Nearly three years after burying his daughter, Ron Cantrell cherishes a moment they shared and the phrase they repeated countless times.
Cantrell said when his daughter, Kristin Renee, was 2, he would hold her on his lap and teach her how to say “I love you” one word at a time.
Once Kristin mastered those three words, Ron asked: “How much do you love daddy?”
Since she was 2, Kristin could have said nothing.
Instead, she answered: “Up to the sky.”
Tears filled her father’s eyes.
“It’s been with us forever,” he said.
Now, more than 40 years later, the Cantrell family is hosting the inaugural Up to the Sky Golf Tournament to raise money for the Kristin Renee Cantrell Hill Endowment Fund at Atrium Medical Center Foundation. Last year, the family created an endowment to provide funding for care and program assistance for neurology patients with brain tumors and provide scholarships to nursing students at Ohio University with preferences given to a Badin High School graduate, when possible.
Cantrell said it’s important to keep his daughter’s “memory and legacy alive.”
The Cantrell family is a cruel reminder how bad things can happen to good people. And, more importantly, how people should be judged by how they positively react to tragedy.
Cantrell Hill, a 1996 Badin graduate who earned her nursing degree from Ohio University, died Dec. 7, 2020, 17 days after being diagnosed with an aggressive, inoperable brain tumor known as glioblastoma. She had just turned 43 with four children.
In November 2020, Kristin, who was struggling to walk and talk, was taken to the emergency room for a CAT scan.
“She knew something was wrong,” her father said.
Tests showed the tumor was attached to the stem of Kristin’s brain. Radiation and chemotherapy treatments were options, but the family was told she’d probably die within the year.
Ron let his daughter make the decision. She chose no treatment.
After several days in the hospital, Kristin was transferred to Hospice of Hamilton. Ron said his daughter had constant visitors, and at one time, 60 of her co-workers from TriHealth’s Good Samaritan and Bethesda North hospitals sat in the lounge.
When a hospice official said some of the visitors had to leave, Ron responded: “You tell them to leave.” No one left.
On one of her final days, Ron said he “tried my best not to get emotional” around his daughter.
“I knew that would kill her,” he said.
Then he placed his head on her chest, and wept uncontrollably.
“Lost it,” he said.
Kristin put her hands on top of his.
“She was comforting me,” he said.
“That was the nurse in her,” said Craig Cantrell, her brother.
On Dec. 7, 2020, Ron walked into his daughter’s room. He called in a hospice nurse who confirmed she had died. Ron slowly closed her eyes, his last gesture as her father.
“She didn’t suffer,” he said fighting back tears. “It gives me comfort knowing she didn’t suffer.”
Her visitation and funeral were held at Sacred Heart Church during the height of COVID-19. That didn’t stop the more than 150 mourners from attending. Cantrell greeted them all, though he can’t remember more than five, he said.
“My brain just wasn’t working,” he said.
Kristin helped plan her funeral. She wanted “Samurai Cop (Oh Joy Begin),” a Dave Matthews song, played at her funeral. It’s about the walk through life.
“Let’s not forget these early days
Remember we begin the same
We lose our way in fear and pain”
Cantrell Hill is survived by her husband, parents, four children and two brothers.
Toward the end of the interview, Cantrell reached into a box of personalized golf balls and pulled one out.
It read: “Up to the sky.”
How to go
WHAT: Up to the Sky Golf Tournament
WHEN: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Oct. 7
WHERE: Fairfield Golf Course, 2200 John Gray Road
COST: $125 per player/$500 foursome
HOW TO REGISTER: golfforkristin.givesmart.com
MORE: Event benefits the Kristin Renee Cantrell Hill Endowment Fund at the Atrium Medical Center Foundation