Karin Tellier still catches herself referring to her big sister, Kristen Leigh Kessler, in the present tense. It’s only natural, since she lives on in so many ways.
Saturday was the ninth annual Kristen’s Walk to the Water, a leukemia awareness event Tellier started to honor her sister, who died of acute myeloid leukemia in 1993 at the age of 18. This year’s walk raised more than $20,000 -- all of which will be donated to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and other organizations that help people afflicted by Kristen’s disease.
This year around 600 people took the 3-mile walk from The Common Ground at Rotary Park to Sayville Beach and back.
“My sister had and has the most magnetic personality,” Tellier said, glancing at the sky. “It’s amazing, the outpouring of love and affection.”
The route holds significance for Tellier, who is seven months pregnant with her fourth child. Her other three children, Kristen, 6, Trey, 5 and Brody, 2, have each been on every walk since their conception. The walk cuts through the neighborhood she, Kristen and their brother, Craig, grew up in. It culminates at Land’s End, a restaurant and catering hall just before the beach. Kristen loved wildlife, particularly aquatic life, and had planned to become a marine biologist. After the diagnosis, the sisters would go to Land’s End just to talk.
“It [the walk] means my Kristen’s still here,” said Rosemary Kessler, Kristen and Karin’s mother. “I don’t need the walk to know that; it just enriches that.”
A few nights ago Rosemary Kessler had her second dream about Kristen since she died. In the dream Kristen grabbed her mother by the hand and said, “Mom, c’mon, you hang out with me.”
“And then I said, ‘Kristen, just don’t forget I’ll always love you,’” Kessler said. “I know that, Mom,” she replied. When she woke up the clock read 8:22. Kristen was born Aug. 22.
Every year the Kesslers have stopped at Land’s End to take a family photo before returning to the front of the procession. Tellier became agitated because her father, Bill Kessler, a former Suffolk County police detective, got caught up directing traffic, delaying the picture.
“I don’t want to be dead last [in line],” she said, her agitation peaking.
Moments later, an overcast sky turned bright.
“The sun came through, my sister is reminding me to calm down,” Tellier said. “We’re all together. There are worse things in the world.”
After the walk reached its conclusion, Brody ran up to his mother, hysterical. He pointed and through sobs shouted, “Balloon!” He had let go of his aqua balloon, not realizing it would float away.
“Oh honey, you sent your balloon to Aunt Kristen,” she said, comforting the child.
“I sent it to Aunt Kristen,” he repeated, getting calmer.
She handed him another aqua balloon -- which he promptly released into the sky.