In Memory of Katie Becker: 1990-2006

This posting is not really about food. It's about my niece Katie. She had diabetes. On October 30, 2006, she skipped dinner, took her nightly insulin shot, and went to bed. By morning she had passed away at the age of 16.

Halloween has always reminded me of Katie. Her parents were active members of the Society for Creative Anachronism, an international organization that meets to re-enact medieval life. Running around in costume was part of her childhood. As she got older and discovered Manga, she frequently looked like an anime character, but always still looked unmistakably like Katie.

Her diabetes first manifested on Halloween when she was in elementary school. After an evening of eating trick-or-treat candy, Katie ended up in the emergency room. At a very young age, Katie quickly adapted to regular blood glucose checks, regulated diet, and the insulin shots needed to keep her alive.

This did not slow her down in the least. She came to see me in Maryland every summer. We visited DC and saw the Smithsonian museums. We went to Otakon, the Manga convention in Baltimore, and heard one of her favorite writers speak.

Katie also introduced me to social networking through the Deviant Art community. She was a prolific poster, and I watched her develop her drawing and writing through her profile posts. She became very adept at the Manga style of drawing and quickly moved beyond fan fiction to create her own universe.

Katie's last visit in the summer of 2006 still haunts me. And haunts is the right word. She was in that inevitable transition toward adulthood. She was starting to clash with long-time friends and thinking about what it was she wanted in life. She wanted something from me that summer, too - something specific. I tried to give her what I thought she needed for her own good, as adults often do to the young people who trust them. What I wanted to give her was the knowledge that she could be anything she wanted to be, that life had some struggles, but that it is really an open road, and that she could make her own destiny. She was incredibly bright and creative, and I had no doubt at the time that she could succeed at anything she chose to do, and I wanted her to see this in herself. I am not sure what she thought I was trying to do. I do know that at the end of that visit, she was distant.

The beginning of the school year included two fainting episodes at school. I called her - a rare move on my part. Even though we chatted through Deviant Art, I was somewhat of an absentee aunt, something I regret to this day. She informed me that everything was fine, and I took her word. Then came another fateful Halloween.

After learning of her death, I logged into Deviant Art and read her postings from the time she return from her annual visit up to her death. I then saw what I had previously missed - the intensity of her struggle, her frustration as her efforts to forge her way in life led to misunderstanding and even greater frustration. The hole she left grew larger as the feeling that I had somehow failed her seeped in.

After the funeral, as we took on the monumental task of cleaning her room, I found a little wooden box in her desk. Inside, tied up in a little ribbon, I found every card I had ever send her - birthday cards, Christmas cards, the random Valentine - all neatly bundled together and kept in a very special place. I began to realize how important I had been to her.

As adults, one of our responsibilities is to care for the next generation, whether we are parents, teachers, care-givers, or the mysterious aunt who moves far away and only shows up for Thanksgiving. They look to us for guidance, acceptance, love. I will never know if I succeeded or failed in my responsibility to Katie. She died at a time when she was just starting to struggle out of the chrysalis of adolescence, when her whole life was just around the corner.

I am left with more than just memories - she could not resist a blank page, and I still find old journals, sketchbooks, work planners with little drawings and notes from her scattered randomly throughout. I am also left with the reminder to take my role as an adult seriously. The children who look up to me count on it.

Katie, a few weeks before she passed

There are two types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes, also known as Juvenile Diabetes, is not preventable . This type of diabetes is genetic and is passed from parent to child. There is treatment but at present no known cure. This is the type of diabetes Katie had. She inherited it from her father, and so did her younger sister.

Type 2 diabetes used to be called Adult Onset Diabetes. It typically manifests itself later in life as part of the degenerative, aging processes. In my lifetime, this has changed. I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in my 30's. I was overweight. When I lost the weight, the diabetes went with it.

But now children are developing Type 2 diabetes. When Type 2 diabetes develops in a child, it can be just as life-threatening and potentially devastating as Type 1.

For more information, or to make a donation, please visit the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.