The community gathered for a tearful goodbye to Kaylee Kozari-Bowland last weekend.
The 16-year-old Pen High student passed away on April 20 after battling a rare form of cancer for nine months.
A celebration was organized by her close friends on the evening of April 24 at Okanagan Lake Park, where hundreds of helium balloons were released into the sky.
“Friday night was pretty outstanding,” said her mom Tammy Kozari.
Penticton was mired in miserable weather on April 24, but the skies began to clear as the assembly began, and then as the mass of balloons were released, a rainbow appeared.
“I thought it was just going to be a rainy dreary, cold day – when we got there it was freezing,” Tammy said. “Then a rainbow after the balloons were released – to me, that’s her. That just shows how much of an impact she has.”
On the following day, a service was held for Kaylee at the ballroom in the Penticton Lakeside Resort. Tammy said that the 650 seats were full, and there were between 100 and 200 people standing.
“The number of people at the service on Sunday shows the kind of person she was.”
Tammy was uplifted by the numerous compliments she received in regards to how beautifully arranged Kaylee’s service was.
Through the messages delivered during last weekend’s assemblies, Tammy was again reminded of Kaylee’s virtuous character. Speakers often referred to her strength, caring nature and her ability to leave an impression on all the other students on how to be a better person.
“To go through what she did with that smile and positivity, she made everything so much easier for her mom, her family and everybody that cared about her,” said KVR Middle School teacher Blair Haddrell, who coached Kaylee in basketball when she was 13.
During the gathering at Okanagan Lake Park, Haddrell wrote on his balloon to Kaylee, “You taught me more than I ever could have taught you.”
“She was a very good teammate; a positive influence on everyone,” he said. “A quality person – she was always somebody that people wanted to be around.”
In commemoration, Haddrell said that an annual basketball tournament at the school will be renamed in her honour and a scholarship will be awarded to a Pen High student in her name. While Kaylee was still undergoing treatment, basketball and golf fundraisers were organized for her, which Haddrell helped to arrange.
“I wanted to make sure that she knew how much she meant to everybody else,” he said. “She meant a lot to me and I wanted to make sure that she knew that.”
Tammy expressed her strong appreciation of the conciliation shown all through Kaylee’s journey.
“All the support does relieve a lot of the stress and pain,” she said. “To have the support of the community definitely makes a big difference.”
Tammy said that she hasn’t had to cook in the past week because of so much food that’s been donated – even from people she’s never met. She continues to find tremendous comfort through the company of Kaylee’s friends.
“Her close friends have been staying here every night and hanging out almost as if there’s no difference. They hang out in Kaylee’s room and chit chat, and then they come out and hang out with the family,” she said, adding that Kaylee’s friends now spend a lot more time playing with Reese, her three-year-old brother.
“Now they come and play with him for hours; they’re really living Kaylee through him.”
Tammy said Kaylee’s bedroom will always be part of the home, and she’ll be arranging it they way it used to be.
“We’re going to try and get back to some normality if that’s possible.”