A mom’s walk, like Karli, leaves lasting memory
By Laurie Merrill
GCU News Bureau
Karli Richardson was absent from her Grand Canyon University commencement ceremony Thursday, but her spirit filled the arena.
It was present in her mother, Cathy Hocking, who donned Karli’s cap and gown and took her daughter’s place in accepting her Bachelor of Arts in Communications diploma from the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.
It was felt by thousands of students, families and faculty members who burst into applause as Hocking walked across the GCU Arena stage on her daughter’s behalf, displaying the “Lopes Up” hand gesture.
It was present in the new tattoo on her mother’s ankle, which bears the names of her only children, and in remarks by GCU President Brian Mueller.
From the National Anthem to the last diploma, Karli — who along with her sister Kelsey was killed in an April 14 auto accident on Interstate 17 — was present in every tear and every fierce tug in the hearts of those she knew and those she’ll never meet.
“I walked for Karli,” her mother said, because she wants the community to know how much Karli accomplished, how she filled every room with light and how much she loved her family.
“Karli was 5 feet, 5 inches tall, but her heart was one of a giant’s,” Hocking said. “She was one of smiles and laughter.”
On Thursday, Hocking, standing next to her husband, the girls’ stepfather, Gary Hocking, talked about the close relationship she shared with her daughters, their hopes and dreams and their promising futures.
She also spoke of God’s purpose in taking the girls. She believes it’s to bring others closer to Him.
Fulfilling a dream
Thursday was the first time that Hocking, a high school graduate, was handed a college diploma. It was her way of giving that victory to Karli, to fulfill her daughter’s goal.
“I was overwhelmed with pride,” Hocking said. “She earned it. She worked hard for her grades, and she graduated at age 20.”
Hocking also wore the mortarboard that Karli decorated with “Alr-d-y Forgot Everything,” a quote from the character Dory in the movie “Finding Nemo.”
On her fingers were her daughters’ silver rings, recovered in the crash, said Alexa Wennet, a GCU employer outreach supervisor who helped dress Hocking for the ceremony.
Hocking also carried leather bracelets, one each with the names “Mom” and “Kelsey,” that Karli had purchased during her recent trip to Okinawa, Japan. Hocking adjusted the cap just so and the gown to hang a certain way.
“We took a picture of her as if she was Karli,” Wennet said. “When I shook her hand, I could feel Karli in her fingers. It was very strong. I got goosebumps.”
The sisters were avid Disney fans and had repeatedly watched “Snow White,” Kelsey’s favorite, and “Lion King,” which was Karli’s.
Because Karli went to college a year before Kelsey, Kelsey sent her notes for every eventuality. They had headings such as “when you’re stressed and I can’t be there” and “when you’re crying and I can’t hug you,” and “when you’re graduating.”
“That was emotional, but that was the kind of love they had,” Hocking said, her voice cracking, tears falling.
Kelsey had plans to become a pediatric oncologist and seek a cure for childhood cancer. Karli wanted four children. They were going to live in separate houses on the same property. There was going to be a third house for their parents.
“They had an entire life planned of us being together,” Hocking said.
Karli embraced cleanliness and at times would spend seven or eight hours scouring the family home.
“I know that heaven has never been so clean,” Hocking said.
A schedule conflict was going to prevent Kelsey, who attended Western Carolina University, from being at Karli’s commencement, so she came early to celebrate as only Karli and Kelsey knew how. Nature lovers and hiking fans, they had just set out to visit the Grand Canyon in time for sunrise when the crash took place.
On Wednesday, the Hockings visited the accident scene. Police told the family that there was no pain — death was instantaneous.
All part of God’s plan
Hocking believes that God has called on her to speak on behalf of her daughters and to spread His message of love and salvation.
“People knew they loved the Lord,” Hocking said. Hundreds of people, she said, have told her that they have come to know the Lord as their Savior in the short time since their deaths. “It’s going to make the world a better place.”
Originally, Hocking was unsure about Karli attending GCU. It was so far from their hometown, Moorestown, N.C. In the last year and a half, she saw Karli only 13 weeks, though they talked often via phone and FaceTime.
“We were very close, uniquely close,” Hocking said. “We talked about everything.”
The last time she saw Karli was in early January, after Karli returned to GCU after winter break. Mother and daughter had spent the last few days together, sleeping late, shopping and eating out.
As Karli departed, Hocking said, “I love you, baby girl,” and Karli responded, “I love you, too, Mommy.”
Hocking now knows for sure that God intended for Karli to attend GCU.
“If she hadn’t come here, the world would not be getting to know the Lord,” she said. “Karli and Kelsey … are really living forever. They just beat me to it.”
Contact Laurie Merrill at (602) 639-6511 or firstname.lastname@example.org.