Abby in the News
Strength can come from the tiniest hands
Intelligencer Journal Staff
Lancaster Newspapers, Inc. Lancaster Pennsylvania
Published February 1998
Sometimes it's the way a window catches sunlight that brings back memories. Other times it's a lingering scent.
"This sounds really weird," said Jan Longenecker, entering her daughter's cheery, high-ceilinged bedroom, "but there is a smell that's hers. And I smell it now."
She had cried earlier, but Jan now took in with fondness her daughter's room.
It's her favorite room in the big brick farmhouse that was build nearly a century ago. Abby chose the dusty blue carpeting and the flowered wallpaper, and she filled the room with dolls.
Jan, 40, picked up Abby's favorite doll, Baby Kate, and hugged it.
Last Tuesday, when Abby would have turned 10, Jan rose early and while her husband, Tom, and their children, Craig, 7, and Emily, 4, slept, went to Abby's room.
Like she has many times since Abby died April 29, Jan laid on her daughter's bed, talked to her and cried. "I can't get up out of this bed," Jan thought. "I just can't do it today."
Reminders of Abby spring up at every turn - her handprints in the master bedroom, studio portraits in the living room, the book bag against the piano leg, Abby's stuffed shells in the freezer.
To say the Longeneckers lost a part of their lives doesn't express the depth of their pain. Abby didn't merely belong to them, like an irreplaceable heirloom. She helped define them. She was a reason for their being. She held the future. And then it went blank.
"Life stops," said Tom, 38, who manages Root's Country Market.
A petite blonde with brown eyes and a taste for cheese dogs, Abby was quiet, in a way, but loved family and friends and filled the place with life. She enjoyed playing house, caring for her kittens, Hairy and Furrball, and skiing, which she did with confidence.
"She was sometimes a pain, and sometimes not," said Craig, who both played with his sister and tolerated her mothering.
At the New School of Lancaster, Abby showed a head for numbers and a passion for order, helping, in a nice way, to keep classmates in line.
She loved the school bus ride from her cul-de-sac in East Hempfield Township, and in a diary she wrote that she wanted to become a bus driver. If a substitute driver needed help knowing where to stop, other children chimed out, "Ask Abby!"
During her last summer, Abby started to suffer pain in her hands and feet and to get migranes. At the pool one day, she had a seizure.
Then, last April, Abby suffered a series of strokes and lingered near death at a medical center. With no hope for her recovery, the Longeneckers agreed to take her off life support.
"We were told (death) wouldn't happen right away," said Tom, his voice soft and strained. "So Jan sat down on a rocker with Abby on her lap and I sat in front of her, and I held her head and her hand. Our minister was there, and we talked to Abby for three and a half hours like that before she died."
Jan, at first, withdrew from life. She couldn't even help Tom put Craig and Emily to bed. It was too painful to recall the nights playing double solitaire on Abby's bed while pop music played on her radio.
Tom, on the other hand, forced himself to return to work, to play with the kids, to stay occupied.
"Craig and Emily have been the one thing that has kept me going," he said. "But at the end of the day...my mind starts to wander. I've cried myself to sleep too many nights."
On Sunday, the Longeneckers found out how much their community cares. About 350 turned out for a party at the Lancaster Ice Rink, where Abby had celebrated her 9th birthday. The event raised $5000 for Deb's House, a crisis nursery where Abby wanted to volunteer.
"It's something else to see such support," said Tom, before joining the whirling throng on the ice.
He met up with little Emily and took one of her hands while Jan held the other. And while it looked like Tom and Jan were holding Emily up, of course, it was the other way around.
This article is posted on this website with permission from Jeff Hawkes. (2001)