Karess Carter's Cheer Box Story: "It's pretty amazing to have someone think of you."

As a longtime radio personality, Karess Haivala (known as Karess Carter to her fans) is usually on the giving end of gifts and prizes. She routinely gives away concert tickets, cash, cars and more to listeners of the Des Moines Radio Group.

She wasn’t expecting to receive a gift herself.

When she went into work over the Thanksgiving weekend, she saw the message light blinking on her desk phone. “I never get messages! I listened and it was from someone named Jay, who had a box of gifts for me from EveryStep and could I call him back,” says Karess. “I was really confused about who would have a box of gifts for me? That's what we do at my job! I called him back with a LOT of hesitation. He explained that someone had nominated me to receive a Cheer Box because I recently lost my dad and they knew the holidays were going to be tough for me. I burst into tears. Who would do that? Who thought of me?”

Karess’ father, John Haivala, died unexpectedly on October 2 of this year at the age of 74. “He had gotten over a bout of COVID-19, despite being vaccinated. He felt the best he had felt in years on the Thursday before he passed,” remembers Karess. “That night he had trouble breathing and went to the ER. They sent him home as they had no rooms. Friday afternoon he was sent back to the ER by ambulance. I was leaving Sunday to drive up [to Spearfish, South Dakota] to help. Saturday he was in good spirits, texting me he was okay, but I should come to keep Mom from being alone. We were joking by text. Saturday night Mom called and said he wasn't going to make it through the night, and we were going to do a Facetime goodbye. In 12 hours, everything changed.”

Karess knew the holidays would be difficult this year. “My grief has torn me up. I have felt like no one could possibly understand what I'm going through.”

EveryStep Grief & Loss Services’ Cheer Boxes are composed of 12 gifts, thoughtfully chosen by EveryStep’s grief support experts to provide comfort to those facing the holidays after the loss of a loved one.

Karess arranged to meet Jay, the EveryStep volunteer, to receive her Cheer Box. “When I met Jay and I got the box I was really excited. I took the box home and started with the first gift. I opened about four gifts and had to stop. It is very emotional. It sounds weird but I talked out loud to my dad as I was opening them. It has helped me put the grief somewhere.”

Karess says the Cheer Box is helping her deal with the guilt and grief she feels. “It's pretty amazing to have someone think of you, knowing what you are going through. It makes me immediately want to be involved in this organization in some way. I still have presents to open in my box and I look forward to doing that. Just sitting with my memories of dad. Making me laugh and smile. And that is how he would have wanted it.”

EveryStep delivers Cheer Boxes during the holiday season, but nominations and donations are accepted year-round. To nominate someone to receive a 2022 Cheer Box, visit https://tinyurl.com/5n8n3dm3. Information about donating items or financial support for Cheer Boxes can be found at https://www.everystep.org/services/grief-loss/about-amanda-the-panda.

If you or someone you know is struggling to find the support they need, please contact EveryStep at 515-558-9946. Or, complete the commitment-free, confidential “Find Care” form on EveryStep’s website at everystep.org/find-care. EveryStep staff will follow up with a phone call to answer your questions and provide assistance.