her excitement as she secured her first corporate sponsor; EcoFoil. I shot emails and FB message back and forth about various materials and building methods. But most of all I watched in amazement as this young lady brought her family together around a tiny house that could barely fit them together if they just stood inside. From my viewpoint it was what was so awesome about our own tiny house building. Through the designing and planning and fundraising stages the Kolbeck family was drawing closer; supporting each other, working hand in hand. And now I was forced to read words that I thought equal parts unfair and untrue.
As the day broke and my wife awoke I told her about the TXT. Neither of us could really believe it. We were going to meet them in no time now. We were maybe even gonna have some lunch or at least chat for a few. I had talked so frequently about La Petite you would have thought her to be my own little sister. And now I suddenly seemed so far removed from her reality. I felt like a stranger. How could I call her my friend? How could I possibly imagine what she was going through and how could I offer any words of comfort? Unfair? Yes. But life is full of unfair things. I turned to prayer and asked God to be with this family; to give them light and comfort. I knew He heard me. I knew that He knew what needed to happen.
Just a few days later I received an email from a friend of Suzannah’s. By this point I had reached out to Suzannah to offer her whatever comfort I could. I can’t imagine losing a spouse but more than that I couldn’t imagine losing a dad. The email explained to me that after some talking and thinking and inspired by her uncles coming to town, Suzannah and Sicily had decided to continue building. In fact, that day they were going to frame the walls. I was elated. I found comfort knowing that in this unthinkable time there would be some return to normalcy. Most of all I was delighted to hear that La Petite was going to continue building the bond that started weeks ago between herself and her mom and dad. I knew that one day she would have a tiny home and that every time she walked through the door it would not just give her comfort from the physical elements outside – rain, snow, heat, cold – but that it would give her a place to feel the comfort of her daddy again. Those walls would be more than just pieces of wood. They would be the arms he used to wrap around her. The trusses would be his shoulders that she knew she could always stand on.
Even now I am shocked by it all; one week later. I still have a heavy heart for both girls. But I also know that not everything makes immediate sense and that life is full of seasons and moments that lack revelation until much later. But I am comforted by the fact that life will go on. Despite all, the Kolbeck family will still huddle around each other and still attack life with boundless energy just as they had the day they stepped out of their car.
I may have never met Dane Kolbeck but I feel confident he was a man of conviction. He embodied love and life. He was a stand up guy with adoration for his wife and unending love and appreciation for his daughter. May we all remember today the fragility of life on Earth and may we all carry that same passion that I have come to learn was and still is the foundation of the Kolbeck family.
EDITORS NOTE: A memorial for Dane Kolbeck will be held tomorrow for friends and family. In lieu of flowers, a fund has been set up in memorial. Donations can be made to:
Dane Kolbeck Memorial Fund
First Citizens Bank
2998 Shallowford Rd.
Marietta, GA 30066
or via PayPal to firstname.lastname@example.org