Stephanie Culley already had three children of her own. But as her good friend lay dying, she agreed to take on six more.
“I wanted her to live so much,” the Virginia woman said through tears. “No mother ever deserved to live and raise her kids as much as her. I mean, they needed her,” she told CBS News.
Beth Laitkep was a single mother to six children. She lost her battle with breast cancer last month. But before her death, she asked Culley for a life-changing favor.
“She never worried about herself. She was never worried about anything but them,” Culley said. “And she looked at me and she said, ‘Can you do this for me? Can you do this?’’’
And Culley did. Just like that, Laitkep’s children, ranging in age from 2 to 15, moved into the Culley family home, where three children became nine children accompanied by more noise, more laundry and more mouths to feed.
But no one’s complaining.
“It’s been actually easier than anyone ever would have expected because we all have each other and it just feels like home,” said Laitkep’s 14-year-old daughter, Selena. She, too, began to weep, her grief at losing her mother still fresh.
“She was a really good mom and I know we meant everything to her,” the teenager said.
Culley says thoughts about her recently departed friend are always near. “She used to joke and say that ‘When one of them’s acting up, and you don’t see it, I’m going to be tapping you on the shoulder,’’’ Culley said.
She feels that tap every day.
“We’re grieving, but we know she’s with us… I’m not a saint. I’m not an angel. I’m not a hero,” Culley said. “I just love these kids. To walk in the door and see all of them in the living room, dancing and playing and happy, that’s what it’s all about.”