'She was my heart'

Fundraiser to benefit Oceanside High School alumna who died at 22

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Rachel Geraghty can still remember the excitement in her daughter’s voice during their last conversation.

Kaitlin Geraghty, 22, told her mother on FaceTime just after midnight on Dec. 19 that she was excited to be coming home to Oceanside for the holidays from Washington, D.C., where she was studying at the Washington College of Law at American University and working for Sonder — a company similar to Airbnb that rents rooms.

Kaitlin died later that morning.

“She was in a very good mood and she sounded fantastic,” her mother recalled, noting that they chatted via FaceTime daily. “So I feel good knowing that she was feeling good, but you’re like, wow, so she was feeling so good, why did this happen?”

Rachel said that she tried calling her daughter many times the next day, but she didn’t pick up. So she called the landlord of Kaitlin’s building, who found her unresponsive and called the police. Rachel later received a call from a detective, who told her that Kaitlin had died. The cause of death is still being investigated, but Rachel said that her daughter suffered from epilepsy and had her first grand mal episode — a type of seizure that causes a loss of consciousness and violent muscle contractions — in October.

To help Rachel with the funeral costs, the Oceanside community has rallied to support her. Mothers of Kaitlin’s former classmates at Ocean-side School No. 3 — Barbara Boschert, Shae Santamaria, Ellen Weber and Helene Carey — are planning a fundraiser on Jan. 19 from 7 to 10 p.m. at J. Paul’s Terrace Café, at 239 Merrick Road in Oceanside. Those who wish to eat are encouraged to arrive by 6 p.m. for seating, and the event is cash-only. The fundraiser will also have raffles. Portions of the proceeds will help Rachel with funeral costs and other expenses.

“I can’t imagine what Rachel is going through,” said Boschert, whose son, Brian, went to school with Kaitlin. “Just being able to do something to help her helps my heart. It helps me to cope because what happened to her is the unimaginable.”

Kaitlin was born on Nov. 15, 1996, and got involved in the community at a young age. Rachel and her husband, Richard, separated when Kaitlin was 5, and Rachel said she formed a close bond with her only child. “We were best friends,” she said. “She was my heart. She was the reason I woke up in the morning. She was the reason I walked this earth. Everything I did, I did for her.”

Rachel and Kaitlin lived together in a one-bedroom apartment for eight years, and Rachel worked three jobs, eventually saving enough money to purchase a house in Oceanside. Boschert said she has fond memories of Rachel hosting pizza and movie nights for Kaitlin and her classmates.

At Oceanside High School, Kaitlin joined the Best Buddies Club, and took special-needs students to movies and for pizza. She also worked at Camp ANCHOR, which is geared toward those with special needs.

“She was always very passionate about helping people who had physical and mental disabilities,” Rachel said. “She always really fell for them.”

Kaitlin graduated from Oceanside High in 2014 with an advanced Regents diploma with honors. While there, she was a member of the Key Club and the National Honor Society and assisted in many community charity fundraisers, including Oceanside Kiwanis events.

Because of her impact on the school community, the Kaitlin Geraghty Memorial Scholarship fund was created in her honor, and a scholarship will be given to a student each year in her memory starting with the 2019-20 school year. Rachel is talking with Sandie Schoell of the Oceanside Board of Education about creating a committee to further the scholarship.

Kaitlin was known for her passion for helping others, as well as her fondness for travel and politics. She visited Spain while in high school, and studied in Dublin, Ireland, one summer while in college. She also spent a semester studying in Australia, where she interned for former Attorney General John Dodd of New South Wales, and traveled to Paris, London and New Zealand. Rachel said her daughter was also known for her love of Harry Potter and sitcoms such as “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation.”

Kaitlin graduated from Boston University with a bachelor’s degree in political science and a minor in special education. She wanted to become a lawyer to defend those in need, Rachel said, including individuals with mental and physical disabilities, transgender people and immigrants.

While at Boston University, Kaitlin interned for Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who sent flowers to her family after she died. She also served as the student vice president of the College of Arts and Sciences, was chairwoman of the Committee for Class Gift and spoke at graduation along with civil rights leader and U.S. Representative John Lewis and the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, Carmen Yulín Cruz Soto. In addition, she was a valued member and leader of Alpha Phi Omega sorority and started the Democracy Matters club, a group dedicated to advocating for and to bringing together individuals, regardless of political ideology or party affiliation.

Her childhood friend Tim Rubino said he became close with her when she moved to Oceanside during fifth grade. The two joined the Key Club together and participated in many community events. Rubino described Kaitlin as a caring, compassionate and selfless person, and said he was shocked at how much she had accomplished at a young age, while also noting that she accrued more community service hours than anyone else during high school.

“It was just amazing,” Rubino said. “The things she accomplished at age 22 were probably more than I’ll accomplish in my whole life.” Rubino spoke a her wake, which was at Towers Funeral Home on Dec. 22 and 23. She was cremated on Christmas Eve. Rachel said she appreciated everything that Amy Dagger from the funeral home did for her, as well as her colleagues at Century 21, where she works as a real estate agent.

Rubino said Kaitlin was always willing to help her friends, which was evident when he and Rachel went to find her resume after her death and discovered that she was working on updating six of her friends’ resumes. “We used to call her the glue,” Rubino said, “because she kept everyone together, and so did her mom.”

Rachel said she appreciated the community for coming together to support her and to the school for helping create the scholarship fund. “I feel so overwhelmed by it, but so amazed that a community could show love like this to someone,” she said. “Kaitlin did so much community service through the years here ... so I guess, when you give, you get back. And she gave. She gave her whole self to doing the right thing by other people.”

A GoFundMe page created in Kaitlin’s memory can be viewed at bit.ly/2spoxTN.