The morning was unusually quiet.
The blender, in which 27-year-old Krista Garland mixed her daily morning smoothies, was in sorts an alarm clock for the rest of the household.
But that day it wasn’t running.
“I remembered thinking that morning that she hadn’t gotten up to make her smoothie, which was really weird, and I remember thinking she must be really tired,” said her sister and roommate, Anne Landers.
Anne’s husband, Chris, considered checking on her, but figured it best to let her sleep – she was likely just fatigued from her Crohn’s disease.
But later that day, when Krista wasn’t answering calls from her boyfriend, Jason Dennis, with whom she was supposed to go hiking, a red flag was raised.
He rushed to her house, and into her room where she still laid.
She had passed away in the night.
“From the highest high, to the lowest low,” Dennis said tearfully, recalling that day.
It was March 30, 2012 – a day that, for the hundreds of people who knew and loved her – is difficult to reflect on.
“It was rough,” said Beverly Garland, Krista’s mother. “You never expect your child to die early. She lived her life so big, and she went out so quietly. She went to sleep.”
But amidst the darkness, beyond the tears and unanswered questions that fateful day brought, there was a beacon of light.
“She wasn’t in pain anymore and that was instant comfort for me,” said Landers, adding, “Obviously it was the hardest day of my life, by far.”
Diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in 2006, Garland dealt with the daily complications of the inflammatory bowel disease – the cramps, the dietary restrictions, the fatigue, the nausea, and the countless other symptoms.
While the autopsy defined her cause of death as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy – a disease that affects the functionality and strength of the heart muscles – Garland’s cardiologist and gastroenterologist told family members that the debilitating Crohn’s disease almost certainly contributed to the strength of her heart, and thus contributed to her death.
But while Garland endured the daily battle that came with her six years of fighting with the digestive disease, it wasn’t her death or the disease itself that people remember her for.
She is remembered for her accomplishments as a former gymnast, University of Arizona cheerleader, cast member of the television show Paradise Hotel, and hair stylist whose work was featured in magazines.
“She’s done more things than most of us will ever dream of doing… it was incredible how talented she was,” said Dennis.
She’s remembered for her selflessness.
“Krista had one of the biggest hearts of anybody I’ve ever known,” said Beverly. “She would go out of her way to do anything for anybody, and she would get mad when everyone else wasn’t like that.”
That selflessness came in many forms, whether it was surprising someone on a birthday, or cooking someone a special treat, or simply cheering someone up who was feeling down. She knew how to resolve others’ issues because she had faced so many of her own.
“She always wanted you to feel special, because you were, and I always felt that way around her,” said Krista’s brother, Peder Garland.
She was the type of girl who made people want to return the favor, such as Dennis did when he organized her surprise birthday by inviting her family and friends (some which live in Tucson) to Phoenix to celebrate over dinner. Krista’s mom was one of the first to arrive.
“The look on (Krista’s) face,” Dennis paused, “It was just the best feeling to surprise her… to see the look on her face and love for her mom. It was the love she had for everyone.”
“That was the best birthday she had,” added Landers. “She always said that. And, it was her last one, so it was fitting it was her best one ever.”
She is remembered for acting as an advocate for people who suffered from the same disease as she did.
She knew the routine with Crohn’s, and she knew others who had it were often too afraid to speak up or make their circumstances known.
Krista acted as their voice by letting people with digestive issues know they weren’t paranoid – there was legitimacy to their symptoms. She would set up people with dietary guidelines that had worked for her, or refer them to her gastroenterologist, or attend support groups and in turn connect others to those same groups.
“You don’t really see anything about (Crohn’s) on TV or anywhere, and I’d never heard of it prior to her,” said Peder. “She just kind of carried that with everybody that she ever met, and always helped them out that way… I never expected she was dying because of how strong she was. It’s hard for me to understand, and she hid it really well from me. All she’d ever tell me is her stomach hurt, but now that I look back on it, she was really, really sick, and I had no idea.”
She is remembered for her quirkiness; her random outbursts from the backseat of a car during road trips, her innocent inappropriateness, her piggyback rides, and her botched impressions of Chewbacca, or Batman, or Kermit the Frog.
She was the funniest person she knew – but not due to ego.
Her heart was bigger than her laugh.
She’s remembered for that laugh.
It’s a laugh that can still be heard these days – if not through imitation or by Krista herself in a goofy Facebook rap video, then in the minds and memories of the family and friends with whom she shared so many experiences.
“She would slap her leg, and throw her head back really hard, and she just thought she was the funniest person in the whole entire world, but it was the best laugh ever,” said Landers.
“It was really obnoxious,” Peder said, smiling. “It was so loud and so genuine that you couldn’t help but look at it and be like, ‘That person is having the best time of their life.’”
Her famous, maniacal laugh, which was enough in itself to instigate a chain effect of chuckles from others, was also a metaphor for the individual Krista was – unreserved, unfiltered, loud, goofy, carefree, youthful, and lovable.
She is remembered.