Community remembers life of Sara Grace Keeling with balloon release

Published 8:54 am Thursday, November 9, 2017

Sara Grace Keeling’s love of bubbles will never leave Elizabethton.

Friends and family of the Keeling met on Don Whitson Lane Thursday afternoon to celebrate Sara Grace’s fourth birthday near her and her mother’s gravesite with a balloon release and bubbles.

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Sara Grace and her mother, Dana, lost their lives during an apartment fire at Pine Ridge Circle on Nov. 16 of last year.

A whirlwind of a year stalled for a moment, as Emma Grindstaff, Sara Grace’s grandmother and Dana’s mother, took a moment to reflect on her loved ones – and Sara’s love of the “magical” bubbles.

“Every year for Sara’s birthday, she’d say ‘Gammy, we have to have the big jug of bubbles,’ so I would go buy the big jug of bubbles, and she’d blow bubbles until she was blue in the face,” Grindstaff said with a chuckle. “It’s a tradition. She loved them. She said they were magic.”

A little over one month, family and friends celebrated what would have been Dana’s 21st birthday at the gravesite with a similar celebration. Grindstaff added she’s looking at keeping the tradition going each year to remember their lives.

Even at a young age, Grindstaff knew her granddaughter was special, and it was quickly realized through the outpouring of support from residents.

“We want her to know that we love her,” Grindstaff said. “She was only three when she passed, but she touched a lot of lives in this world. I’m so grateful for the community. There have been so many people that have come out and talked about what type of impact Sara and Dana have made in their lives. But there has been so much support. I can’t say how thankful I am for it.”

Dana and Sara’s story has also reached a region level. Grindstaff talked about a recent trip to the Bristol flea market, where she got in contact with an airbrush t-shirt designer. While talking with Grindstaff, the designer learned that Grindstaff was Dana and Sara Grace’s relative and provided her a shirt as a way to remember their lives.

“It was just wonderful,” she said while wearing the shirt. “A lady I didn’t know cared that much.”

The memory of the late Keelings will continue as the American Red Cross will host their second annual blood drive Dec. 23 at Hunter First Baptist Church.

Donating was a passion for Dana, according to Grindstaff. She alluded to the fact that five lives were saved thanks to organs being donated from Sara Grace and Dana.

As the anniversary of the incident inches closer, Grindstaff said she attempted ligation over the past year due to the nature of the house fire. According to Grindstaff, no judge would hear the case due to state and federal documents stating smoke alarms were active, which she stated was not the case by her own findings.

Grindstaff added she hopes raising awareness about the issue can ensure additional safety measures can be taken to address potential fires at agency complexes.

“I would like to see the City of Elizabethton Housing step up with fire escapes, fire extinguishers and to make it safe for the people that live up there. We don’t need any more lives taken because of no way out,” Grindstaff said.