A compelling story like Sean and Kasity’s requires only for me to get out of its way. This was published July 5, 2012.
CISCO — I Love You Always. It’s their daughter’s name.
The name isn’t the entire expression, of course. Her parents, Sean and Kasity Grose, shortened the phrase into an acronym, pronounced “eye-Lee-ya”.
But if you take the time, you’ll learn 3-year-old Ilya’s name isn’t simply a declaration of parental love, but a clue to what led them to Cisco to open a coffee shop.
“My wife and I, we met after college,” Sean said. “We fell in love and got married, had a kid and filled the spot in society we were trained to do.”
They became teachers in a small town outside of Lubbock called Meadow. In 2010 they learned Kasity was pregnant with their second child, another girl.
As they awaited her arrival, they settled on the name “Waverly,” the name of Princess Buttercup’s baby from their favorite book, “The Princess Bride”.
But something happened.
“Time was coming toward having that baby and we lost —,” his voice faltered, then picked up. “We lost her before she was born.”
Swirling his coffee, he lifts a hand to forestall the customary response.
“A lot of people say, ‘Oh, I’m sorry,'” he said. “But I say, ‘Hear the whole story.'”
He’s told the story to anyone who would listen, but it’s still not an easy one to tell. Emotion clouds his voice occasionally, a redness coloring the edge of his eyes when it happens.
“What’s tragic is not ‘tragedy’. What’s tragic is what people do in response to tragedy,” he said. “When you’re shaken to your knees and you don’t get up.”
It was the week before school was to start. Sean said they didn’t have the time to mourn and plowed through the year as best they could. Waverly’s death was a mystery.
“The doctor had said we might not ever know what was really wrong,” Kasity said. “It’s just one of those things that happens.”
It was a difficult year and at the end they took a month off, staying at the Cisco farm owned by Kasity’s grandparents where they had wed.
They used the month for prayer and as a chance to re-examine their lives.
“A conscious effort to stop our unconscious life,” Sean called it. “A conscious effort to not just wake up like we always do, eat like we always do, go where we always go. But to be more disciplined in silencing ourselves and listening to God, whatever that means for anybody.”
He likened it to the creeks where he grew up in central Texas.
“You walk in the creek, it’s going to muddy up. That might be crystal clear, spring-fed water but if it’s muddy, you’re not going to see,” he said. “That’s what daily life can do to your deeper being.”
As those waters cleared, what became apparent was how much of Ilya’s life they were missing. The baby sitter spent more time with her than they did.
What to do about it, though, was a mystery.
That’s where faith came in.
“Not the blind following of what you don’t know,” Sean said. “But hoping for things you cannot know. I sure hoped something would come up.”
Something did. A chance conversation with a Chamber of Commerce official sparked the idea for the coffee shop and eventually a path for funding it.
Sean and Kasity finished the school year at Meadow, traveling to Cisco on weekends to renovate the building they purchased. The former bank at 610 Conrad Hilton Blvd. is renowned for saving the lives of five people who dashed into its vault during the 1893 tornado. The cyclone destroyed the original building and much of the town.
A family member asked Sean why they were doing this, giving up their comfortable lives in Meadow, a home filled with “stuff,” for the uncertainty of a new business.
“For family,” was his reply.
“There is no way you’re going to have more family time,” the family member said.
“No, I didn’t say ‘more family time.’ I said ‘for family,'” Sean said.
Even though they worked in the same school, Sean and Kasity only saw each other for 30 minutes a day. He said the shop is a little different; even if they’re working, they can still see each other.
“For this to work, it’s going to require us working together as a family,” he said. “I love this woman so
much that I’m going to do everything I can to make sure our relationship is an example to our daughter, that she can look for and find success in.”
An art teacher, Kasity said she hopes to start classes in the space above the shop as they settle in more. There is still some renovation to be done upstairs, the three of them are using it as their home for now.
“You can make anything beautiful,” Kasity said. “We put a lot of time and love into the building. And a lot of prayer, because getting this building was a miracle, we just knew this was where we needed to be.” They named their shop Waverly’s because of the perspective her death showed them.
“I don’t know how much time I have; I want to look at Sean and say he is mine or look at Ilya and say she is mine,” Kasity said. “But they’re not. I have to know they are a blessing in my life at the time I have it.”
It’s a lesson they both repeat. Not out of fear or sorrow, but from an openness of the heart. From realizing what separates the important from the trivial.
“I don’t want on my tombstone ‘He was a great teacher,’ I don’t want on my tombstone ‘He was a great man in the community.'” said Sean. “I want everyone to agree ‘He was a man who loved his family.'”