A 12-year-old boy lost his best friend too soon, but a symbol of their friendship is now engraved in stone forever. Kaleb Klakulak’s story has melted hearts all over the world, and his efforts have finally paid off.
Kaleb and Kenneth “K.J” Gross met on the second grade and became best friends immediately. So, when K.J was hospitalized last January at Children's Hospital in Detroit, Kaleb made sure to join him regularly and make his day a bit brighter. They would often play video games, watch TV or paint in the hospital, and while K.J was intubated and couldn’t verbally communicate, they understood each other.
Gross passed away on May 1 from congestive heart failure. Kaleb was devastated, but he found a way to relieve his pain while taking care of K.J’s mom. LaSondra "San" Singleton, K.J’s mom, has to take care of five more kids and a mother with Alzheimer, so she couldn’t afford a headstone for her son.
Kaleb decided to raise money by himself to mark his friend’s resting place so that his mom didn’t have to visit an unmarked tomb. The 12-year-old started to take odd jobs and collect bottles to raise funds; he also set up a PayPal account with the help of his mother and set a goal of $2500, hoping to gift San the money for Christmas.
"I love Ms. San," he said. "I was sad she couldn't afford it. I wanted people to be able to find (K.J.'s grave) when they went to see him."
“I really think this is a great thing for Kaleb to focus on and help him with his healing as well as K.J.'s mom, who misses her baby and has to visit an unmarked grave," said Kristy Hall, Kaleb’s mom.
Kenneth "K.J." Gross was diagnosed with leukemia when he was still a baby. He had a bone marrow transplant from his sister at 13 months old, and three years later, he relapsed and had another transplant from an unknown donor.
K.J endured years of chemotherapy, and in 2015, he was finally cancer free. However, several operations and treatments took a toll on his health, and he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure.
The boy was in an out of the hospital through the last three years of his life, but his mother said he tried to keep his spirits up and was always trying to cheer up everyone around him. “He was always smiling. He could tell if you were going through something, and he’d come up to you and say, ‘It’s going to be OK,’” San said.
When he started the second grade, K.J would gush about his new friend Kaleb to his mom. She finally met him at the end of the school year alongside his mother, and they all clicked. “He and K.J. were so much alike," Singleton said. "They were kindred spirits; they were like brothers. Even their facial features were alike — the glasses and everything."
In January, when K.J was admitted to the hospital because he needed a heart transplant, nothing went as it should have. The boy had two heart valves and an HVAD pump in his left ventricle while they waited for a donor's heart, but his condition worsened day by day.
K.J was depressed, so his doctor decided to change the rules an allow Kaleb to visit him at the I.C.U, where kids are not usually allowed. Kaleb’s presence used to cheer K.J a bit. They did everything they were used to; the only difference was that K.J was bedridden.
The day K.J was taken out of life support, his mother told Kaleb’s mom to bring the boy to the hospital so he could say goodbye.
“After he had passed and San had some time alone with him we were able to go in the room and see him," Hall said. "He was tube free. He was a beautiful angel. It was the first time in months we got to see just him.”
He was buried in a family plot at Elmwood Cemetery, and now, seven months later, K.J will finally have a headstone.
After the news of Kaleb’s efforts made him go viral, people from all over the country showered the boy and K.J’s mom with their support, and the goal of $2500 was surpassed. On top of that, the owner of Ira Kaufman Chapel in Southfield decided to donate a headstone for K.J.
“The story really touched my heart," Techner said. "Here's this 12-year-old kid who saw a need and did what needed to be done. So I'm just following this young man's lead.”
Elmwood Cemetery's policy states that new gravestones are installed in spring, but they decided to make an exemption for Kaleb and K.J so that the boy wish of giving his friend a tombstone for Christmas will be fulfilled.
Singlenton said she’s more than grateful for the effort of every person involved, but also sad because she’s had to relieve her son’s death over and over thanks to the media attention.
The gravestone bears the inscription "KJ Gross, cherished son, brother & friend," next to a drawing of an angel holding a heart.
“My son’s not here, but (Kaleb) still loves my son enough to (do) this," said Singlenton. "It just speaks volumes to the type of people that they are, and it speaks to the type of person that K.J. was — he impacted people to where they want to do this for him."
Kaleb said his favorite memory with K.J was when he kept hiding and scaring K.J. "He laughed a lot."