“It’s the hardest thing to deal with, is losing a child.”

Kristina Labath wears the ashes of her son on a necklace – the last Mother’s Day gift he ever gave her. She remembers well a seemingly innocuous visit that resulted in her son’s death. He was visiting a friend.

Bill at a birthday party (photo: Kristina Labath)

“They were sitting there having a drink and the house just got shot up.”

Her son, Bill, who was 31, was pronounced clinically dead on Dec. 10, 2018. A man and two juveniles were accused of his homicide.

“I went to every court date,” Labath says. “I was there to support my son and what we lost.”

Now, years later, Kristina Labath is frustrated when she learns when some of the suspects continue to have brushes with the law, noting one in particular who has been arrested again recently.

“No wonder he keeps breaking the law. Nothing ever happens to him,” she said.

Meanwhile, she keeps Bill’s memory alive by staying close to his wife, Jessica, who was his high school sweetheart, and their kids who were 6, 9 and 10 when they lost their father.

Bill and his children (photo: Kristina Labath)

‘Jessica has done an amazing job with those kids, considering the life that she has been dealt with,” Labath says. “Those kids are amazing.”

She remembers throwing a party on the first birthday that Bill was gone. His children wrote messages on lanterns that honored Bill’s memory.

“Billy wrote on his lantern how much he missed (his father) and that he’s kept his promise and always will, to take care of his mom and his brother and sister,” Labath remembers.

Labath finds even more comfort in the friendship of Terrell Howard, a special kind of family member she met after Bill’s death.

Terrell Howard (photo: Eric Olsen)

“I have her son’s kidney that was donated to me back in 2018. I spent six years on dialysis and was waiting for a kidney transplant. Being that I have a rare blood type, it took about six years for me to get that transplant. And he was the donor,” Howard said.

A welder, Howard was at work when the phone call came.

“I really don’t answer my phone at work,” he said. “But something told me to answer the phone, and it was Iowa City on the other line. They said, ‘We’ve got a kidney for you.'”

His wife, meanwhile, put two and two together when she saw the tragic news about a young Quad City man who was shot and taken to Iowa City. At a benefit for Bill’s family, Terrell Howard met the mother of the man who gave him a new life.

“We’ve been in touch ever since,” he said.

“It’s nice to know he was able to carry on with his family through Bill,” Labath said.

“It’s definitely been a life-changing experience for me. I get to spend a lot of quality time with my grandkids,” Howard said.

He has a request for anyone who hears his story: Consider being an organ donor.

“If you are considering it, go ahead and do it. You’re not going to miss your organs once you’re gone. You’re changing people’s lives.”

As does this friendship, born out of tragedy, that makes a mother’s loss more bearable on Mother’s Day.

Bill and Kristina (photo: Kristina Labath)