During the summer of 2015, a beautiful and sweet young girl captured the attention and hearts of many residents in Pettis County and the surrounding communities and although many had never met her personally, the life and passing of Aracely “Cely” Gonzalez became a lesson for others in the dignity of a life taken far too soon.
Cely was the 9-year-old daughter of Kimberly Gonzalez and Pettis County Sheriff’s Deputy Javier Gonzalez whose life changed dramatically June 1, 2015, when she was diagnosed with a PNET (primitative neurectodermal) tumor of the brain.
Gonzalez spent 264 days in the hospital facing numerous surgeries and rounds of chemotherapy and treatment before her death Feb. 20.
Now her parents, her two older sisters, Claudia and Marcella, and her extended family and friends are trying to learn how to live with the loss of Cely.
“In her nine years Cely taught us a lot and she made us better people,” her mother, Kim Gonzalez, said. “I know we can learn to live with missing her but sometimes the pain is so unbearable.
“As a parent all you want is for your child not to suffer,” Gonzalez added. “And even though Cely is no longer in pain and she got her healing, this isn’t what we would have wanted in any way at all. Javier and I both realize that now we have two daughters who are suffering and are in pain because their sister is gone.”
Gonzalez said that for both she and her husband, their daughters are their No. 1 priority commenting that she and her husband have to keep going for them because their lives are so very important.
Both older sisters did not miss any school until the last week of Cely’s life when the staff at the University of Missouri-Columbia Women’s and Children’s Hospital, where Cely was treated, provided the family with an adjoining room so they could be close to her.
During the summer, the family spent a great deal of time at the Ronald McDonald House in Columbia but during the almost nine months of Gonzalez’s stay in the hospital, Kim Gonzalez never left her youngest daughter’s side.
Gonzalez is a nurse who added that she and the family were extremely grateful to the doctors, nurses and the entire staff at MU who cared for Cely.
“The doctors there were so good, and they gave us their all,” Gonzalez said. “We watched them fight every minute for Cely and we are so grateful for that.
“When the end came, it came very quickly and it was peaceful,” she added. “As much as we were all suffering, we knew we had to put our feelings and heartbreak aside for her.”
Gonzalez spoke of how peaceful her daughter was in the end and how proud the family is of Cely and her courage.
“In the end I just held her in my arms and told her how proud of her we were (and we still are),” Gonzalez said softly. “When I looked at her all we could see was the love in her eyes.
“She was always such a brave little girl and probably one of the happiest little girls in the world,” she said. “She was nice to everyone and she loved her family and friends, the Girl Scouts, horses and her dog, Lulu.”
Gonzalez added that Cely could be “ornery, but it was a good ornery.”
“You could always tell what she was thinking by looking in her eyes,” Gonzalez said. “Sometimes when she was especially tired in the hospital after a treatment or a procedure and she was unable to speak to the nurses she would close her eyes as if to say to them, ‘nope, I’m done with this for now.’
“Even at the end she was always sharp with her mind,” she added. “She was always so active and hard on herself to do everything right, I don’t think she could have accepted the life she may have had to face after all she had been through.”
The uncertainty of not knowing what the future held for their daughter and sister was difficult on the family but it was something they were prepared to face.
“We wish so desperately that she were still here with us, of course, but we wouldn’t have changed anything other than our loss,” Gonzalez said. “We worked together and this brought us together as a family and I am so proud of us.
“Javier and I look to Claudia and Marcella and we go off their wants and needs,” Gonzalez said. “If they want to talk about anything we talk to them and we are honest with them when they have questions.
“We tell them all the time we will get through this and we’ll do it together as a family,” she added. “The three of them were the best of friends and really were close so we will do what they ask to help them however we can.”
Helping others is one way the family has begun to work through the difficult days ahead.
Gonzalez said many times there was no possible way the family could repay everyone for the kindness and support the family received and continues to be shown by others.
“So many people have reached out to help us and offer a shoulder to lean on or an ear to listen,” Gonzalez said. “We have been surrounded by so many good friends and family and there are so many good people in this community.
“I doubt if people can understand how much that has meant to all of us,” she added. “People truly are good and are willing to help others when they are in need.”
Gonzalez said she was grateful when she first returned to her work and began to leave the house to see so many cars with the blue “Super Cely” stickers, which became a symbol for the Hope for Aracely Foundation that was created earlier this year by members of the Pettis County Sheriff’s Department.
The foundation, established in an effort to raise funds to assist the Gonzalez family with Cely’s medical expenses, continues to help the families of others who serve in public safety in a time of need.
Javier Gonzalez is also forming a “Super Cely” team to participate in this summer’s Pettis County Relay for Life on June 10.
The loss of his daughter has been difficult for Javier Gonzalez because Cely was a “daddy’s girl” who wanted to grow up to be like her father.
“Cely always wanted to make us proud,” Gonzalez added near the end of speaking with the Democrat. “Cely wasn’t a big fan of the color pink, I was the one who liked it.
“But, she would always wear pink for me,” Gonzalez quietly added. “When we chose her casket and the flowers for her service I picked a pink one for her, she would have expected that of me.”
Gonzalez added that in Cely’s fight to live and her death Cely did not lose her battle; she won.
“When I am down, I remember, and we all do, that she was such a happy little girl,” Gonzalez said. “She would always try to make us smile.
“This hurts so much, but Cely always thought that life was good no matter what she was up against,” she added. “We all have so much to be grateful for even though it may not seem that way at times.”
She added that when their daughters were younger she and her husband would talk about how they wished their girls could stay little forever.
“Javier and I always said that we didn’t want our girls to grow up,” Gonzalez said. “Now we hope and pray that our oldest daughters have the chance to grow old; we want that for them so much.”
When asked the lessons that Cely had taught the family Gonzalez said there were three main things they will keep with them forever.
“For Cely it was always simple,” Gonzalez said. “Appreciate life, be kind, and love each other always.”
Hope Lecchi can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext 1484