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Family, friends recall boy's unconquerable spirit

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Isaiah Casillas, as a kindergartner, in the fall of 2011. His mother, Emily, said that she was initially "horrified" that Isaiah's dad, Patrick, had dressed Isaiah, the morning of school pictures, in his monster truck shirt and the jeans with a torn knee. ""But, the more I looked at it, the more it's just really Isaiah," she said, with a smile in August.
(Courtesy Casillas family archives)
McCOOK, Nebraska -- The little boy whose sparkling brown eyes, dazzling smile and generous spirit could not be conquered by cancer will be remembered during funeral services Sunday.

The memory of Isaiah Casillas, his love of hugs and dancing, his special-ness, will be cherished by everyone he met. The little guy touched a world that so often overlooks the ability of children ... of one small child ... to make a lasting, positive difference.

Funeral services for Isaiah will be Sunday, at 2 p.m., in McCook Memorial Auditorium at West Fifth and C streets, McCook, Nebraska, with Father Gary Brethour of St. Patrick's Catholic Church and the Rev. Johnny Walker of Norris Avenue Chapel officiating. The family plans a private burial later.

Family, friends and fans at the McCook Community College women's basketball game Tuesday evening wear purple and/or gray, in honor of Isaiah Casillas, the 6-year-old McCook boy who died Sunday after battling brain cancer since earlier this year. All the MCC players wore either purple ribbons in their hair or purple socks. Even the opposing team members, from Northwest Kansas Technical College in Goodland, Kansas, wore purple hair ribbons. Among the fans in purple were (from left) Gabriel and Simon; Isaiah's sisters Mia and Mercia; Lexxi, Emmalee, Braidon, Bailey and Carson.
(Connie Jo Discoe/McCook Daily Gazette)
One morning last March, Isaiah's dad couldn't wake him up for school. And Isaiah started experiencing seizures. In Denver, specialists diagnosed a vicious brain tumor, and oncologists gave him just four to six months to live.

But, what all the MRI's and X-rays and CAT scans couldn't show was that although the cancer was going to invade Isaiah's body, it wasn't going to conquer his spirit.

Isaiah's parents, Patrick and Emily, were continually amazed by their son's fight, by his upbeat attitude. By his sincere desire to always put his family first ... by his visions of meeting family members already in heaven.

Patrick said in late August, "The pastor says that Isaiah is preparing us to let him go ... Isaiah knows ... he's strong. He tells us not to cry."

Months before the cancer diagnosis, Isaiah's love of kindergarten and learning in the fall of 2011 impressed his kindergarten teachers. Bev Klein, one of McCook Elementary's kindergarten teachers, wrote this to Isaiah after his death Sunday, "Your sincerity, personality and infectious smile charmed me from the very first time I met you ... It was as though you couldn't believe how great school was, and you gave 100 percent to everything."

Bev continued, "You quickly endeared yourself to an amazing number of fellow students and all our staff because you made us all feel that we were special to you. In reality, it was you, just being you, that was truly special. You were always and forever encouraging me or one of your friends with your smiles, hugs and high-fives."

Bev remembers Isaiah's first reading session. "I demonstrated to your little group how to read a very simple and repetitive little book. You were so excited you couldn't sit still. You said, 'Good job, Mrs. Klein! You can already read!' You made me feel like a celebrity because I could read."

Bev said she was always so impressed that Isaiah was determined to teach his little sister, Mercia, what he was learning in kindergarten.

Another K teacher, Cindy Larson, wrote Tuesday, "I don't think there was one adult at McCook Elementary who didn't know and love Isaiah. Whether it was a teacher, paraprofessional, cook, or custodian, Isaiah's twinkling eyes and contagious smile found a way to charm! He always went out of his way to give hugs and say, 'I love you!' He was a very special little boy ... one that we were all truly blessed to have in our lives. I know I'll miss him, but I won't ever forget him or the way he touched my heart."

Steph Sydow had the honor of meeting Isaiah as one of the kindergarten teachers, and then as his first grade teacher. Steph wrote that as a kindergartner, Isaiah "was special ... a bit different from the rest. You see, he has an incredible spirit inside of him, an amazing way with words and a smile that could light up any room!"

A year later, in first grade, Steph could still see that same spirit and smile. "He also had this incredible strength inside of him that enabled him to come to school and learn alongside his classmates. Little did we know that Isaiah was also teaching each of us. To fight hard and never give up, to keep smiling, and above all, to love others."

Katie Graham's oldest son, Cole, shared kindergarten with Isaiah last school year. Katie remembers, "The first day I met Isaiah, he got right up in my face and asked me, 'Are you Cole's mom?' and then he hugged me."

When the Graham family went to Denver to see Isaiah in the hospital, Katie said, Isaiah gave Cole a monkey pillow pet. "The doctors had given Isaiah one after (radiation) treatment, but he was not about to leave without another one for Cole. So the doctors gave another monkey pillow pet to Isaiah to give to Cole. But that was Isaiah -- always thinking of others before himself."

Katie thanked Isaiah's family for sharing their amazing son, despite knowing that he had precious little time to live. "Thank you, Emily and Patrick, for allowing myself, my family and this community to be a part of Isaiah's life. That in itself shows that God was not only working through Isaiah, but through all of you as well."

Katie said, "Isaiah showed all of us how to be happy, to accept everyone and make them feel special ... to love, to be grateful for our time we have and to make it worth something."

To Isaiah, she said, "Thank you, Isaiah, for changing my heart forever, for making me a better mom and a better person. We all love you and miss you, but we will never forget you."

Kindergarten teacher Shari Lyster wrote that Isaiah always brightened her day with "the greatest stories" and his "great personality." She continued, "Everyone should strive to live like Isaiah lived. Making the most of every moment, and spreading love to all they know and see."

Kindergarten teacher Cassa Haney wrote that Isaiah was "truly a blessing" in her life, and that she and Isaiah shared a love of dancing. Cassa wrote Tuesday, "I'm sure Isaiah was teaching those angels all new moves all the way to heaven." She wrote to Isaiah, "Isaiah, when I get to heaven, I expect you to be ready to dance!"

Cassa continued, "I know Isaiah is in a much better place, free from pain and suffering. And knowing Isaiah, he is probably now in charge of God's welcoming committee."

Isaiah's first grade teacher may have summed up the impact of one small child, the true influence of Isaiah's short life. Steph Sydow wrote, "The phrase, 'to touch a life and make a difference' takes on all new meaning for me. Isaiah has touched my life and helped me to strive to stay strong and never give up and most important, to smile."

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