Hello, my name is Corinne Rockstad and I am the proud mother of Liz Rockstad or as I always called my daughter, “Lizzie”.
Lizzie was born September 24, 1984 in Bismarck North Dakota and passed away April 7, 2013. She died from an accidental overdose of the prescribed pain medication she was taking known as oxycodone. She had only been taking it for a few short months.
Lizzie was so much more than a 2013 overdose statistic in Ramsey County. She was a very caring young woman, a sister, a hopeless romantic, compassionate, animal lover, human rights advocate, a great back scratcher, old- fashioned in many ways, an organ and tissue Donor, and she was my daughter. Lizzie was proud of her Irish heritage, gorgeous blue eyes, flawless skin, dimples, her “signature trademark” was her red hair and it was the perfect representation of her inner beauty.
When she was born, I could not believe it when the nurse told me my daughter had red hair. How could I have been so fortunate to have two daughters with red hair! Lizzie’s older sister Sarah has red hair and more commonly, they are called “Gingers”.
Lizzie loved art, fashion, culture, music and reading. Her favorite television programs were True Blood, Modern Family, 30 Rock and Saturday Night Live. She enjoyed listening to the radio, including The Current, classical, country music and NPR radio. She also liked going to the movies, especially when a new James Bond (007) movie was released. We would plan a lunch date and go to the afternoon movie. Actually, I think she liked looking at Daniel Craig! She enjoyed the Minneapolis concert scene. Once she had tickets to go see Phoenix at First Ave and was too sick to go. Her sister arranged to have the Phoenix Band members autograph their poster for Lizzie. She had an “eye” for fashion and could take a scarf, jewelry, and belt and pull an outfit together. She never left the house without looking her best!
High School was not for Lizzie and when she moved to St. Paul, she took it upon herself to obtain her GED. I was so proud of her for taking the initiative, and all on her own. From there she became a Certified Nurse Assistant, a role she preferred because she felt much more involved with the residents. She truly enjoyed being a nurse assistant to the elderly population and did get to know her residents very well. She would often bring in movies from her personal collection—and Johnny Cash was a favorite. She would often say, Mom, we watched Johnny Cash again today! An excellent cook and many of her recipes are still being served at the Hospice Centers where she worked. Their family members often mentioned her name in many eulogies of the residents she cared for and she attended their funerals. She truly connected with the elderly as it came naturally to her and she enjoyed listening to their stories. Once we were having coffee together and I asked her how do you take your coffee? She said, “Make mine like a sandy beach, Mom!" What 28-year-old young woman says that? She must have heard it from one of her residents.
She was a strong advocate for human, animal rights and would become very upset when a person or an animal was treated unfairly. She stayed very informed about the latest news and worldly events. If she had been alive for the last presidential election oh, she would have an opinion let me tell you!
Lizzie loved to picnic in Loring Park, going to the Walker, and stopping at Dunn Bros. Coffee. She was a true city girl who enjoyed living in downtown Minneapolis. She loved the benefits of having Loring Park right outside her door and spent hours reading, enjoying the beauty of the park, watching movies and participating in the Loring Park Community. It was her “outdoor living room”.
We could only dream of having a park bench and tree dedicated to her; now it is a reality. Lizzie’s bench and tree is across from her favorite coffee spot Dunn Bros. If you are ever in the park there is a stone in the right-hand corner with her name, her permanent GPS address etched in the concrete and a dedication reading, For Liz, We Love You, Mom ~Sarah ~Kitten~. Beneath the bench, we have buried a time capsule symbolic of her life. Many Anniversaries we have decorated her bench and with tons of green ribbon, her favorite color. For how difficult it is to visit her bench, we are grateful as we feel she is never alone. I often receive texts from friends who have stopped and have taken a selfie. I have met some very friendly people who have stopped to introduce themselves and given me a hug. A day does not go by where she does not have a visitor, whether it be a friend, a dog, a flock of ducks or geese, or the famous albino squirrel.
Lizzie left behind her family and her cat “Kitten”, but her tragic death led to new beginnings with sight for two people through cornea transplant, tissue, bone, connective tissue and facia. The 74 individuals who received my daughter’s gift are men and women ranging in age from 27 to 88 and have undergone surgery in 22 States. They required a tissue transplant for many various surgeries, including repairs to the toe, foot, ankle, shin, spine, hip and tendons to the knee, as well as reconstruction following a mastectomy and following a burn injury.
Lizzie would have never imagined what her gifts of donation would do for so many, and nor would have either Sarah or myself. Thirteen years ago, she had told me of her decision to be a donor and indicated it on her driver’s license. She made the decision all on her own, knew it was the right thing to do and never second-guessed it! She was all about helping others and giving back. I guess you could say her legacy lives on and she is out there in so many lives. I am very proud of her for choosing to be a donor and we never would have guessed where it has led to is an understatement!
When her picture was posted on the MN Lions Eye Bank Facebook page 12/9/13, which is now the Lions Gift of Sight, a friend and co-worker saw it and wrote, After Liz’s death, such a dear friend, I went to the DMV to renew my license and a smile came across my face as I checked the box to become a donor also! All because of my friend Liz! As her mother, and knowing what Lizzie like I do, I would like to think she was recycled! It may sound cold, but she would have loved that.
I often wonder if she were alive today what she would be doing. I know she would most likely be a CAN, calling me to say mom, can you hear my Kitten purring? while we talked on the phone, as Lizzie claimed her cat purred the loudest out of the 3 cats. We would be planning our menu for the week including Knoephla Soup, Quiche Lorraine, grocery shopping, going to a newly released movie, and talking about life in general. I miss all of it as it is the simple things in life that are most important.
A few years ago, I decided without any hesitation to join the ranks of, and now I am a Centennial Member of, the Minneapolis Ambassadors Lion Club, and trust me we are not all 100 years old!
Since then I have had the honor of speaking at the annual Thanksgiving for Vision, U of M and Lions Gift of Sight Booth at the State Fair, volunteering at the local hospitals sharing the word of the importance about being an organ and tissue donor and especially speaking to all of you today. Moreover, it does not stop there!
Two summers ago, the Lions Gift of Sight, formally the MN Lions Eye Bank, teamed up with the U of M to promote the importance of being a donor. I am not sure if you remember the Metro Transit Express Buses on Snelling Ave. With pictures on the outside and inside of the bus with donor families and recipients holding a different placard card and mine said, “My daughter gave site to 2 people”! I knew people took notice because a co-worker texted me and said, I just saw you on the side of the Metro Transit Express bus and you are famous! I thanked her and said my daughter is famous and she is my hero! Even some of my co-workers went as far to say when they renewed their license, they checked the box to be a donor.
It still does not seem real that she is gone and actually, some days are so difficult I do not think I can make it. But then I remind myself there are wonderful, rewarding, selfless people from the Lions Gift of Sight, the Donor families, and the forever grateful beyond words recipients who helped us to keep Lizzie’s memory alive, because that is all we ever want. Through her donation, it brings us peace and we find solace in that. You are truly the silver lining to this tragedy! It means the world to me to be asked to share my daughter’s life with all of you. It is all because of you here today and believe me you have helped this grieving mom in countless ways. I thank you for listening about my Lizzie “Forever 28” and especially for what she stood for. She did have a purpose and definitely left her mark in the World!