Spoken at Sasha's Funeral by Dr. Ivan York on behalf of Sandy Rios

No child was more longed for or anticipated than Sasha Rios. Pregnant in Berlin, Germany, where Willie was stationed with the U.S. Army, one night I had a powerful dream that a little girl with dark hair and eyes was standing by the bed.

I was seven months pregnant when I returned to the States to my parents' home. Since difficult labors were a tradition in the family, it certainly wasn't the birth itself I had longed for. I prayed that God would give me courage and in the early morning hours of July 17th, 1974, I awoke to the signs. I felt no fear, just the strong presence of God and an assurance and steadfastness that never left me that day.

"I've seen Him in the lightening...heard Him in the thunder, and felt Him in the rain. My Lord is near me all the time, my Lord is near me all the time." That was the song playing over and over in my head and the one I sang all the way to the hospital in the darkness of the morning with a sliver of a brand new moon shining overhead.

The labor was no disappointment. It was long and difficult. My mother sat by my side praying, holding my hand and reading scripture. After many hours of intense pain, the doctor, who I had not seen all day, delivered her with forceps.

He came to see me the next day and apologized twice...for what I didn't know.

She was 7 pounds, 13 ounces, lots of dark hair and I was elated.

Willie returned from Berlin when she was a few weeks old and we moved to Eastern Illinois University where he would earn his Master's degree. One morning as I was nursing Sasha, her body stiffened and began to jerk. We rushed her to the emergency room. We were told she probably choked on something. Twelve grand mal seizures and two more emergency room visits later, we took her to another town with a larger facility.

A few weeks later, we were on our way to St. Louis Children's Hospital. She was three months old, her head had been shaved and her little lifeless body told me instinctively that in some tangible way, I had lost my baby.

The next months were difficult...uncontrollable seizures, repeated hospitalizations. On her first birthday her fever spiked to 106 and her seizures grew so violent she turned blue. I gave her CPR and once again we rushed to emergency. As my father paced with her in the ER, I realized I felt nothing. After months of sleepless nights and endless tears, I was frozen. When my father, mother and sister came into the hospital room, I knew instinctively what we had to do. Emotionless, I bowed my head and prayed a simple prayer: "Father, I don't understand...but I trust You." It was a turning point in my spiritual life...a perspective that marked me for the years to come.

As Sasha grew, she was a delight. She was beautiful, effervescent…she could say a few words, giggle, match pitches. She loved music and people. She loved to repeatedly kick her right foot so hard that her shoe would fly off. She did it so often, she managed to break the foot rest on her small chair. She sang in church when it wasn't time to sing, forcing me to place my hand over her little mouth to stifle the sweet sound. I dressed her like a baby doll and we loved…loved…loved her. Meanwhile her body continued to be racked with endless bouts of seizures, fevers and infections. Countless hospitalizations ensued and the ravages of the brain damage took its course.

It was in this church that we lifted her up the stairs each week and into the old sanctuary. She sat in the pew or laid on a blanket when she was weak, but she was a part of this church family in the deepest sense. Most Sundays, I found myself struggling to cope and the members of this church…our church family surrounded her and us with such sustaining love, it would not be an exaggeration to say I could not have made it without them.

One of those Sunday afternoons, when she was eight, she lay very sick in her bed and in despair, I sat in the living room and wrote the song that was later to be the title of my first album. It was important to me to be honest. To NOT write trite, simple platitudes claiming false strength and faith. In that moment, I wasn't sure I could endure another moment, much less the years ahead. The song was entitled "Sasha's Song."

We cared for Sasha at home for 20 years. Sadly , Willie and I divorced and for the last three of those years, Jeremy, who loved her so, helped me lift and feed her.

When the call from Marklund came that there was a room for her, I was in the car, on my way to WYLL to do my radio show. The thought of her leaving us was so overwhelming, I couldn't even speak. Two weeks later, we packed her things and she left our home forever.

For the next 15 years, the Marklund staff lovingly tended to Sasha. Five years ago, she contracted a deadly infection which resulted in a six hour surgery to remove parts of her stomach and intestines. Only a blast of steroids and powerful antibiotics saved her. She lost her hair and her body ballooned, but the constant care of Dr. Bednar and the staff of Marklund saved her life once again.

For the past few years, she had been in the best health of her entire life. She enjoyed a beautiful room overlooking a lovely red barn. The room was purple and pink and it was a joy to visit and love her at last, in peaceful circumstances.

That's why it was a shock to us that she passed away that Saturday morning, the day after her birthday. But overwhelmed by the goodness and mercy of God that after so many traumatic life-threatening incidences, her passing was peaceful.

We thank God for that.

Sasha was the source of inspiration for me. She taught me patience and perseverance and God used her to build an unshakeable faith that has been the foundation of the many tasks He has laid before me. I know how God has used her brokenness to instruct me, but the mystery of the meaning of her suffering in her own life remains. I don't understand, but I trust Him.

"Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly, abundantly above all that we could ask or think, to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen!"