The bond between two close friends is undeniable. For Kaleb Klakulak and Kenneth “K.J.” Gross, it’s a bond that that was cut short before they were ready to say goodbye.
The two boys met in the second grade and immediately became good friends.
Years earlier, however, K.J. was diagnosed with leukemia when he was only an infant and spent much of his life in the hospital.
Nevertheless, the two friends enjoyed just being together, playing video games and watching TV in K.J.’s hospital room.
On May 1, K.J. died of congestive heart failure. He was only 12.
After K.J. passed away, his mother LaSondra “San” Singleton could not afford a headstone, so Kaleb decided he needed to step in and help.
He wanted to say goodbye to his friend in the most honorable of ways and give him a proper headstone at his unmarked grave.
So, Kaleb decided he would raise the money for a gravestone by doing some odd jobs and collecting soda bottles that he could recycle for money.
At only 12 years old, Klakulak had a plan and a goal. He wanted to raise enough money to buy a gravestone for K.J.’s grave by Christmas.
“I love Ms. San,” he told The Detroit News. “I was sad she couldn’t afford it. I wanted people to be able to find (K.J.’s grave) when they went to see him.”
Kaleb’s mother, Kristy Hall, helped her son set up a PayPal account and post the fundraiser on Facebook. “If you have bottles or odd jobs that Kaleb can do to earn money he would greatly appreciate that,” the post read.
“I really think this is a great thing for Kaleb to focus on and help him with his healing as well as K.J.’s mom, who misses her baby and has to visit an unmarked grave.”
To Kaleb’s delight, donations and bottles came pouring in.
Singleton was overwhelmed by the heartfelt gesture.
“My son’s not here, but (Kaleb) still loves my son enough to (do) this,” she tearfully told The Detroit News. “It just speaks volumes to the type of people that they are, and it speaks to the type of person that K.J. was — he impacted people to where they want to do this for him.”
Singleton had quit her job as a school cafeteria worker when K.J. was hospitalized in January, but returned to work at Madison Heights High School in September. Even with the job, money was tight, as she also cared for her mother who has Alzheimer’s disease.
When Kaleb surprised Singleton with the $900 he had raised so far, she was emotional, sobbing into her hands before giving Klakulak the longest and tightest hug she could.
Singleton told The Detroit News about K.J. and Kaleb’s special friendship.
“K.J. used to come home every day telling me about Kaleb: ‘Mom, you’ve got to meet Kaleb; you’ve got to meet Kaleb,'” she recalled. “At the end of the school year, I finally met Kaleb. Then I met his mom, and we all just clicked.”
“He and K.J. were so much alike,” she explained. “They were kindred spirits; they were like brothers. Even their facial features were alike — the glasses and everything.”
After chemotherapy took its toll on K.J., he developed congestive heart failure. He was in and out of the hospital for the next three years with heart issues, but his spirits were always high.
“He was always smiling,” Singleton told The Detroit News. “He could tell if you were going through something, and he’d come up to you and say, ‘It’s going to be OK.”
But, unfortunately, K.J.’s condition did not improve, and he was in need of a heart transplant. He was admitted to Children’s Hospital in Detroit on Jan. 7. That was the last time that K.J and Kaleb would be together.
“Before he went in, we knew it was going to be long-term,” Singleton told The Detroit News. “I moved in there with him.”
Kaleb was allowed to visit with K.J. in his hospital room, despite the usual age limits.
”Kaleb was too young to go into the ICU, but the doctor made an exception … because he thought K.J. needed his best friend,” Singleton told The Detroit News.
Finally, the day came when K.J. was unable to hold on any longer, and he was taken off life support.
“After he had passed and San had some time alone with him we were able to go in the room and see him,” Kaleb’s mother told The Detroit News. “He was tube free. He was a beautiful angel.”
K.J’s death hit Kaleb extremely hard.
“We left and Kaleb began throwing up from a migraine. This was his first experience with the death of anyone close to him.”
Singleton told The Detroit News that her son “went peacefully. He was ready to go … God wanted him back.”
K.J.’s funeral was held at Emmanuel Missionary Baptist, and the young boy was buried in a family plot, where Kaleb would soon place the gravestone he had worked so hard to earn for his best friend.
While the loss of her son was devastating for Singleton, Kaleb and his family are helping her get through the grieving process.
“They’re amazing people,” she told The Detroit News. “When you just think that the world is in such a bad place, and everybody is so angry, and there’s so much hatred … they make you think of things differently.”
For Kaleb, he’ll continue to cherish the memory of his buddy, holding tight to their time together.
Klakulak has reached his goal to raise enough money for a gravestone for K.J. and is continuing to raise money for the Gross family for a few more weeks. Donations can be sent here.
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