A Mom's Farewell

Erin died at 4 a.m. on Oct. 31, 1998. "I went over to pick up Peyton from her friend's house," said Doug. "And I remember driving back to the house, and there were tears ... and before I could get the car stopped, Peyton jumped out of the door and ran into the house. She kept on running from room to room, just making sure that it was true that Erin was gone."

Then, Peyton was 6 years old. In March 2006, she will turn 14, having grown into a young woman with blossoming talents in both art and writing. "I remember the first room I went to was her bedroom," Peyton said. "It's where we had conversations after school ... and when she wasn't there and the sheets were off the bed, I just knew that she wasn't going to be there again."

Preparing Her Daughter for Boys -- and New 'Mom'

Both Peyton and her father went through a long period of grief.

"At times, I would go up and she would be in her closet, in her bedroom, and she was crying," Doug said. "And sometimes I wasn't prepared to know what to say, how to comfort her and have the right things to say. That was hard."

But Peyton had her mother's tapes. They were full of a lifetime of advice and messages tailored to when Peyton was ready to hear them as she grew older.

They include virtually every type of motherly counsel -- from makeup hints to tips on establishing good credit to how to deal with boys. ("Do not ever let a boy pressure you into sex or anything else you do not wish to do.")

"I just like having her input on what's OK and what's not OK as the years progress," Peyton said.

There was something else in the tapes, beyond what Erin Kramp wanted to say to her daughter. It was a sense of who Erin was -- her expressions, her laugh, her drive, her personality.

"She talks a lot about herself, and I get a sense of her personality and how funny she was ... And I just know who she is. And that's a great feeling."

"I just love to see the passion," said Doug. "I love to see the love that she had for Peyton. It's just awesome."

Among the issues that came up after Erin's death was Peyton's request that Doug not marry again. "I made it very clear," Peyton said. "I didn't want someone to come and replace her. I just didn't want anyone else."

Erin had anticipated that too.

In a tape to be played when the question arose, she said, "I want you to know that I would very much bless Daddy remarrying if he is given that opportunity. Because I know at that time you would be hesitant and would say, 'Well, what does Mom think?' Or, 'Would this be my second Mom? Should I call her Mom? How would Mom feel if I called her Mom?' I feel fine about it, because I'll always be your real Mom."

'I Just Know That She Loved Me'

In 2003, four-and-a-half years after Erin's death, Doug did remarry. Cheryl Kramp is a former pharmaceutical representative who gave up her career to care for Peyton and the two boys she and Doug have had since their marriage. Cheryl is keenly aware of how much that message from Erin has meant.

"It was really good for Peyton," she said. "And it was good for Doug, especially in that Peyton then felt the freedom to be able to accept and embrace me without the guilt, because Erin did give her blessing ... to call me Mom. And I think it gave [Peyton] the freedom to do that. I think that's enhanced our relationship."

Peyton took to heart the extraordinary example that Erin had set. On the day that Cheryl and Doug were engaged, Peyton wrote a message to Cheryl.

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