by Maggie MacFarland Phillips
Special to The Leaven
When special-needs parish advocate Jeana Reid was preparing Kimber Rose Lane for her first Communion, Reid taught her that the Eucharist was two things: Jesus and love.
Kimber took this simple but profound lesson to heart. And by the time she passed away on Jan. 10 of this year, it was clear that her life’s example had touched those around her through its joyful reverence for the body of Christ.
Long before she actually received the Eucharist, Kimber had experienced life through, with and in the body of Christ. Autistic and living with cerebral palsy, Kimber participated in this life in part through the loving acceptance she received from the congregation at her home parish of Divine Mercy in Gardner.
But it was by the powerful love she had known from infancy, when Russ and Annette Lane adopted her, that Kimber first came to know Jesus.
Born in Guatemala, Kimber arrived in the United States in 2005 through a series of unusual circumstances. No adoptive family was lined up and waiting for her — but no matter.
“In my heart, I just knew,” Russ recalls of his first meeting with Kimber. The couple adopted her in December of that same year.
As the years progressed, so did Kimber. Although nonverbal, by the time she was kindergarten-age, she was in a wheelchair and could feed herself. She attended school, loved to swim and was passionate about music — especially musicals and pop from the ’70s and ’80s.
The Lanes had a family ritual, praying nightly for Kimber to walk, talk, sing, dance and — most importantly — to know Jesus in the Eucharist. Kimber had never resisted going to Mass, and it was clear that through the rituals, patterns and music of the Mass, Kimber had come to understand that she was entering into something special when she attended.
Throughout the years, Annette and Russ had faithfully prayed for the intercession of Mary and St. Teresa of Calcutta on Kimber’s behalf. And when Kimber was in her teens, their prayer was answered: Kimber came to know Jesus in the Eucharist through the special-needs ministry of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.
Part of the archdiocesan justice, life and advocacy team, the outreach is headed by lead consultant Tom Racunas, whom the Lanes knew through the ministry’s caregiver respite program.
The Lanes met with Racunas to discuss options for Kimber through the special-needs ministry’s sacramental preparation program, which follows the USCCB’s “Guidelines for the Celebration of the Sacraments with Persons with Disabilities.”
Samantha Lane, Kimber’s older sister and a tireless advocate for her even now, remembers wholeheartedly supporting the idea. “What exactly are we waiting for?” she remembers thinking.
After a warm reception to the proposal from their pastor Father Adam Wilczak, all parties agreed that a natural fit to be Kimber’s first Communion instructor was Reid. Reid, Kimber’s former preschool teacher, was a crucial part of the Lanes’ family support team, working with the family as they navigated Kimber’s education.
Together with the assistance of her Aunt Amy, and through the tireless support of her parents and Samantha, Kimber began to prepare for her first Communion.
Reid, who has 14 years’ teaching experience and holds two degrees in special education, used the archdiocese’s adaptive curriculum, developed in collaboration with catechists and special educators. She worked with Kimber for the better part of a year, conveying concepts with the supplied manipulatives, which included board books, images and other materials she and the Lanes might not otherwise be able to access.
In the run-up to the big day, Reid remembers parishioners approaching her to share their excitement for Kimber’s upcoming celebration. She describes Kimber’s first Communion, which took place on the evening of Jan. 18, 2020, as a compelling witness of love and community. The members of Divine Mercy Parish joyfully assembled to support Kimber as she received Christ’s body, blood, soul and divinity for the first time.
At that moment, while Russ’ and Annette’s prayer for Kimber to walk, talk, dance and sing seemingly went unanswered — at least on this side of heaven — their prayers for her to know Jesus in the Eucharist were realized before their eyes.
“One of the biggest blessings of the whole day was just to see the impact that it had on us and strangers,” recalls Samantha, who stood with her parents alongside Kimber as she received her first Communion. She describes the tears of even non-Catholic family members upon “seeing Kimber’s face come alive,” describing the “palpable” presence of the Holy Spirit, because of “what he was doing in us, through Kimber.”
During the party that followed, Kimber shared her feelings with the family and friends on her “talker” (her Augmentative and Alternative Communication — or AAC device). Joyful words and phrases such as, “Awesome,” and, “I love it.”
Throughout her life, Kimber taught her family and community important lessons in love. In a 2015 reflection by her father, Russ wrote: “There is one thing she does better than anyone — she smiles to communicate her love to you.”
“My need to get things done and to be productive can cause me to sometimes think that I’m wasting valuable time while trying to entice a smile from Kimber,” he continued. “No plans designed, no books read, no action items marked off. All I allowed myself to do was be loved by a smile. The peace and joy I feel tells me that I’m the one being transformed by the power of Kimber.”
He wasn’t the only one who experienced this transformational love.
After Kimber passed away, the impact she had had on those who knew her was unmistakable. Although she seemed like a long-shot candidate for adoption as an infant, Kimber’s funeral just 16 years later was attended by over 200 people, despite the twin obstacles of a pandemic and a blizzard.
Reid hopes that the witness of Kimber’s life will continue to transform families and parishes. She worries that special-needs families may stay away from Mass and parish life, concerned that a family member’s behavioral differences might not be welcome.
Reid hopes those who hear Kimber’s story and of the support she received from her family, her parish community and the archdiocese will “feel encouraged to attend.” Through love and prayer, uplifted by community, special-needs families can bring their loved ones’ abilities and skills as gifts to the altar, participating fully in the life of the church — together.