Credit: Detroit News
Whether it has a direct impact or not, cancer seems to have an effect on each and every one of our lives. Perhaps a family member had breast cancer. Perhaps a friend had melanoma. While cancer isn’t something most children consider, for Kenneth Gross Jr., it was a reality he unfortunately had to face.
Over the course of his 12 years, the Michigan boy went through more than many experience in a lifetime, because at 13 months old, KJ was diagnosed with leukemia. At a young age he underwent two bone-marrow transplants, and continued to battle the disease throughout his life. After years of chemotherapy and radiation, KJ developed congestive heart failure.
But between procedures and hospital visits, KJ wasn’t alone. His best friend, Kaleb Klakulak, was there every step of the way. The boys met five years prior in their first-grade classroom and instantly became close friends. It was not all that surprising, given all the boys’ similarities: the quiet and reserved children were raised by their at-the-time single mothers, and even shared some physical qualities.
“Fat cheeks,” LaSondra Singleton, KJ’s mother, says, “I call them brothers, just of a different race.”
They would play videogames, see movies, go on short trips together, and sing at church. When KJ was hospitalized full time earlier this year, their usual activities didn’t come to a complete stop. Every Tuesday, Kaleb and his mother came to visit KJ, and though KJ had a tube in his throat, the boys still played video games and painted together. The boys’ mothers said they didn’t need to speak—they understood one another.
On May 1, the Halls were getting ready for their weekly visit when Ms. Singleton called Ms. Hall to tell her KJ was being taken off life support, and that this visit would be a goodbye for Kaleb. Though KJ wasn’t conscious, Kaleb sat there, offering silent, somber support. He passed later that day.
To be there for her son, Ms. Singleton stopped working when KJ was initially admitted to the hospital, and remained unemployed for a little while following his death. She could not afford a headstone for her son.
When KJ’s best friend learned about this, he began brainstorming ways to come up with money for the marker. A PayPal donation post was set up in KJ’s name, but Kaleb wouldn’t sit by and idly wait for money to come in. The 12-year-old began collecting bottles and raking leaves, managing to raise $250 on his own.
Combined with funds raised on PayPal, the Halls were able to present Ms. Singleton with $900 just after Thanksgiving. It wouldn’t entirely cover the cost of a headstone, but it would certainly help.
When The Detroit News caught wind of Kaleb’s story, they published an article to spread the word—and the word certainly was spread. The donation page received over 3,000 donations and exceed their goal of $2,500. The excess funds raised are for Ms. Singleton and KJ’s five siblings.
Though coming up with an inscription for the headstone took time, as of December 12, Ms. Singleton had decided:
Cherished brother, son and friend.
“He was happy even though he went through all that stuff,” Kaleb says. It was important to him that his best friend have a proper, standing representation of his bright life—that there be a living memory of the boy he shared so much with.